As I begin to write this article it dawns on me that two of my favourite places, Lemnos and Cyprus are connected via the gods and goddesses. I have in a previous article mentioned that Hephaestus was the patron god of Lemnos after he settled there after being thrown onto the island by his angry father, Zeus. He then married the beautiful and promiscuous Aphrodite. Aphrodite was born from the sea foam on the southwestern coast of Cyprus. She married Hephaestus, god of the forge and permanent resident of Lemnos, but the goddess of love had an affair with Ares, god of war. She also fell in love with Adonis, a beautiful young man who was killed while hunting in the forests of Cyprus. It is said where his blood fell, wild anemones grew, accompanied by rock roses that formed from Aphrodite’s tears. The roots of these legends lie in the early history of their believers. As Cyprus was rich in copper, and its early trade was based on this, it was natural that a connection would be made with the god of the forge. It has also been suggested that the invading Greeks simply adapted an existing Phoenician goddess of fertility, Astarte whose husband was Tammuz, god of vegetation, and this pair became Aphrodite and Adonis. During the 12th and 11th century’s BC, several waves of Mycenaeans from Greece reached the island, at first perhaps as merchants. They settled and brought with them the Greek language, their religion and their customs. They built cities like Paphos, Salamis, Kition, and Kourion and from then on the island was progressively Hellenised. During the Archaic and Classical periods the island prospers but falls prey to several conquerors, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Persians. Till Alexander the Great defeats Persia and Cyprus becomes part of his Empire, which eventually comes under the Hellenistic state of the Ptolemies of Egypt and Alexandria in Egypt the Greek centre of leaning. The capital of Cyprus is now Paphos and brings a great period of wealth for the island. During 58 BC – 330 AD Cyprus becomes part of the Roman Empire. During the missionary journeys by Saint Paul and Barnabas, the Proconsul, Sergius Paulus is converted to Christianity and Cyprus becomes the first country to be governed by a Christian. After the division of the Roman Empire between East and West, Cyprus is included in the Eastern Roman Empire known as Byzantium. In 1191-1192 AD Richard the Lionhearted takes possession of Cyprus marrying Berengaria of Navrree in Limasol, where she is crowned Queen of England. Richard then sells the island to the Knights of the Templar and they in turn resell it to Guy de Lusignan one of the Crusader Knights. During 1192 – 1489 (Frankish Period) Cyprus is ruled on a feudal system and the Catholic Church officially replaces the Greek Orthodox although the latter manages to survive. Many beautiful gothic buildings belong to this period including the Cathedrals of Ayia Sophia, St Nicholas of Famagusta and Bellapais Abbey. The city of Famagusta becomes one of the richest in the Near East and Nicosia becomes the capital of Cyprus and the seat of the Lusignan Kings ending when the last Queen Caterina Cornaro cedes Cyprus to Venice heralding the Venetian Period (1489 – 1571). The Venetians see Cyprus as a last bastion against the Ottomans in the eastern Mediterranean and fortify the island tearing down beautiful old buildings in Nicosia to bring the city into a tight, encircled area defended by bastions and a moat, which can still be seen today. Building walls around Famagusta was considered at the time a work of military art. In 1570 Ottoman troops attack Cyprus, capture Nicosia, slaughter the population (20,000) and lay siege to Famagusta for one year. Capitulating, the Ottoman commander Lala Mustafa then orders the flaying, drawing and quartering of the Venetian commander Marc Antonio Bragadin and whoever is left over to death. Cyprus is then annexed to the Ottoman Empire, the Latin hierarchy expelled and the Greek Orthodox faith restored and in time the Archbishop becomes the representative to the Ottoman Porte. British rule assumes administration in 1878 although it is still formally under Ottoman rule and in 1914 Britain annexes Cyprus. I will end the history of Cyprus here as the rest is modern history and it deserves an article on its own. My interest in writing the history is to point out the many layers of civilizations, making sure that readers understand that Cyprus’ history is as complex as mainland Greece. Cyprus became an autonomous country in 1960 and has since been known as The Republic of Cyprus, but it seems a lot more blood will be shed to reach the peace that it is striving for today. I have travelled to Cyprus only twice in my life and every time I have been captivated by the welcoming Cypriot people and have been amazed at the quality of food and its culinary culture. The food is Greek, Middle Eastern and Turkish but quintessentially Cypriot; it is one of the most spectacular food cultures I have come across. It is also healthy, driven by fresh locally produces products. Many things stand out but I will never forget the potatoes. Roasted, very soft on the inside and very crunchy on the outside. I have sourced two different versions, one given to me during a recent chance encounter by a Cypriot lady, (thank you Agatha!). The first time I went to Cyprus was with my husband. He spent a significant time in his teenage years there. To see old friends was an exhilarating experience. I remember a visit to the Troodos Mountains and finding out I could not understand a word that was been spoken. I have since become aware that the Cypriot dialect is one of the oldest in the Greek-speaking world and very close to what was bought over by the Greeks from the mainland in days of old.
Cyprus – land of Aphrodite
Dora Kitinas-Gogos travels through the mystical past of Cyprus, on the way to its heavenly foodie future