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Realm of ancient gods

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Realm of ancient gods

Postby Agios Amvrosios » Mon Mar 21, 2005 5:33 am

Realm of ancient gods

By Peter Gosnell

March 14, 2005

THE snowflakes grew. From pinheads to petals, white and numbing, swirling and tumbling, untold billions of fragile curlicues, wrought high in the cracking madness of a Troodos mountains storm.

Ruins of the Sanctuary of Apollo Ylatis, on the road to Paphos near the ancient city of Kourion
How exquisite, I thought. And how cold, as a chill reality dawned. a

I was alone in a strange village in Cyprus. A storm was spilling over the surrounding peaks. My travelling companions were nowhere to be seen among the labyrinth of empty and unfamiliar lanes. And I wasn't attired for a whiteout. But base instinct was about to intervene.

As the light faded and the village homes adopted a don't-bother-knocking facade, the scent of baking bread came, wafted through the winding laneways of old Omodos by the gathering wind.

Led by my nose, I stumbled through the darkened village. Onwards past shuttered homes and shops. Slipping on cobblestones worn smooth by the passing of centuries of feet. Impelled by my belly towards that divine aroma.

It seeped from an unremarkable shopfront, dimly lit and looking as comprehensively shut as every other doorway I'd passed. I burst in nevertheless, plastered with snow and incoherent with cold.

Inside warm loaves were laid out on metal racks. The friendly girl behind the counter smiled as I selected a feather-light roll. I slapped a five Cypriot pound note on to her outstretched palm and bit into the yeasty ambrosia, savouring honey and cinnamon. This was bread to tempt the gods themselves, and which among the eternal and immortal have not at some stage made the Mediterranean island of Cyprus their home?

Unexpected snowfalls and bakery oases aside, if history is your thing, Cyprus is a must.

Greece, Turkey, Italy and the Holy Lands might form the usual circuit for admirers of civilisation's cultural roots, but no tour of the Mediterranean's incomparable legacy can be complete without a Cypriot side trip.

Home to many peoples over the past 10,000 years, Cyprus was once called Cyprium, in acknowledgement of the fact that 3000 years before Jesus Christ died, the civilised inhabitants were mining and smelting copper.

Around 1200BC many of the Trojan Wars' tragic victors populated the island. By 1000 BC the island was divided into 10 kingdoms and the cult of Aphrodite held Cypriots spellbound. But it was not to last.

Many conquerors came in the ensuing centuries.

Assyrians from Iraq, Ptolemys from Egypt, and hordes of Persians.

Each left their stamp, toppling pagan deities, erecting audacious monuments, imposing cruel regimes or enlightened customs.

Around 325BC Alexander the Great was warmly welcomed. The order he established barely survived his passing.

Then it was the Roman's turn, closely followed by the coming of Christianity. Lazarus who died and returned to life arrived in Cyprus in 33AD.

He went on to become the patron saint of the Orthodox Church which flowered during the Byzantine period as art and faith took root.

During the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart came ashore to marry his fiancee Berengaria of Navarre. She had been shipwrecked off the coast near the Cypriot port of Lemesos in 1191 and shown less than appropriate respect by Isaac Comnenus, a self-appointed emperor known for the harshness of his despotic rule.

After exchanging vows Richard promptly attacked. Isaac agreed to surrender on the condition he not be bound in irons, so Richard obliged by lashing the tyrant in chains of silver instead.

Just outside the Greek Cypriot port of Lemesos is Kolossi Castle, a squat fortification built by the Knights of St John in the 1200s with walls of stone almost three metres thick.

Inside is a treasure trove of artefacts, weapons, statues and pottery. The Knights brewed their famous Commandaria here, a fine aperitif and the forerunner to port.

Not far from Kolossi is the ancient city of Kourion, with its marvellous Greco-Roman semi-circular amphitheatre, astonishingly well preserved mosaics and spectacular views over the Mediterranean.

Built in 200 BC, the amphitheatre is still used for concerts, and the nearby Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates will fascinate those beguiled by the ancients' fates.

Come to Larnaca 50 days after Easter and you might find yourself in the middle of the festival of Cataclysmos which involves a lot of sprinkling of water over oneself and those around you.

At some time the church consecrated the funfair in acknowledgement of Noah's deliverance from the Flood but the festival's roots are solidly pagan and most likely lead back to Aphrodite.

Further up the coast, past Paphos is the goddess's birthplace. A great rock rears out of the sea. It is said Aphrodite emerged from the waves, spawned by the castration of her father by the titan, Cronus.

The legend goes that if one swims around Aphrodite's rock three times at midnight, the goddess will bequeath upon you the gift of eternal youth.

Cyprus is like that. Culture layered on culture. Legend upon legend.

Of particular interest are the magnificent frescoes adorning the walls and ceilings of many of the country's Orthodox churches.

There is so much more, accessible to tourists thanks to a sophisticated tourist infrastructure. Make sure you remember just two things:

The exchange rate of $A3 to one Cypriot pound means the place is not cheap.
Never make idle conversation on the subject of the Turkish military occupation of roughly half the island.
Coexisting with the astonishing cache of cultural mammon is modern Cyprus.

You'll find sprawling beachside resorts, myriad restaurants, archeological dive sites and the divided city of Lefkosia, where one can cross into Turkish-controlled territory and wander around a city of mosques and minarets.

Here the exchange rate of 1 million Turkish lira to $A1 makes for expanded choices.

And as it literally snows lira, visits to the towns of Kyrenia and Famagusta in Turkish or North Cyprus, as it's called, are a doddle. Just don't mention the war.

Getting there: Gulf Air to Bahrain with connecting flights to Larnaca on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Hotel stopover packages are available in Bahrain. Fares to Larnaca vary seasonally. Gulf Air has a five-star chef preparing meals for first class passengers and a Sky Nanny to care for children in all three classes. Details: 1300 366 337.
Packages: Hotel stays and touring packages are available through Sydney-based Sun Island Tours. Hotel rates start from $72 per night person in Larnaca, $195 in Paphos and $125 in Ayia Napa.
Most packages, including accommodation, transport and sightseeing, start from the five day Limassol and Beyond tour costing from $438. Others combine the main attractions in Cyprus with Lebanon, Egypt or Rhodes.
Details: Sun Island Tours, phone (02) 9283 3840.

The Sunday Telegraph
Agios Amvrosios
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Postby brother » Mon Mar 21, 2005 2:25 pm

Nice advertisement :wink:
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