Limassol is at the southern coast of Cyprus. It feels like a tired old industrial city that has suddenly discovered that it sits right at the Mediterranean sea, and tourists seem to appreciate that, so they had some architect pour a lot of concrete at the old harbor promenade, and pedestrianized a few blocks where the buildings don’t look like a tired old industrial city.
They tick all the boxes, there’s a small castle and some churches and bars and souvenir shops… But somehow it doesn’t add up to a place that one would expect between Paphos and Larnaka.
Paphos is near the western tip of Cyprus. It’s a vacation town like Larnaka, but much friendlier. Much less traffic and no large hotel blocks, and no McDonald’s. Still synthetic and very touristic, but it’s nice to walk here.
New Paphos is at the northern end of Paphos. “New” is a little misleading because it’s over 2300 years old. The buildings are gone, most of the ruins are less than a meter tall – but an incredible number of intricate floor mosaics have survived. The House of Dionysos alone, now covered by a wooden structure, contains 550 square meters of mostly intact mosaics detailing Greek legends.
Further north are the Tombs of the Kings, mostly underground caverns hewn into the rock. They are unique in Cyprus because they were built in an Egyptian style. Like most tombs in Egypt, they were plundered centuries ago.
After German reunification, Nicosia is now the last divided city in Europe. Right in the middle is the Green Line, an inaccessible strip filled with ruins and watchtowers, dividing the Turkish north and the Greek south. It’s a simple formality to cross from one to the other at the Ledra Street checkpoint though. There is a bar called Berlin Wall N. 2 Checkpoint Charlie right at a barbed wire roadblock in the south. All points of interest are inside the old circular Venetian city walls.
Where South Nicosia has shopping streets and orthodox churches, North Nicosia has bazaars and mosques. The south has western polish and is clearly more affluent, but the north feels more authentic. Lots of ancient Ottoman-era buildings in the north, although many are badly damaged and neglected. The north has too many cars; the south has WAY too many cars.
It might seem that in Cyprus, all the best bits are in ruins or wrecks, but the city of Kyrenia on the north coast is beautiful too. It has a wonderful ancient feel, especially around the old harbor, which is packed with restaurants and yachts. The castle at the eastern end of the harbor is mostly intact and houses several museums.
Also went to the Bellapais monastery for my daily fix of ruins.
It helps to arrive early, before the tour groups. St Hilarion is a huge castle ruin on top of the highest and steepest mountain above the city of Kyrenia, a.k.a Girne, on the north coast, and for a while I had it all to myself.
If you were asked to invent a fairytale castle ruin and given loads of pencils, it would look like St. Hilarion. Lots of halls, vaults, little passages, countless stairs, and all with great views of the hills, the city below, and the Mediterranean sea. And gunshots, there’s a big army shooting range right next to it.
The ancient city of Salamis is over 3000 years old. It has been conquered by pretty much everyone in the region, and is in ruins today. Much of what one can see today was built by the Romans. Salamis is 12km north of Famagusta.
For an an admission price of €3.50 one gets to see the huge bathhouse, an amphitheater that is still used today, and square kilometers of scattered ruins with great sea views. From what’s left – marble columns, mosaics and marble floors, huge arches, heated floors – it’s obvious how much luxury they could afford in Roman times.
Lots of walking today, over 23km…
Crossing the border between the southern Republic of Cyprus to the Turkish north at the Derineia checkpoint is an experience. A normal city bus stops at the south side, then it’s a short walk to the two checkpoints.
On the Turkish side, the world ends.There is nothing there. For several kilometers, there is only barbed wire and ruins as far as one can see. It’s a lifeless wilderness with no buses, taxis, or people. Replace the gray weeds with sand and it would feel like a Mad Max movie. Probably a result of the 1974 Turkish invasion. I had to walk 6.5km to the city of Famagusta, my destination today.
Famagusta is charming, much more than Larnaka. It has a city wall, several picturesque half-ruined churches, a very walkable old town, and friendly people. It’s not an EU member, so mobile data went from essentially free to catastrophically expensive (€12373/GB), but everybody accepts euros. Got a beautiful apartment at Malia Let.
MS Zenobia is a ferry that sank 40 years ago just off the coast of Larnaka on her maiden voyage, due to a software bug. It’s enormous – 178 meters long and 28 meters wide. It has three cargo decks and was carrying, among other cargo, 104 tractor-trailer trucks. It’s now one of the top ten scuba diving sites of the world.
It’s now resting on its side at a depth of 42 meters. Trucks are scattered around it. Most decks can be visited, but parts that aren’t steel have collapsed, creating big internal spaces. We went through the length of the upper passenger deck, through a series of narrow doors, 60 meters total. Lots of fallen partitions, cables, carpet shreds, toilets, and the forward gallery that is now a cavernous space reaching from the top of the wreck to the seafloor. Very impressive!
Cyprus is a large island near the eastern end of the Mediterranean. It’s in Europe, although Asian Turkey is not far to the north, and Syria, Lebanon, and Israel are not far to the east. Cyprus is divided into the Turkish north, and the Republic of Cyprus in the south which is an EU member country, speaks Greek, and uses the euro.
The city of Larnaka is in the south. People come here for the beaches. Historic buildings are few and eclipsed by countless faceless hotels, strangled by slow-moving car traffic. The beaches are lined with fast-food restaurants; it takes some effort to find good food. Larnaka doesn’t have much charm during the day but awakes at night. Well, I am not here for a beach vacation.