Paphos Things to Do Tips by TheWanderingCamel
Paphos Things to Do: 124 reviews and 276 photos
Nothing to stop the waves
Ask a local about the recent redevelopment of the seafront promenade in Paphos and the chances are you'll be told in no uncertain terms it has been less than a success. It's all very shiny and new and the summer crowds no doubt approve of the absence of cars and clutter , there are plenty of shops, restaurants galore and so what if the old seawall is gone and there's nowhere to sit - who wants to sit around when there's shopping to be done and icecreams to eat?
Winter tells a different tale - especially when a winter gale blows in. That old seawall protected the promenade and the seafront businesses from the waves that can the wind can whip up to a considerable size. Just such a storm blew up on the last night we were there and the town woke to find the seafront awash, with heaps of seaweed piled against plate glass windows, sand and shingle strewn all over the road - what a mess!
Good as it may look on the plans, not all modernisation is for the better.
Of course, not every day brings a storm like that and on a sunny winter's day, a walk along the promenade around the harbour to the old fort is popular with visitors and locals alike. A Sunday morning concert adds a charming touch - the wind in the speakers adding a note Mozart never thought of.
This way toi Neophytos' cave
You only have to travel 9 kilometres north of Paphos to enter another world - one far removed from both the brash commerciality of the tourist town and the ruins of its Classical past. The Monastery of Agios Neophytos is a haven of calm tranquillity, a cloistered world where for centuries monks have lived out their lives in a routine of prayer and work that has barely changed since the monastery was founded in the last years of the 12th century. Beautifully maintained terraces and gardens surround a 15th century church, the burial place of the saint whose holy relics have mostly long since been dispersed, leaving just his skull behind, encased in a silver reliquary and the focus of pious veneration among the local people. There a small museum near the church with a collection of icons, manuscripts and maps, ecclesiastical garments and religious artifacts as well as a collection of ancient Cypriot pottery .
Poor Neophytos - all he wanted was a quiet, ascetic life and here, at the head of a remote roccky defile, he thought he'd found just the place to retire to way back in the middle of the 12th century. A little group of shallow inter-connecting caves halfway up the cliff facing the monastery was his choice for his hermitage but there was no way a scholar and holy man of his repute could keep himself isolated and wasn't long before a community of followers established themselves at the base of his cliff. An imposing stone facade fronts, and protects the saint's caves (known as the Enkleistra), a long staircase providing easier access that the ladders of old. It's all very imposing and in no way does it prepare you for the extraordinary impact of passing through the doorway and into the frescoed cell and chapel Neophytos carved out of the rock and made his home.
Photography is forbidden and , for one, am glad it is. This place is so extraordinary there is no way I would want the distraction of cameras (mine or anyone else's) to come between the visitor and these tiny rooms and their compelling images. A small entry chamber (the narthex) leads into the sacristry where wonderful paintings of scenes of the last days of Christ's life cover the walls and the ceiling. Another tiny passage leads into the saint's cell with its rock platform bed , desk, bench and the sarcophagus he carved for himself. Basic as the "comforts"of this cell are, one of the doors cut into the rock face above this first level leads into the even more ascetic dwelling Neophytos created for himself for the last 20 years of his life - this cave is not open to visitors.
Directions: Open : April - October: daily: 09:00 - 13:00, 14:00 to 18:00,
November - March: daily: 09:00 - 13:00, 14:00 - 16: 00
Entrance Fee: Euro 1 (for the Museum and Enkleistra)
Cami Kebir - the Great Mosque
3 kilometres up the hill from tourist-dominated Kato Paphos, Ktima Paphos presents itself as a pleasant Mediterranean town going about the everyday occupations of business, civic administration, shopping, schooling and, of course, sitting around in cafes. Whilst there's little that is compellingly interesting about Ktima, a couple of hours spent there makes a refreshing change from the relentless tourist tat of the town by the harbour.
The colour and bustle of local markets is always attractive and Ktima Paphos' municipal market is no exception. Souvenir hunters will find the craft section interesting - and cheaper than similar offerings down by the harbour and for those who count retail therapy as an essential part of any holiday will find any number of places to indulge their hobby - from local boutiques to British favourites such as Marks, Mango and Mothercare.
White stucco colonial-era buildings, the (now locked and barred ) Turkish mosque, monuments and museums provide interest for sight-seers and snappers and there are any number of cafes and kafeneons offering a more authentic taste of Cyprus than most of the establishments down the hill.
Never ones to pass up a seriously good icon collection, we opted for a visit to the Byzantine museum where some of the images date back into the seriously early years of iconography - the 9th, 12th and 13th centuries. Another time, we would probably opt for the Archaeological museum, you might prefer the folksiness of the privately-owned and run Ethnographic Museum.
Anyone wanting to really come to grips with Ktima Paphos might like to consider the free walking tour that takes place on Tuesdays in summer - or, if Tuesday doesn't suit - print off the very detailed itinerary given on the website and set off on your own.
Directions: Market - Monday to Saturday 6am-1pm
Market and mosque are close in the old Turkish quarter
Byzantine Museum opens at 9, closes 5 in winter, 7 in summer, 2 on Saturdays, all day Sunday. Located next to the Bishop's Palace, Andhrea Ioannou Str.
The little fort standing guard over Paphos' harbour is the last remnant of the forts that have stood here for centuries. This one was built by the Ottomans in 1592 to replace the fortress built by the Lusignans in 1391 and blown up by its later Venetian defenders when defeat at the hand of the Turks became inevitable. That mediaeval fort was built on the foundations of an earlier, probably Byzantine one - such layers of history are commonplace in strategic forts such as this one.
All we see today of all this effort is just the western tower. Knowing that puts the fort's Lilliputian size into a better perspective - the remains of the eastern tower sits some 70 metres away on the breakwater - it is recorded that the fort's construction was the two towers linked by a wall - imagine the wall into position and you realize this was once a formidable part of the town and port's defences, not the toy fort of first impressions.
Empty now - though every now and then the idea of turning it into a museum is mooted - the last use the fort was put to was as a salt warehouse during the years of British administration. There's nothing apart from the view from the ramparts to attract visitors these days, but it is a great vantage point and most visitors to Paphos end up crossing the the little bridge over the moat at some time during their stay.
Directions: Open daily 10-5 in winter, and until 6 in summer.
A small entry charge applies.
The Frankish baths
More relics of Paphos' long history lie scattered over the area between the fenced section of the Archaeological Park and the Ayia Kyriaki church and basilica. In the area known as Fabrica Hill, there is a maze of caves and rocky outcrops, catacomb churches and the Graeco-Roman amphitheatre - it's an area that's waiting for me to explore next time I'm in Paphos, there just wasn't enough time this time.
What we did have time for was brief walk around the Lusignan baths just north of Ayia Kyriaki and over to the catacomb of Ayia Solomoni. The baths are substantial and quite well preserved but you can only look at them from the outside at present; however, there seems to be evidence of some work being done around them so who knows, maybe next time I'm in Paphos it will be possible to see them from the inside.
The catacomb of Ayia Solomoni is one of a number of these underground complexes carved into the limestone around Paphos. Steps carved into the rock take you down to an small courtyard with four chambers leading off it and a sacred well to one side. Take care as you approach the well - the water is so clear you can easily step into it without realizing. There's no doubt this was a holy place long before being appropriated by the town's Christians and turned into a subterranean chapel - it was almost certainly first a pagan shrine and may well have been a synagogue in early Roman times. The supplicatory rags tied to the large terebinth (turpentine) tree that overshadows the catacomb speaks of a tradition that is far older than the faith of the local Christians and (in the town's recent past) Muslims who still come to leave a symbol of their prayer for the healing the waters of the holy well are believed to effect.
Incidentally, the sainted Solomoni isn't the wise king of the Old Testament but a woman whose 7 children were said to have been martyred by a Seleucid (Persian) king some two hundred years before the Romans began perseceuting Christian.
Directions: The catacombs are open during daylight hours. Entry is free but there is a donation box. A visit will only take a few minutes.
Kato Paphos' ancient ruins aren't confined just to the area around the Roman villas - large as that precinct is, there are several major sites scattered all through the western and northern part of town. One that attracts pilgrims as well as the idly curious tourist is the 4th century AD basilica of Panagia Chrysopolitissa (Our Lady of the Golden City), the ruins of which lie in front of the little 11th century church of Ayia Kyriaki.
Why does a ruined Byzantine basilica bring pilgrims to this very touristy town? Legend has it that the worn down pillar in the western corner was where St Paul the Apostle was tied and lashed by the Jews of Paphos. Apochryphal or not, the legend persists and the pillar has been worn to a smoothly rounded stub by the touch of the faithful through the centuries.
Ongoing excavations continue to reveal more and more of the basilica's chequered history, the various forms it took through hundreds of years. A massive seven aisles at first, reduced to five at some point, and with a bishop's palace part of the complex, it was all but destroyed during Arab raids in the 7th century. Painstaking work by archaeologists over decades has revealed significant areas of mosaic flooring once thought to have been completely destroyed by first the Arab raiders and later mediaeval usage of the remnant church.
The small stone church of Ayia Kyriaki is notable for its multi-denominational community. Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Maronite and Finnish services are all held here - a remarkable example of ecumenical co-operation.
Ancient Odeion and modern lighthouse
...or, more correctly, an odeion - similar in shape to a Classical Greek or Roman theatre but smaller and roofed - sits near the top of the small hill to the north of the House of Dionysios. Dating from the 1st century AD, it probably seated a couple of thousand people and would have been used for musical and oratory contests and plays. A much larger open theatre is being excavated on Fabrica Hill, a large area outside the Archaeological Park, on the other side of the main road north out of Paphos. Time constraints precluded our exploring the Hill this time (another reason to return to Cyprus) so we had to make do with the Odeion.
The restoration work carried out on it in the 1970s certainly wasn't inspired, which is a shame as the setting, with the town's lighthouse and the sea behind it, is attractive. No doubt, if the work had been done more recently, sympathetic conservation might have been the way it went; as it is, the bottom dozen rows have been rebuilt to allow the odeion to be used for outdoor performances. Photo 2 (a photo of a photo on the information board) shows clearly the size of the entire building and the extent of the ancient agora that occupied the area to the east. The whole area was thick with asphodel (the flower of Hades and Persephone in Greek myths) when we were there, making it difficult to distinguish anything but the area it covered - pretty though!
With more time we would have walked over to the remnants of the ancient city walls. With lunch in the foothills of the Troodos on our agenda, we made our way instead to the nearby fortress ruins, the so-called Saranda Kolones (Forty Columns - photo 4) - truth be told you'd be hard pressed to find one intact column in this tumble of stone. The fallen columns and several arches sit on a solid four-square base surrounded by a moat. No doubt a guide would be able to point out many more salient features than we detected; we made do with a walk right around the perimeter and across the top before heading back to the car and our Sunday lunch.
This area of the Archaeological park is thought to be the site of ancient Paphos' acropolis. Had our stay been longer we would have had time to explore the area more thoroughly, checking out the Asklepion - the temple dedicated to the Greek god of healing and medicine - which lies just south of the odeion and the ruin of the 5th century church of the Panagia Limeniotissa (Our Lady of the Harbour).
Poseidon's pursues the nymph, Amymone
If the House of Orpheus and the House of the Four Seasons are closed (as they were at the time of our visit) when you've had your fill of the Houses of Theseus and Aion, it's time to walk across to the large roofed structure over to the right (photo 5). This is the House of Dionysius, and under that roof is a such a wealth of mosaics that even the most jaded ruined-out visitor should make time for a visit.
The first of the Paphos mosaics to be discovered (in 1962), with one exception they date from the late 2nd -early 3rd century AD - the exception is a much earlier Greek mosaic (photo 4), executed simply in black and white pebbles, that was moved here from another site. Interesting as it is, it is far outshone by the spread of fabulous mosaics that cover almost every floor in what was once a substantial villa that spreads before you.
Apart from the pantheon of gods getting up to all sorts of antics (photo 1) depicted in room after room, there are wonderfully lively renditions of animals (photo 2), a beautiful Four Seasons (photo 3) and some fine geometric designs Whoever it was who commissioned this work, he was obviously a very wealthy man - it would have taken a very deep pocket indeed to foot the bill for this amount of the mosaicist's time and artistry.
Rather than go into further detail here, I think I'll make a Travelogue where anyone who is interested can see and read more. Of course, the best thing to do is take yourself off to Cyprus to see them for yourself. Maybe by the time you get there the Houses of Orpheus and the Four Seasons will be open.
The Paphos mosaics have been placed on UNESCO's World Heritage list.
Slaying the monster
The only way to gain any idea of how brilliant the colours in most ancient mosaics were is to wet them - and that is one BIG no-no, don't even think of it! If, on the other hand, the site is open to the skies and it happens to rain .... Well - that's just how lucky we were when we visited Paphos' mosaics where the House of Theseus is, as yet, unroofed. It had poured with rain the night before our visit, and we arrived there sufficiently early for the sun and the wind not to have dried the tesserae out and the effect was stunning - the colours as bold and as bright as they must have been when the floor was first laid back in the 2nd century AD.
This house takes its name from the large circular mosaic of Theseus slaying the Minotaur in a small room on the west side of this large villa, much of which has been excavated. Whilst not the finest work in the Archaeological Park and, sadly, the Minotaur has not survived, the mosaic is very lively, showing Theseus, club raised to slay the monster, while a worried-looking Ariadne waits in the background. The other figures are the embodiments of the island of Crete, in female form, while the labrynth is depicted as a bearded man and the whole thing is surrounded by a remarkably intact wide border (photo 1).
How do we know who is who? The characters in the story are all named on the mosaic. Why are the names in Greek when these are Roman mosaics? Greek was the language of both the eastern Roman Empire and its continuum, Byzantium. Familiarize yourself with the Greek alphabet and it's actually quite easy to work the names out for yourself. (photo 2)
Two other pictorial mosaics survive , one - the Birth of Achilles - in very good condition (photo 3); the other, showing Neptune and Galatea, is much less so, though the border has fared better than the figurative section (photo 4). There are also some very fine geometric patterned floors to be seen in the bath and the atrium (photo 5)
With its depiction of a reclining mother, a watching father and the infant Achilles being presented to the Three Fates, the imagery in the Birth of Achilles mosaic is considered by many scholars to be a pagan precursor of illustrations of the Nativity of Christ.
Crop, collage, colour - hey presto! it's all there
No matter how unrestrained the building around Pafos is, one thing is sure - the oldest houses in the town are never going to be redeveloped despite occupying the town's prime piece of real estate. A quintet of Roman villas, built at various times between the 2nd and 4th century AD, they sit on the headland overlooking the harbour and although reduced by time to the merest outline of the dwellings they once were, the magnificence of their mosaic floors tells us these were very grand homes indeed, and that life in Roman Paphos, for some, was lived in considerable style.
Two houses sit side by side at the end of the path leading up from the entry gate - the House of Aion and the House of Theseus. The smaller of the two is named for the Greek god of eternity, Aion. Only a small section of the villa has been excavated so far and the largest mosaic - the newest (it dates from the 4th century AD), and the most sophisticated of all the mosaics found in Paphos to date - is actually housed in a "house" , a modern structure enclosing it completely and protecting it from the elements.
The mosaic consists of five panels in an elaborate border - the panels (clockwise from top right) a very clear Bath of Dioysius (photo 2); Miss Olympus c350AD - a beauty contest between Cassiopia and the Nerieds with Aion seated between the winner and her rivals (and thus in the middle of the mosaic - which is why the house is named for him, despite only his head surviving);a fine Apollo and Marsyas (photo 4); a damaged depiction of a Triumphant Procession of Dionysius (photo 4) and lastly a depiction a rather damaged Leda and the Swan (photo 5).
Thanks to the tricks of modern digital photography, with a bit of cropping, a judicious collaging and some colour adjusting photo 1 shows the layout of the mosaic much more clearly (though obviously the two halves from different perspectives) than the awkward camera angles imposed by the confines of the walkways above the mosaic and a small automatic camera allow. The other photos are a mix of ones taken with film in 2000 and scanned and digital ones this year ( one left a la naturel and one colour enhanced). In reality, the colours in the mosaics are all considerably dulled by the effects of time. In Roman times they would have been kept polished and the effect would have been stunning - as we were to see in the next house we visited ... the House of Theseus.
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