This is Cyprus Road Trip #4 and we’re headed to pretty Paphos.
Today represents our final exploring around the island of Cyprus with our backpacking family. We’re heading out west today to explore what the sprawling city of Paphos has to offer. As we depart and motor down the motorway, we pass the often seen Larnaka Salt Lake which looks spectacular this morning. Each time we drive past the salt lake it seems to be different depending on the time of day and the position of the sun. It’s looking too good to simply drive past so I ask driver Steve to pull up on the side and I quickly change lenses on my LUMIX G7 camera and jump out of the car, run across the road and take this spectacular shot of the listed ancient monument Hala Sultan Tekke mosque in Larnaka with the tall stick like wind turbines on the hills in the background.
This mosque is located on the west bank of Larnaka Salt Lake which is southern Cyprus, and at the moment it’s regarded as the third holiest place for Muslims in the world to come to pray. During the Ottoman Empire, Ottoman-flagged ships would hang their flags at half mast when off the shores of Larnaka, and salute Hala Sultan with cannon shots. But the Greek Cypriots are annoyed that they are not permitted to visit their holy places, located in Turkish occupied northern Cyprus, so they want to prevent Muslim worshippers from visiting this mosque. It’s a tit for tat fight that seems to have no end while Turkey continues to occupy the northern land.
The road and landscape today is familiar territory both inside and outside the car: the kids have their ear plugs firmly wedged within their ears and the scenery all around us unfolds to reveal dry and rocky mountains that don’t have pointy peaks but rather roll into one another like fat, playful children. The cut of stone to allow for the construction of the motorway reveals many different layers of rock and it’s an interesting sight.
We turn off the motorway preferring to take old Limassol Road or the old coastal road that hugs the magnificent coastline and provides impressive views out over the blue Mediterranean Sea. We stop again at a point of land where we can park the car and get out for a wander to peer over the rocky edge. There is a small temple built here that is situated off to the side of the car park, It contains many smooth sea rocks that have the names of loved one’s written in Texta on them.
Looking westward the coastline is rugged and snakes all the way as far as the eye can see. It’s a glorious sight of blue sky above and blue sea below with white rocks scattered off the coast. Little do we know that we are looking down upon the most famous birthplace in Greek mythology – Aphrodite’s Rock.
Petra Tou Romiou – the Rock of Aphrodite
We pull the car over arriving into a small car parking area with a cafe. We’re hopeful for a vacant space on a pleasant Sunday afternoon in this rough and rocky unpaved and uneven parking lot. There are cars parked out along the highway, but we do find one. There’s a café selling all sorts of beach going equipment, cold drinks and ice-creams. The girls don’t want to get out of the car to see the rock. They don’t see the value in seeing a rock jutting out from the water. Fair enough. Although we try to coax them to come along, for just 10 minutes it doesn’t work. I’ve learnt to let go, that it’s their choice to not participate or get out of the car to stretch the legs, so we leave them sitting there with the car doors ajar to let the warm outside air fill the cavity while Steve, Charlie and I wander off down a walkway underpass. The underpass walkway is extremely narrow; like a bunker. If someone walked in through the beach side, I doubt we’d manage to get past one another in here. So we walk quickly!
The narrow underpass leads out to a quaint beach. The sea is strewn with jagged rocks towering out in this small cove with plenty of visitors swimming and snorkelling around the rocks. Why wouldn’t you – the water is CRYSTAL clear. I’ve not seen anything quite like the clarity of the water here. There are many enjoying this idyllic protected beach with the water continuously lapping up at the shoreline.
The Greek name Petra tou Romiou (the Rock of the Greek) is associated with the legendary Byzantine hero Digenis Akritas. According to legend he kept the marauding Saracen Arabs (7th – 10th Centuries) at bay with his amazing strength and came to free Cyprus from its Saracen invaders. With one hand he was said to have grabbed hold of the 160km long Kyrenia Mountain range (those that now reside in occupied Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) thereby forming Pentadaktylos Mountain which is his hand print known as the Five Finger Mountain. Then with his other hand he heaved a huge rock and tossed it over Cyprus to Paphos into the sea at the Saracens who were trying to land. The rock still remains and thus gives the region its name.
This exact place, also according to legend, is where the Greek goddess Aphrodite rose from the waves. There are a couple of unique stories about how Aphrodite was actually created in the foam of the sea. The Greek word aphros means foam, and Hesiod relates in his Theogony that Aphrodite was created from the sea-foam produced by the severed genitals of Uranus (Heaven), after his son Cronus threw them into the sea. Charming. The created girl, Aphrodite, floated ashore on a scallop shell.
Aphrodite, as we know, was the Goddess of love and was known for being mischievous, flirty, beautiful, and very good at seduction so much so that she was known to have had flings with other Gods, and mortals like Ares, Adonis, & Ankhises. The Romans called her Venus (hence the famous arm-less statue known as the Venus de Milo) but she lived on Mount Olympus with the other supreme deities and was mismatched to the homely craftsman-god, Hephaestus. In Greek mythology, the story unfolds that the other gods feared that Aphrodite’s beauty might lead to conflict and war, through rivalry for her favours; so Zeus married her off to Hephaestus who was a hideous looking man and their union was, apparently, not a happy one.
Now I don’t know that much at all about Greek mythology, but standing here at this site is something quite unique to experience knowing these stories. The other interesting aspect of this beach is that there is not one trace of sand on this beach. Instead the entire cove is covered in perfectly smooth rounded stones of varying shades of size and greyness. And next to the underground walkway entrance are bushes literally covered in pieces of white tissue paper tied to the spindly branches and twigs. Not sure what that all means but it looks rather odd.
We walk back, deciding not to climb the steep rock before us as others had done and continue exploring.
Situated on top of the mountain overlooking the tranquil sea is Aphrodite’s Temple museum. It’s a quiet sanctuary located in Kouklia village which is about 14 km east of Paphos along the B6 motorway.
Palaipafos, which means Old Paphos, was one of the most celebrated pilgrimage centres of the ancient Greek world, and a once city-kingdom of Cyprus. Here stood the famous Sanctuary of Aphrodite that showcases the most ancient remains that date back to the 12th century BC. We didn’t go in to wander around the ruins in this unrelenting midday heat but we enjoy the old charm feel of the sanctuary and its town.
Paphos – the Capital of Culture
We continue driving towards the township of Paphos. We depart Old Paphos or Kouklia, and head towards new Paphos which represents a modern Cypriot city that incorporates the harbour, ancient ruins of tombs, fortresses, theatres and villas at Paphos Archaeological Park. The harbour is extensive with crystal clear warm waters of course, full of private boats and ‘real’ tourist glass bottom boats offering a couple of hours out on the sea promising sightings of turtles, ancient undersea ship wrecks and complimentary bout of sea sickness if you’re prone to that on the choppy sea (just check out the Trip Advisor comments!).
It’s a beautiful town with plenty of space to walk and wander in. It’s just too hot to do that today and we decide to stroll down the promenade hoping to find a place to sit down and enjoy a swim.
Along the long promenade is a series of display boards that give a short description of the extensive historical features that the city of Paphos is proud to claim accompanied by photos. There are towering palm trees here also that line the promenade that gently rustle in the slight breeze.
Medieval Castle – Pafos/Paphos Castle
At the end of the harbour is Pafos Castle.
Originally a Byzantine fort built to protect the harbour, Pafos Castle was rebuilt by the Lusignans in the 13th Century, dismantled by the Venetians in 1570 during the Ottoman invasion and again rebuilt by the Ottomans after they captured the island in the 16th Century.
During its long history, the Pafos Castle was used, as well as for protection, as prison cells, and even as a storage area for salt when the island was a British colony. In 1935 it was declared an ancient monument and today is considered as one of the hallmarks of the Pafos region. Many cultural events take place in the square just in front of the castle, while during September each year the Pafos Aphrodite Festival which presents a different annual opera staged here by world-famous artists with the castle building usually acting as part of the scenery. It’s impressive and obviously a centrepiece of Paphos tourism and entertainment right at the water’s edge.
So What to Do in Paphos with Teenagers!
With the heat bearing down on us like we’ve just landed on Mars without a proper space suit, the girls start to shrivel up and emotionally unravel. They are not keen on seeing medieval castles, or Greek mythology. All they want to do is eat! And so it starts the standoff – parents versus kids. It’s been building for the entire journey here – commencing with staying in the car and refusing to participate in anything so far today except if it involves food or cool drinks. So relations have soured somewhat before even arriving into this town.
We enquire about a boat tour but it’s overly tourist oriented and a bit too pricey for our liking, plus the girls are really not all that keen even though there’s snorkelling fun to be had on the boat. The tensions have hit the high-end already, so it’s time to regroup and settle for the simple in life-like swimming. But on the side of the promenade in Paphos in the unbearable heat our family has a meltdown. In the end Steve and I walk down the street in search of public toilet facilities, as Charlie is busting, with the girls following behind. But at some time they stop following us and end up sitting outside a cafe.
We find the public toilet and nearby see there are change rooms and shower facilities plus a bunch of other kids jumping off a short pier-like walkway and into the refreshing water. Looks like fun. So we walk back up the promenade trying to find our missing sullen daughters and let them know what’s on offer just down the road. We collect bathers and towels from the car and head back down to the water. It’s testing times.
It all ends up working out as a nice afternoon. Charlie and Dacey jump in and actually enjoy themselves (who would have thought) while Ash and Billie sit under some shade watching the fun. Steve jumps in while I continue deep breathing exercises on the side alone watching the world go by and trying to get myself back from the turning into the Incredible Hulk. Finally, I change and walk down the slippery staircase into the warm Mediterranean bath. It’s deep and I can’t touch the bottom, but it’s refreshing.
We stay here for some time, slowly moving over to the neighbouring restaurant with the funky music and purchase some cool drinks to enjoy together hoping to break the teen spell. The relations are still cold war variety with some of the kids but they’re getting warmer, albeit slowly.
But for some reason 13-year old Billie is giving me the evil eye as we sit on the chairs. And in Greek superstition that can be a curse especially seeing I’m not wearing my “evil eye” talisman protector since I’d been in the water or a swim. So I tell her to just go for a walk – do something as they’ve been sitting in a car all morning and now sitting at a cafe watching others all afternoon. So she gets up and walks out! Long story short she doesn’t return which sends us on a “let’s find Billie” mission up and down the main promenade in Paphos.
But she’s found, walking towards us in the opposite direction that Steve’s searching. They all sit down with Steve to get a late lunch. I couldn’t fathom food, so walk back up to the harbour and medieval castle with my camera and explore on my own. I’ll meet them back at the car when they’re finished.
I discover a long walkway around the back of the castle with a long line interesting displays of artwork. A series of large crosses depicting some sort of cultural connection with Cyprus. It’s quite an engaging and extensive work of colourful art along this walk way and highly recommended. It looks like they may have been created by a school or younger children. There’s one cross in particular that focusses on the Turkish occupation with a dagger in the heart of Cyprus. It stood out to me and I took a photo of it. After visiting Lefkosia and into the northern area yesterday, it’s a poignant piece of art that still reflects many of the sentiments shared by the Greek Cypriot population to this day, even its younger generation. It’s still hot as the sun is nearly setting. But the views out onto the sea are spectacular and in some way it centres me and calms me down well enough to return to my family and continue our exploring of this town.
The Tomb of the Kings
The Tombs of the Kings is a large necropolis lying about two kilometres north of Paphos harbour in Cyprus. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980. Only half of us are exploring this historic site this afternoon – Steve, me and Charlie. It’s a perfect time to do it too, as the harshness of the unbearable heat has subsided and it’s a more pleasant stroll in the desert-like landscape in and around the tombs.
The monumental underground tombs are carved out of solid rock and date back to the Hellenistic and Roman periods from 3rd Century BC to 3rd Century AD. Rather than kings (as the names suggests), it is actually high-ranking officials and aristocracy that were buried here, but the size and splendour of the tombs – some decorated with Doric pillars – gave the locality its grand name. The stone work is amazing due to its sheer thickness and location. We just wander down into these tombs and admire the strength and detail in the columns and the carved out tombs located along the walls.
Some of the tombs imitate the houses of the living, with the burial chambers opening onto a peristyle atrium. Others have niches in the walls that stored bodies. They are similar to tombs found in Alexandria in Egypt demonstrating the close relations between the two cities during the Hellenistic period.
The time of day is simply magical with streaks of golden sunset light escaping from the clouds as the sun falls behind the sea.
We return to the car in the car parking lot of The Tomb of the Kings. We are ready to start our journey back to home base Larnaka with our traveling teenage tribe and the thoughts of giant Mythological Gods emerge as we watch the sun set across the sea.