The island is a magical place of myth and legend; the birthplace of the goddess of love; the battleground of the Venetians; the place where Richard the Lionheart married his queen Berengaria; the stopping off point for the crusaders on their way to fight the Saracens in the Middle East. Ever stone and ancient column has a story to tell – who knows what secrets they may reveal, what enchanting mysteries of past eras?
Cyprus is a veritable treasure of trove of archaeological sites. The ruins of the well known city kingdoms on the island give a captivating glimpse of life in ancient times.
One of these ancient city kingdoms is that of Amathus. It stands proudly atop a hill, just a short walk westwards along the coast from the St. Raphael resort, offering spectacular views of the surrounding area.
Excavations have revealed that the area was populated at least 3000 years ago and inscriptions in the local Cypriot script of the time have been uncovered. These first inhabitants chose the spot for their settlement extremely well. A steep cliff on the land side makes the site easily defendable from attack from the north; while on the southern sea side the land slopes down to a natural harbour. In C1st BC, the Phoenicians constructed a port here. Trade with the Greeks – evidenced by the vast amount of pottery from Rhodes, Corinth and Attica found on site – and with the Levantines flourished and so Amathus became on the wealthiest of the city kingdoms.
The city is said to have been named after Amathisa the mother of King Kinyrar of Paphos. According to local mythology, Kinyrar fathered Adonis. The goddess Aphrodite was so impressed by the baby’s beauty that she played a major role in raising him. While out hunting one day he was attacked by a wild boar and subsequently died. Aphrodite was grief stricken and she caused red anemones to spring up from the blood shed by Antonis. From that day on the ancient kingdom held the Adonia festival, a celebration in honour of Adonis with singing, dancing and athletic events.
Legend also has it that Theseus broke his journet at Amatghus. He had fled from Crete with Adriade, the king’s daughter, which has helped him to defeat the minotaur, Afriadne was heavily pregnant and unable to continue their voyage, so Theseus left her at Amathus with promises to soon return. However, they were not to see each other again for Ariadnes died in childbirth. The Amathusians buried her and built a shrine named after her in a sacred grove nearby.
In C1st AD the Apostles Paul and Barnabas travelled to Amathis in an attempt to spread Christianity. In later years the son of a baker was ordained bishop of Amathus. He was called Tychon, hence the name of the nearby village, Ayios (saint) Tychonas. Tychon, in turn, tried unsuccessfully to convert the locals. In his frustration he destroyed the idols in the template of Artemis. When the high priestess prevented him. Tychon pushed her away with such force, she believed he was using the strength of god. As a result, the high priestess allowed herself to be baptised with the Christian name, Eyethia.
The earliest remains on the site covering a total area of about 5km2, dates back to the early Iron Age. Excavations have uncovered the ‘lower town’ with what is probably part of the Roman market; the east necropolis with a small basilica; city walls; public and private buildings; many ancient tombs; the port; and the acropolis on high with a great template to Aphrodite. In keeping with the custom of the time, there are also two more templates here – one dedicated to Adonis and one to Hercules.
The department of Antiquities have fenced off the lower site and have erected display boards showing the layout of the buildings and outlining the tumultuous happenings throughout the ages.
The local authority is also planning the construction of a raised walkway in the sea over the remains of the port, which will be floodlit at night.
Archaeological findings have been cast. Many exquisite examples of ancient Cyprus art, of pottery and sculpture decorate museums all over Europe and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. One of the most exceptional pieces, dating back to C6th BC, is an enormous limestone pot, nearly 2m in height and weighing 14 tons, now standing in the Musee du Louve in Paris. It is believed to have been made from a single stone and has four handles each bearing the carving of the bull’s head. Two replicas have been made – one stands high up on the acropolis, while the other can be seen on the coast road going towards Limassol.
The Ancient Kingdom of Amathus is certainly worth a visit; but please remember to take the necessary precautions – it is all too easy to be enchanted by the magical mix of mythology and archaeology present on the site!