Cyprus, an island in the Eastern Mediterranean, at the
cross-roads of three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa -
has one of the oldest histories of the world, dating back
9000 years. Its strategic position, its wealth in forests
and mineral deposits, as well as its skilled craftsmen,
made it the prized possession of the powers of the day.
Cultural influences came from all directions - all major
regional civilisations left their mark on the island,
contributing to the development of a very rich and diverse
cultural heritage.
The Stone Age
The first signs of human life on the island date back to c.
8500 BC during the Palaeolithic period. Evidence of human
activity was found in cave dwellings near Liopetri, though
it is not known whether they were just hunting parties
passing through or permanent settlers.
The first undisputed settlements are believed to have been
established towards the end of the 8th millennium BC.
Vestiges of such early communities are found all over the
island, such as at Khirokitia, Kalavasos-Tenta, Apostolos
Andreas- Kastros, Phrenaros, Petra tou Limniti.
Neolithic Cypriots built circular houses with small
undressed stones for the lower structures and sun-dried
mudbricks and clay for the middle and superstructure. The
Khirokitia neolithic settlement in Larnaca district stands
out as a striking example of prehistoric architecture.
The Neolithic settlement of Khirokitia
The Bronze/ Copper Age
Large copper deposits brought fame and wealth to the island
and may have even given it its name. It has been documented
that during the bronze age Cyprus had intense commercial
relations with the main commercial and cultural centres of
that time. During this period metallurgy and pottery
flourished while close relations developed, particularly
with Crete, which are also expressed in the
Cypro-Minoan script which appeared in Cyprus around 1500 BC.
Of special significance for the future of Cyprus was its
colonisation around 1200 BC by Mycenaean and Achaean
Greeks, a migration process that lasted for more than a
century. They brought with them to the island the Hellenic
language, culture and religion. Legend has it that the
first Hellenes who settled in Cyprus were heroes of the
Trojan war. The arrival of the Achaeans greatly influenced
town planning, architecture, and pottery. Since then Cyprus
has remained predominantly Greek in culture, language and
population despite influences resulting from successive
Iron Age
More and more people from the Greek world came to live in
Cyprus. They built city along the lines of the Greek ones.
There were about eleven city kingdoms in all: Kourion,
Paphos, Soloi, Marion, Lapithos, Salamis, Kition, Kyrenia,
Amathus, and Idalion.
Although Cyprus was conquered by other peoples, these city
kingdoms mostly ruled themselves, paying taxes to their
conquerors. The island was conquered in succession by the
Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Persians (800-332 BC).
The Classical Period
For more than a century, Cyprus was caught in the middle of
the power struggle between Greece and Persia. In the 6th
century BC Persia became the dominant power and the kings
of Cyprus, while being allowed to retain their autonomy,
were obliged to pay tribute to the Persian King and place
their military forces at his disposal. Persia's domination,
however, was not maintained easily and there were several
attempts tooverthrow the Persian yoke, the most significant
being the Ionian revolt and an attempt by King Evagoras I
of Salamis to unite all of Cyprus' city-kingdoms under him.
attempts failed.
The Hellenistic Period
Cyprus stayed in Persian hands until Alexander the Great
defeated the Persian Empire when the island became part of
his huge Empire. Upon Alexander's death Cyprus fell to one
of his generals, Ptolemy I, the ruler of Egypt. >From then
on Cyprus, under the Ptolemies, was an integral part of the
Hellenistic World until its integration with the Roman
Empire in 30 BC.
During this time Cyprus experienced significant cultural
activity and close contacts with the city kingdoms of the
Hellenic World. Cypriot athletes took part in the Olympic
and Panathenian Games and the names of Cypriot sculptors
are referred to at Delphi and Lemnos. The worship of
Aphrodite was known throughout the region and the Temple of
Goddess of Love and Beauty at Palaepaphos gathered pilgrims
from all over the ancient world. The city-kingdoms of
Salamis, Amathus, Paphos and others which were established
at the time of Greek colonisation flourished during this
period and produced magnificent pieces of architecture and
sculpture which survive till our days.
The Roman Period
As the Ptolemaic empire declined, Cyprus came under Roman
domination and was a colony in 58 BC. Romans also left
their legacy on the island in the form of Roman
amphitheatres, public baths, mosaics and other
architectural edifices. One of the most significant events
during this period was the visit to the island of the
Apostles Paul and Barnabas, the latter being considered the
founder of the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of
Cyprus. The Apostles travelled all across the island to
Paphos where they converted the Roman governor to
Christianity and so Cyprus became the first country to be
ruled by a Christian.
The Byzantine Period
The Christian civilisation was consolidated in the island
during the Byzantine Period (330-1191 AD) at which time the
island was an important spiritual focus. Wonderful churches
and magnificent monasteries containing fine wall paintings
and mosaics survive to our times and are testimony to the
importance of Cyprus in the East Roman Empire.
St Bartholomew, mosaic from the Kanakaria Church. (PHOTO)
6th century AD
With the emergence of Islam in the 6th and 7th centuries
AD, Cyprus became an object dispute between Christendom and
Islam. The Arabs, who with their repeated incursions,
spread death and destruction in coastal settlements, were
finally pushed away in 965 AD by Emperor Nicephorus Phocas
and restored
Cyprus as a province of the Byzantine Empire.
The western Crusaders influenced a great deal the
development of the history of Cyprus. It was Richard the
Lionheart, King of England, who during the Third Crusade
captured the island defeating its ruler, Isaac Comnenos in
1191. Richard tried to sell Cyprus to the Knights Templars,
who nevertheless, were not able to resist the revolt of the
people of Cyprus. Thus the island went back to the English
King, who sold it again this time to the Frankish King of
Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan.
The Frankish Period
The rule of the Franks in Cyprus lasted until 1489 and
during that time life on the island was organised on the
basis of the feudal model of the West, oppression of the
indigenous population being its main characteristic. The
Lusignan period left numerous monuments on the island -
mainly Gothic churches and mountain fortifications.
During the 14th century Cyprus is an important point of
contact between East and West. Within a network of
contradictions, a complex cultural creation took shape both
in the letters and in the arts with the pronounced seal of
a variety of influences.
The end of the Latin period in Cyprus came with the
Venetian rule from 1489 to 1571. The Venetians held the
island for its strategic position in the area of the
Eastern Mediterranean on the way to the vital Silk Route to
China. Venice, wished in this way to underline its
prominence among the western powers of the time and
attempted to keep to road to the East open despite the
growing menace of the Ottomans. The Venetians also left
their mark on the island's cultural heritage with their
fortifications around Nicosia and Famagusta. These, built
with the intention of fending off the Turks, proved
inadequate and Cyprus fell to the Turks in 1571, becoming
part of the Ottoman Empire.
MODERN TIMES The Turkish Period
Though Cyprus on the whole became less prosperous under
Ottoman rule, there were certain immediate benefits.
Serfdom was abolished and the rights of the Greek Orthodox
Church, which had been suppressed since the Franks, were
restored. However, there was very harsh rule and harsh
taxation which impoverished the people, and there were
continual revolts. In 1821 an attempt by Cypriots to
support the Greeks in their revolt against Ottoman rule was
brutally crushed, with the Archbishop being publicly hanged
and many others, including three bishops, put to death.
Cyprus remained under Ottoman rule until 1878 when, with
the Treaty of Berlin, the Sultan in his effort to secure
British support in his conflict with the Russians leased
Cyprus to Great Britain. Then in 1914, following the entry
of Turkey in World War I on the side of Germany, the
British government annexed Cyprus and turned it into a
Crown colony in 1925. In the meantime Turkey surrendered
all claim on Cyprus with the Lausanne Treaty it concluded
with Greece in 1923.
The British Period
British rule left its mark on the island's complex culture
with the adoption by the people Cyprus of some of the
customs of their colonial masters, the legacy of some
British colonial buildings, and, most importantly, the
tradition of the British administration especially in the
civil service.
Cypriots fought alongside the allies against fascism and
nazism during World War II. The British, however, refused
to keep their word and offer the island the right of self
determination at the end of the war. There followed the
Enosis referendum of 1950, when 96% of Greek Cypriots voted
for Enosis, Union with Greece. In April 1955 the EOKA
Liberation Struggle, against the colonial rulers, resulted
in the granting of independence to the island on the basis
of the Zurich and London Agreements of February 1959.
Independence and invasion
The independent Republic of Cyprus came into being in
August 1960. Its first President was Archbishop Makarios.
Over the first three years of independence relations
between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots deteriorated, mainly
as a result of flaws in the constitution which gave
disproportional rights to the Turkish Cypriot community
including the right to block the passing of laws. In 1963
intercommunal violence broke out following which many
Turkish Cypriots withdrew to enclaves. Attempts to bring
the two sides back together were made through the United
Nations who sent a contingent to the island.
On 15 July 1974 the Junta ruling Athens at the time
organised a coup to overthrow Archbishop Makarios. A week
later Turkey invaded the island, claiming this was to
restore constitutional order. However, when the rightful
government was restored, Turkish troops stayed on,
implementing a long-held policy of partitioning the island.
They went on to occupy more than a third of Cyprus, forcing
200,000 people to lose their homes and become refugees. The
area under Turkish occupation unilaterally declared
independence in 1983, an act condemned by the UN and other
international organisations. No country in the world other
than Turkey has recognised this illegal state.
The political issue, despite efforts to solve it, remains
virtually frozen since 1974 and the occupation of part of
Cyprus by the Turkish army still continues.


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