Cyprus’ earliest documented human settlement dates to the 10th millennium BC. The well-preserved Neolithic village of Khirokitia is from this period. Mycenaean Greeks settled Cyprus in the 2nd millennium BC. Its strategic location led to subsequent occupation by the empires of the Assyrians, Egyptians and Achaemenid Persians. Alexander the Great conquered it in 333 BC and it subsequently was ruled by Ptolemaic Egypt, the Roman Empire and the Byzantines, the Arabs for a short period, the French Lusignan Dynasty and the Venetians. The Ottomans took the island in 1571 and held it until 1878.
Cyprus’ complex history has left a rich patrimony of temples, cathedrals, monasteries, mosques, castles, palaces, villas, Turkish baths and hans (inns). Near Kourion is the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates (8th c. BC). Some remains of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Palaipafos are even older (12th c. BC). Ancient ports like Salamis exported valuable Cypriot copper and imported Rhodian wine. Kyrenia’s wonderful Ancient Shipwreck Museum has arguably the world’s oldest reclaimed wreck, a 4th-century BC Greek merchant vessel with its cargo of wine amphorae. Cyprus’ rich ‘mythic’ geography includes Petra tou Romiou, where the Greeks believe Aphrodite (Venus) emerged from the sea.
Paphos’ archaeological riches include aristocratic underground tombs (4th century BC–3rd century AD), an agora, Asclepeion, basilica, odion, theatre and, of particular note, four Roman villas with magnificent mosaic floors. These mosaics are considered among the finest in the eastern Mediterranean and were included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1980. The floor mosaics at the House of Dionysos are decorated with mythological, vintage and hunting scenes.
Among Cyprus’ masterpieces of Eastern Christianity are nine UNESCO listed monastery churches in the Troödos Mountains. These have interior frescoes dating back to the 11th century. The Crusades brought the French Lusignan Dynasty to power. The island is rich in the remains of Crusader castles like that at Kyrenia and the dramatic St Hilarion Castle, perched high above a valley. From the Lusignan period are also some of the Eastern Mediterranean’s finest Gothic cathedrals, modelled on such great French monuments as Reims. The Venetians built fortresses like that at Kyrenia and palaces such as the Palazzo del Proveditore in Famagusta. Nicosia’s great Selimiye Mosque was once the city’s fine Gothic cathedral, and its 16th-century Büyük Han (caravanserai) is considered one of the finest buildings on the island.