The undisputed highlight of the Paphos Archaeological Park, the House of Dionysos is the largest of a series of four Roman villas, nicknamed the ‘Mosaic Houses’ for their elaborate floor mosaics. The impressive artworks were painstakingly crafted from limestone tiles and date back to the 2nd and 3rd century AD, remaining hidden until 1962, when they were discovered by a local farmer.
Today, the famous mosaics have been restored to much of their former glory and cover 556 square-meters with colorful depictions of Greek gods and mythology. At the House of Dionysus, the show-stopping centerpiece portrays Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine, returning from India on a chariot drawn by two panthers, while other mosaics show Apollo and Daphne, a Ganymede being taken back to Olympus on the wings of an eagle and a number of hunting scenes.
A sprawling open-air museum stretching along the coastal cliffs west of Paphos harbor, the UNESCO-listed Paphos Archaeological Park is home to some of Cyprus’ most impressive historic ruins, including monuments dating from prehistoric times.
The majority of the ruins date back to the late Roman period, with highlights including the Asklipion, a hospital and temple dedicated to the God of Medicine, Asklipios; the 2nd century Agora; the remains of Saranta Kolones, a Byzantine castle known for its 40 columns; and the ancient Odeon amphitheater, which still hosts theatric and music performances during the summer months. Most memorable are the series of four Roman Villas, namely the House of Theseus, House of Aion, House of Dionysos, House of Orpheus, which are famous for their exquisite floor mosaics, impressively restored and depicting scenes from Greek and Roman mythology.
Covering 100,000 square meters, Fasouri Watermania is the most popular waterpark in Cyprus. With 30 different slides, three restaurants, six snack bars and the largest wave pool in the country, there is a little something for everyone. A Lazy River winds some 400 meters around the park and is perfect for anyone looking to relax. On the other hand, the Wet Wall Climb, is a major test of upper body strength as visitors try to get from one end of the park’s largest pool to the other. Other rides include the Kamikaze slide, which reaches speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour, the six-story Aqua Tube slides and the Black Hole slide, in which visitors plunge through complete darkness. Baby bungee swings are available for children up to three years old. Other activities include a massage parlor, fish spa and temporary tattoo parlor.
Largely regarded as one of Cyprus’ most beautiful churches, the Panagia Chrysopolitissa Church, now the Agia Kryiaki Church, is renowned for its elaborate ancient floor mosaics, parts of which have been preserved and form a colorful addition to the medieval church.
Built on the site of an early Byzantine basilica, the church dates back to the 13th-century and forms the centerpiece of number of historic ruins and relics, among them the remains of a Gothic Basilica, a mosque dating back to the period Ottoman ruleand St Paul’s Pillar, where legend has it that Paul was flogged for preaching Christianity in 45 AD.
Looming over the Paphos Archaeological Site, Fabrica Hill once marked the northern entrance to ancient Paphos and today serves as a scenic lookout point, offering impressive views over the numerous Roman ruins, Saint Paul's Pillar and the glittering Mediterranean coast.
The main attraction of Fabrica Hill is the ancient Odeon amphitheater built on its slope, a striking limestone structure dating back to the 2nd-century, where music concerts and theatrical performances are held throughout the summer months. Also of interest are a number of quarry caves dating from the Hellenistic period, a partially restored ancient mosaic and the nearby Agia Solomoni Catacombs.
A looming stack of rocks standing proud off the southwest coast of Cyprus, the UNESCO-listed Rock of Aphrodite, or Petra Tou Romiou (Rock of the Greek), is one of the island’s most famous landmarks and a popular side trip from nearby Paphos. Guarding the coastline since ancient times, Aphrodite’s Rock is more than just a geological wonder. The sacred rock takes its name from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, who is said to have to have risen from the ocean at this spot, and legend has it that in certain weather conditions, the waves rising and breaking against the rock create a cloud of sea foam that appears in the shape of a human.
Today the striking birthplace of Aphrodite is one of Cyprus’ top natural attractions and part of the Aphrodite Cultural Route, with visitors following the walking trail from the neighboring Kouklia beach or taking a boat trip along the coast.
Set high on a cliff top overlooking Cyprus’ south coast, the ancient city-kingdom of Kourion was once one of the island’s most prominent cities, with its roots dating back to as early as 1200 B.C. Although the ancient city was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in the 4th century AD, the site was later used as a Christian settlement, before being abandoned in the 7th century. Today, the extensive Roman and Byzantine ruins discovered at the Kourion archaeological site continue to impress, making it one of Cyprus’ most visited historic attractions.
The still-ongoing excavations have unveiled a startling array of Roman ruins including a Forum, a series of public baths, an elegant Nymphaeum and the stately House of Achilles and House of the Gladiators. Most remarkable is the Greek Roman amphitheatre, which is now fully restored and even hosts occasional classical concerts and Shakespearean plays.
From ancient Greek ruins to Byzantine monasteries, Cyprus has an incredible variety of historical sites, and the Kolossi Castle is one of the most striking remnants of the island’s medieval era. Built in the 13th century by the Knights of St. John and later restored in the 15th century, the castle has changed hands several times throughout its long history, but remarkably, remains beautifully preserved.
Appearing more like a stone-brick tower than a fortress, the imposing square keep rises 21 meters tall and taking in the views from the rooftop is a popular pastime for visitors. The dramatic landscape of vineyards surrounding the castle is also significant, as it was here that the Knights of St John first began producing wine and processing sugar cane, leading to the birth of ‘Commandaria’ – the sweet dessert wine, renowned as the world’s oldest named wine still in production.
Perched at 1,318 meters in the Troodos Mountains, against a backdrop of pine-covered slopes, Kykkos Monastery (Panagia tou Kykkou) is not only Cyprus’ largest and most famous monastery, but one of its most magnificent tourist attractions. The original Byzantine monastery was founded in the late 11th-century, but today most of the structures date back to the 19th century, while an impressive collection of icons, manuscripts and antiquities are housed in the onsite Monastery Museum.
The richly decorated monastery is a feast for the eyes, with its gleaming marble floors, colorful murals and elaborate frescoes, but its most notable asset is a silver-gilded icon of the Virgin Mary, one of three surviving icons painted by the Apostle Luke, enshrined in an ornate tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl case and never uncovered. Also in the monastery grounds is the tomb of Archbishop Makarios III, the first President of the Republic of Cyprus.
Famous for its sweet Commandaria dessert wine (the world’s oldest named wine in continuous production) and home to an impressive 45 wineries, Cyprus makes a popular choice for wine lovers and there’s no better place to start a wine tour than the Cyprus Wine Museum. Housed in a 150-year-old converted inn, the museum is dedicated to the island’s long history of wine-making – a tradition dating back more than 5,000 years and kept alive through the island’s family-run wineries and wine tourist routes.
Visitors to the museum can learn about the age-old production process, as well as the modern practices of grape cultivation and aging, browse the fascinating collection of ancient wine jars, vases and medieval drinking vessels and even sample a glass of locally produced Commandaria.