Paphos is an archeological site from Antiquity.
It has been inhabited since the Neolithic Age. In ancient times it was known for its Aphrodite-cult: the Myceneans - the rulers of Cyprus at the time - erected temples for this fertility goddess.
The site consists of numerous places of architectural and historical meaning: villas, palaces, theatres, forts, tombs and mosaics.
Map of PaphosLoad map
Visit May 2001
Modern Paphos is a beach resort as there are so many in the Mediterranean. It's an unlikely place to find treasures of the past, treasures that are carefully being unearthened. The most spectacular findings are the Tombs of the Kings, graves that are set up like houses. There's a strong Egyptian connection here, and also the comparison with Petra (Jordania) has been made.
Only a few hundred meters from there, the most beautiful mosaics I have ever seen have been discovered. We're not talking about a few colored stones here and there, but about the floors of whole rooms and even of one total house. An amazing sight.
After leaving Ukraine in mid-September 2020 and spending 3 months in the Schengen Area (1/2 months in Poland and 2 1/2 months in Greece), it was time for me to leave the EU/Schengen Area and move to an EU/non-Schengen country for 3 months. So I decided to move to Cyprus. For me visiting WHSs has become a matter of changing country of residence during the pandemic. On the day I arrived in Cyprus I traveled from Larnaca through Choirokoitia WHS to Paphos by bus.
I ended up settling in the District of Paphos, one of the 6 districts of Cyprus, for 3 months. As such, I had a plenty of time to explore the 3 locations of this WHS, which I visited on 4 separate days by bus.
The website to use for bus in Cyprus is: http://www.cyprusbybus.com/setups.aspx
I visited them in the following order: Aphrodite's Sacred City at Kato Paphos, The Tombs of the Kings at Kato Paphos, Aphrodite’s Sanctuary at Kouklia. However, I will report them in the following order, which is the order I would recommend for visits.
1. Aphrodite’s Sanctuary at Kouklia / Palaepaphos
Bus 631 goes directly from the Kato Paphos / Harbor Bus Station (by the Archaeological Park) to the Aphrodite’s Sanctuary at Kouklia 7 times a day all year around. (Bus 630 also goes from the Municipal Market Station in Paphos to the Aphrodite’s Sanctuary 3 times a day all year.)
But both buses also go on to Petra tou Romiou, further south, which is a beach where Aphrodite (Venus) is said to have emerged in the Greek mythology and the most photographed site in the whole country of Cyprus. So I took Bus 631 all the way to the last stop of Petra first before going back to the Aphrodite’s Sanctuary in Kouklia.
The folks at the cafe/restaurant/souvenir shop with a large parking space in situ at Petra told me that the parking was typically completely packed in summer. You need to go to this establishment because it is from the side of it where an underground tunnel leads to the beach area with several large rocks with birds.
At Kouklia, as I enter the gate, I ambled past several ruins of religious edifices, checking out things here and there. And the last one before reaching the museum area is supposed to be the most important: the Aphrodite's Sanctuary 1 from the Late Bronze Age. Every notable attraction in the District of Paphos is named after Aphrodite, but they say nothing is more important than this one.
After that, I was escorted by a guard / tour guide to the museum area with 3 exhibition rooms and a video theater around the courtyard. Unfortunately, for the convenience of the guard, he had me watch the introductory video at the very end of my visit, so he can just relax after leaving me in the theater. I had to wonder how much relaxation he needs, as I was the only visitor at that time. Obviously it is better to watch the introductory video first so you can get the grip on what you can expect to see in the museum and in Kouklia in general. If I had known this, I would have walked straight from the gate to the museum and asked the guard to let me watch the video first before walking around at all.
Notable objects displayed at the museum include, first and foremost, a sexy dark rock (photo) that initially symbolized Aphrodite for worshippers for centuries. This rock, like modern art, lets you use your imagination. After that, several artists created portraits of Aphrodite, some of which are displayed at this museum. But the most famous ones are certainly "Venus of Milo" by Alexandros at the Louvre and "Birth of Venus" by Botticelli at the Uffizi Gallery. Another notable object at the museum is the mosaic of "Leda and the Swan."
2. Aphrodite's Sacred City at Kato Paphos / Neapaphos
Neapaphos was developed under the Kingdom of Ptolemies, the Macedonian dynasty based in Egypt, from the 3rd century BC on and the height of its prosperity was in the 3rd century AD during the time of the Roman Empire.
The ruins in this location called Aphrodite's Sacred City are scattered across Kato Paphos (Kato means lower in Greek and closer to the Sea). Most of them are grouped as a park called "Nea Paphos Archaeological Site" situated along the coast. I visited this park on my second day in Cyprus but ended up visiting it again some weeks later. I would recommend up to 4 hours to see this park thoroughly.
There is a simple map available at the entrance in several languages, which has 23 places of interest numbered. I would recommend following the numbers as much as possible. If you follow the numbers, you start from the northern end of this park with a place called "Subterranean complex of Toumballos (Sanctuary of Apollo)".
This park, as other reviewers have noted, is a major site to behold, mainly for its mosaics. They were supposedly created during the height of the Roman period. Of particular interests are the Houses of Aion and Dionysus (interior) and the Villa of Theseus (exterior). These are more extensive mosaics than anything that exist at WHSs in Greece. Among Romana del Casale, Aquileia and Paphos, I have to say Paphos is hands down my favorite.
But actually mosaics are found at even minor archaeological sites scattered across the District of Paphos, such as the Agios Georgios Archaeological Site. I can't speak for other districts of Cyprus.
Among the other ruins than those in the park in the Sacred City I would recommend the Chrysopolitissa Basilica, complete with St. Paul's Pillar, and Fabrika Hill Cave Complex, a series of interconnected quarries, both of which are in the core zone and within the walking distance from the park.
3. The Tombs of the Kings at Kato Paphos / Neapaphos
Bus 615 travels north from the Kato Paphos / Harbor Bus Station (by the Archaeological Park) to the Tombs of the Kings every 10 min. all day from Monday to Friday. The ride takes less than 10 min.
There are 8 main tombs in this cemetery, also situated along the coast. If you diligently follow all the tombs from 1 to 8, you will never forget what they look like because they all look like the same. But the way they are arranged is different at each 8 Tomb, and it gets progressively more complex and becomes more like a house as the number progresses.
But again tombs of this magnitude can be found in other areas in the District of Paphos, such as Meletis Forest Necropolis near Agios Georgios.
Over all I believe Paphos WHS is one of the most intriguing WHSs related to the Ancient Greek / Roman world.
Read more from Tsunami here.
It was mid-day and the sun was intense. Not so much the heat, but the intensity of it, beating down like a physical weight. Entirely the wrong time to be walking around an exposed archaeological site. I sought respite in the shade of a tree. Around my head budding pomegranates dangled. They reminded me of the myth of the abducted Persephone, tricked into eating pomegranate seeds by her abductor, Hades, and condemned to spend half the year as his consort in the underworld. It was an apt thought. For gazing around the hard-baked earth of Palaepafos it was clear that the glories of the sanctuary of the goddess Aphrodite too had withered and vanished underground.
More than any other World Heritage Site Paphos has served as a sort of leitmotif to my adult life. I first visited in 1999 while revising for my university finals, sneaking in with my dad through a gap in the fence at the rear of the Nea Pafos archaeological site near the lighthouse (sorry!). In 2008, after discovering the fascinating world of Unesco World Heritage Sites, I re-visited, spending a day exploring not just the archaeological park but also the wider Kato Pafos area and the Tombs of the Kings. I returned to the archaeological park for a third time in 2011, this time with the woman who is now my wife. And now, in 2019, I was back again, accompanied not only by my wife but also my own son. Three generations over twenty years. A blink of the eye to a site as ancient as Paphos.
There are four parts to the Paphos World Heritage Site, covering a significant timespan in a way that isn’t always harmonious.
- The Paphos Archaeological Park (Nea Paphos). The entrance to this sprawling site is located right on Paphos harbour. It spreads back some distance along the sea, taking in an odeon, agora, asklepieion and remains of castle and basilica. The highlights on display, as other visitors have rightly commented, are the stunning mosaics left in situ, remnants of grand villas from Paphos’s Roman era (2nd to 4th centuries AD). For me the highlight is the House of Aion whose triclinium has a gorgeous multi-panel mosaic featuring the birth of Dionysus and Apollo’s contest with Marsyas. Entry is €4.50 as of September 2019. A large – though often busy – free car park lies adjacent to the site.
- Kato Pafos. Contiguous to the Archaeological Park is a section of lower Pafos, stretching back from the sea along Apostolou Pavlou Aveue to the Kings Avenue Mall roundabout. There are a few places of note signposted: St Paul’s Pillar, the Agia Solomoni catacombs. None of them should detain you more than a couple of minutes and the whole area can be covered in a thirty minute amble. They add, in my opinion, little to the site. At the top end the Fabrica Hill is literally overshadowed by what looks like a rollercoaster track. This was designed to be an elevated walkway linking the harbour area to the northern section and showcasing the excavations below. It was meant to open in 2017 during Pafos’s stint as European Capital of Culture. But the contractor went bust. Only its bare framework is in place and no progress looks to have been made in the last two-and-a-half years. It looks ghastly.
- The Tombs of the Kings (Tafoi ton Vasileou). These are located just over a mile to the west of Fabrica Hill, down the appropriately named Tomb of the Kings Road. It’s walkable, there’s a big car and coach park or bus 61 from the harbour bus station (just outside the Archaeological Park) will drop you here for €1.50. Inside you will find, well, tombs. Not of kings, but of high ranking individuals. Their tombs were dug down into the ground, a central atrium open to the sky surrounded by a peristyle. They were in use throughout the heyday of Nea Pafos and so complement the Archaeological Park to a certain extent. I visited once, in 2008. It’s a nice enough site and if you’re already in Pafos you may as well see it but it’s hardly first class. I was more excited about the roosting bats. Entry is €2.50.
- Palaepafos. Historically this is probably the most important part of the World Heritage Site. This was the original location of Pafos, until it was destroyed by earthquake, prompting the city to rebuild further around the coast at its present location. But this was also the home to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, born in a froth of blood-flecked foam on the shore below the sanctuary. The sea is now a fair distance away, despite the shrine being described as ‘wave-lapped’ in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. The tourist guides will direct you to ‘Aphrodite’s Birthplace ‘ at Petra tou Roumiou – though the sea stacks at that location owe their name to an entirely different myth about a giant that does not seem to be part of the Greek mythos at all. But this Sanctuary was the focal point of the worship of Aphrodite for well over a millennium. Homer, around 700BC, refers to Aphrodite’s ‘precinct… and fragrant altar, and… her sweet-smelling temple’ at Pafos. And the sanctuary remained in operation until 391AD. But the remains today are scanty: the floorplan of a U-shaped complex plus some Roman-era dwellings for priests (photo). Following the prohibition of all religions other than Christianity the area was ploughed over for sugar cane plantations. In its favour, the staff are super-friendly and the museum, housed in the Lusignan manor house, is excellent with exhibits so good I was a little amazed they hadn’t been carted off to the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia. Highlights from the site include a series of bath-tubs (one with in-built soap dish), a colourful sarcophagus decorated with scenes of Odysseus’s crew evading Polyphemus the cyclops, a mosaic of a saucy Leda giving an amorous swan the glad-eye and Aphrodite herself. Or rather the local cultic representation of her, which was not some exquisite Venus de Milo-esque statue, but rather a tall tapering block of greeny-black stone. It certainly shows showcases just how long the site was in operation, in that worshipers progressed from idolising a lump of unusual rock to laying down sophisticated Roman mosaics. Entry is €4.50. I do not believe there is any public transport to Kouklia from Pafos, so you will need a taxi or a hire car. If driving yourelf take the A1 motorway from Pafos. Junction 45 is signposted for Kouklia and the Troodos; however, junction 44 is much closer to the site. Junction 43 is signposted if coming from the east.
If you have time for just one of these segments, visit the Archaeological Park. It is convenient to reach and the mosaics truly are beautiful. Visit in spring, if possible, when colourful wildflowers carpet the site. If you have a bit more time – and your own transport – Palaepafos is interesting, more for its museum than for what remains in situ. If you don’t have your own transport visit the Tombs of the Kings instead. The other sites of Kato Pafos are a hodge-podge of different eras and purposes and added little or anything to my understanding or appreciation of the Paphos World Heritage Site.
Please note that the Cyprus Department of Antiquities offers a one-day special entry card for €8.50. The individual entrance fees for the Archaeological Park, Tombs of the Kings and Palaepafos add up to €11.50 (€4.50+€2.50+€4.50). So if you are going to visit all the components (or even just the Archaeological Park plus Palaepafos) in a single day, the special entry card gives you a saving. Even more so if you try to visit Choirokoitia on the same day.
World Heritage-iness: 2.5
My Experience: 3.5
(Visited May 1999, May 2008, March 2011, September 2019)
I visited this WHS in February 2016. Although the main site (2 archeaological sites) is close to the Paphos Castle, the other inscribed site, known as the tomb of the kings, is quite a distance away and close to one of the best hotels in Cyprus for afternoon tea. However, this was once a huge uninterrupted landscape and in fact the sheer size of the site together with the good condition of some mosaics and remains make it quite a worthy site in terms of OUV. There are better examples on the list, however it is a very interesting site to visit in Cyprus and the most visited tourist attraction on the island. The marble Unesco plaque is close to the amphitheatre/lighthouse and close to the entrance there was a very interesting exhibition on the avifauna depicted on the mosaic floors which I really enjoyed. Being mainly an outdoor site close to the sea, there are several live bird species you can spot and some of them you can also spot on the mosaic floors. The main mosaics can be visited on an indoor wooden platform at the House of Aion (my favourite being the Triclinium mosaic) and at the House of Dionysus (which houses the largest collection of complete mosaics; my favourite was the rather discoloured one forming the old thermal baths with a stone pluck in the middle). The House of Theseus still does not have an enclosure so its mosaic floors can still be enjoyed with direct sunlight on them (although this won't be for much longer as an enclosure is to be built soon). Here my favourite mosaic is that of the mythical duel between Theseus and the minotaur in the labyrinth of Crete (picture). Moreover, the archaeological park has several geometric mosaic floors, thermal bath remains, irrigation remains, columns, the remains of the Saranda Kolones castle, etc. and most remains are still numbered or are still being excavated. On the other hand, the tomb of the kings is just a minor site nowadays with the main highlight being the underground tomb carved out of solid rock which at times imitated the houses of the living. The name though is quite misleading as no king was ever buried here. Overall, this site is a very relaxing and rewarding afternoon trip to visit when in Cyprus.
Another part of this WHS is the Sanctuary of Aphrodite near Kouklia village, just off the highway between Paphos and Limassol. This contains ruins of an ancient temple complex.
Paphos is a very touristy city on the Western coast of Greek Cyprus. It features abundant huge restaurants and English pubs which makes it lack any integrity it might have had. The findings for which Paphos got its nomination are of varying significane and quality. Of utmost beauty are its wonderfully preserved mosaics which are the most beautiful ones I've ever seen. They are of such artistic quality that they can be appreciated as art and not only for their historic importance. The other findings in the archaeological park and the nearby port and castle are much less interesting. Another well-known attraction is the Tombs of the Kings (not far to reach by foot). These catacombs are easily accessible and beautifully located along the shore. The old basilica is also worth a visit. What I found less appealing were the caves and Agia Solomoni catacomb which are surprisingly neglected and not that welcoming. The upper town (Ktima) is nice for a short stroll but nothing more.
I recently had the experience of viewing the mosaics at Paphos in the snow! I had the benefit of seeing the true colours and found it incredible that they were laid 2,000 years ago. The whole scale of the site was amazing and well worth a future visit. Having the amphitheatre to myself, as everyone else had been put off by the weather, truely was an inspiring experience!
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