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.
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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