Hugely popular in summer, Paphos is on the Ryanair network, and, for now, the only jumping off point, for Ryanair, to get to Amman, in Jordan.
It’s also home to the temple of Aphrodite, something I had to skip on my last visit to Cyprus, a lifetime ago.
Sadly, my flight arrived late, so late that the only way to leave the airport was to take an extortionist taxi into town, some 20km away.
The mosaics in the archeological sites of Paphos are exquisite, if some are a tad late Roman, dating from the fourth century AD. Completely mythical in subject, one interesting aspect is that many of the displayed characters, from Greek and Roman mythology, are depicted in a style more typical to medieval Christian saints, that is, with a halo, like a circular disc, displayed behind the head.
The centrepiece of Nea Paphos, the main archeological site of Paphos, is the house of Dionysus, named after the central figure in many of the house’s mosaics. It’s older than most of the other houses on site, with some of the mosaics dating back to the fourth century BC.
Paphos is still pretty much a British coastal town, with many of the restaurants and hotels advertising discounted full English breakfast, with the speakers playing British Armed Forces Radio. But, in Cyprus in general, many of the tourists are now Russian speaking.
As I learned from a chat with a local real estate agent, the more interesting, or perhaps worrying, influx are Russians, Chinese, Jordanian and Iranians who, with spending 300000 Euros on a house, get a permanent residence for themselves, their partner, both their parents, and their kids under 25.
On top of that, so I was told, a passport can be had for two million euros, the Golden Visas, stories of which surfaced last year.
Indeed, I started noticing that all real estate ads were in English, Chinese, Russian and Arabic, in that order. No Persian, though.
Perhaps package holidays to Cyprus are still a steal, but self-booked accommodation is annoyingly expensive. So, though I booked an Airbnb in Estonia and a hotel in Amman, in Paphos I had to stay in a dorm in a hostel, which was more expensive then both what I was paying in Estonia and Jordan.
Also in Paphos are the ‘Tombs of the Kings’. Not because they were tombs of kings, but because they were once fancy.
They date back to the fourth century BC, when Paphos was under control of Ptolomean Egypt, having their seat in Alexandria. In fact, this makes the tombs contemporary to the original Ptolomy, Alexander the Great’s general.
At the time, it was customary for the rich to bury the dead in constructions that resembled their own houses (something I also saw at Petra, in Jordan, a few days later). So, the graves were given a courtyard, surrounded by rooms and niches around the perimeter, for the dead. Though, later, these were simply used as houses, for the living.
Indeed, there is more than a passing resemblance to the Etruscan burial mounds in Italy, as well as to the rock churches of Lalibela. Though the latter were built over a millennium later.
Now, of these graves, little remains, a recent addition being the scores of little cairns on the sea-facing side of the complex.
Nea Paphos and The Tombs of the Kings are part of the World Heritage Site that is Paphos. This also includes the temple of Aphrodite, a few kilometers away.
Very little is left of the temple, the more interesting site perhaps being the rock of Aphrodite, where the goddess is said to have arisen from the sea, to have been born, perhaps some 3000 years ago.
Though Aphrodite’s story and birthplace have been handed down to us, the origin of the goddess is quite unclear and disputed. Cyprus claims to be home to the birthplace of Aphrodite, but so does Kythira, just off the Peloponnesus in Greece. However, Plato already suggested that these two birthplaces actually referred to two different individuals, whom, over time, came to be worshipped as one.
(As an aside, if the name Kythira rings a vague bell, the place is perhaps most widely known for lending its name to the Antikythera machine, found between Kythira and its sister island Antikythera, sometimes called an ‘ancient computer’ and used to predict the revolution of the planets.)
That identity mixup is tiny in the face of Aphrodite’s origin story. Earlier scholars thought that the name Aphrodite was a derivative of ‘risen from the foam’, but more modern scholars deny that, the general consensus now being that Aphrodite’s name is of non-Greek, probably Semitic, origin, with its exact derivation unknown.
Aphrodite’s history goes back much further, though. Her cult was derived from, or at least based on, that of the Phoenician Astarte, which in turn was derived from, or based on, the cult of the Sumerian Inanna, dating back a stupefying 6000 years. Due to Inanna’s ancient heritage, some scholars believe her representation also modelled for the concept of the Hindu warrior goddess Durga, creating a religious link between the furthest reaches of the Eurasian continent.
Though less explicitly a warrior goddess, Aphrodite herself was connected to both love (hence the derivative aphrodisiac) and war. After all, you fight hardest for what you love.
One of her birth stories is a rather plastic account of love gone wrong. According to Hesiod, Aphrodite was born from the foam, produced by Uranus’ genitals, which his son Cronus had severed and thrown into the sea.
It should not come as a surprise, then, that this history of love and war also saw Aphrodite be the patron saint of prostitutes, with the historian Herodotus writing that “the foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger at least once in her life.”
The connection of Aphrodite with prostitution led some scholars to consider the concept of religious sex, or sacred prostitution, though, now, this has mostly been discredited.
However, it made me wonder to what extent Mary Magdalene perhaps was an avatar of Aphrodite, even though, now, scholars, as well as the Vatican, no longer consider her as having been a prostitute.
Aphrodite’s rock, meanwhile, is still impressive, somehow conveying the burden of the ages to those who witness her.