Cyprus represents the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Considered the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of beauty), Cyprus gives full justice to this legend by being one of the most idyllic destinations for travellers of any kind. Enchanted ruins, old castles and impervious mountains leaning on a sapphire-blue sea are the frame of this astonishing picture blessed by sunshine for more than 300 days a year.
The impressive cultural heritage of the island is the result of the alternation of many dominators. Cyprus was ruled by Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Turks and British before becoming a republic. Each of these cultures left its own mark on the architecture, cuisine, lifestyle and language. In particular, the long conflict between Turks and Greeks has deeply affected the life on this little paradise in the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, to the point that the island is still divided in two parts since the 1974 war. Both the Greek Cypriot republic in the south and the Turkish republic of the north have Nicosia as capital. This division has profoundly influenced Cypriot society as well, with the Greek Cypriot society strongly attached to the tradition of the Orthodox Church. Tourism is the dominant economic activity in this highly urbanized part of the country which was the site of many powerful city states. The abundance of well-preserved temples, theatres and villas attest the presence of both Greeks and Romans. Kourion in particular with its roman theatre, the baths, the nymphaeum and much more is an authentic paradise for all lovers of classical culture, despite the two catastrophic earthquakes of the 4th century which destroyed great part of the town. Also, there is an incredibly rich heritage left by Byzantines including churches, basilicas and monasteries while the prominent medieval castle of Limassol was the main stronghold of Crusaders, where Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre in 1191. For swimming and sunbathing, the best locations are definitely the sandy beaches of Agia Napa and Protaras while adventure fans can have a tour around the amazing landscapes offered by the surroundings of Larnaka and Limassol.
In the Turkish north, Islam is the dominant religion and life proceeds according to a completely different set of traditions. Once fairly inaccessible, this region is now visited by an increasing number of tourists and it is specially recommended for nature lovers who can have the chance to venture in the hidden sides of Karpasia peninsula, inhabited by tortoises and other peaceful wild animals. In this part of the island it is possible to admire two other superb cities, Kyrenia and Famagusta, which probably equal Nicosia for richness of historical sites. Nevertheless, the core of this region is undoubtedly North Nicosia, where over a third of the population of North Cyprus reside. The vast majority of historic sights – mosques, bazaars, fountains and caravanserais – are enclosed by the old Venetian walls, which construction was completed in 1567 in the attempt to protect the city from the Ottoman invasion.