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Nea Paphos

Mythical beginnings


The Paphos region is broadly streching in the eastern part of Cyprus, It is a combination of an inaccessible rocky coast cut by seasonal rivers originating in the Troodos Mountains and the extraordinary Akamas peninsula, where sea turtles are born. This is the land of Aphrodite - the goddess of love. According to myth, it was here that She emerged from the sea foam in a place called by the locals Petra tu Romiu. Alsow here, Her panhellenic sanctuary was thriving.

The Greek geographer and traveler Strabo considered Agapenor, grandson of Lycurgus, king of Tegea, to be the mythical founder of the city of Paphos. He was a participant in the Trojan War, but despite the victory, the hero did not manage to return home. His ship deviated from the course during the storm and crashed on the coast of Cyprus, where Agapenor was to build both the city and the temple of Aphrodite.

In the light of archeological excavations, Paphos, where the Sanctuary of Aphrodite was located, developed from the 12th century BC until the end of the 4th century BC. Its remains have been located by British archaeologists in the area of the modern town of Kouklia, and for many years they were uncovered by Cypriot, German and Swiss researchers. Following from the Bronze Age to the end of Classical Period, Cyprus was divided into small kingdoms (Paphos was one of them), which, due to their strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea, were dependent on the hegemons surrounding them, which resulted in divers influence on the island's culture.

Major changes in Cyprus tooke place at the end of the 4th century BC, when the troops of Alexander the Great conquered the local kingdoms, uniting the island. After his death, as a result of fights between the Diadochi, Cyprus falls under the rule of the Egyptian Ptolemaic Dynasty. End of 4th century BC it is also a big change in the Paphos region. The current capital loses its importance, receiving the status of Palaia (Old) Paphos. At a distance of about 14 km from it, the construction of a new city begins, using a natural bay perfect for creating a huge seatrade harbour. This city was later called Nea (New) Paphos.

Nea Paphos in the Hellenistic Period

Nea Paphos was founded at the turn of the 4th and 3rd century BC. as an important harbour located on the sea trade route from Rhodes to Alexandria. The city was located on a peninsula surrounded by a natural bay and between the two small hills called Fanari and Fabrika. Infuenced by the architecture of the Egyptian capital of the Ptolemaic state, Nea Paphos was built on the so-called Hippodamaic plan, i.e. city's layout was based on a regular grid of streets and insula plots. Urban buildings faced the large port and the city was separated from the mainland by defensive walls. From the very beginning, Nea Paphos had a theater based on the slope of Fabrika Hill, an essential element in every Greek city.

Thanks to its strategic location, from the 2nd century BC Nea Paphos became the capital of Cyprus and the seat of the strategos, general managing the island. The city was strongly influenced by Alexandria. Thanks to the extensive and modern port and access to cider wood from the nearby forests Nea Paphos become a base of Ptolemaic navy and a military garrison made up of mercenaries were stationed here. The multicultural character of the city was probably complemented by many sailors and merchants, but also by pilgrims who, through the eastern city gate, set out on a processional path through the holy gardens of Aphrodite (Geroskipu) towards the world famous sanctuary of the goddess in Old Paphos. Nea Paphos was also inhabited by a rich Greek aristocracy gathered around the strategos. Today we witness their glory by the remains of their monumental tombs located north of the city, the so-called Tombs of the Kings .

Nea Paphos certainly in the first century B.C. witnessed the events that led to the transition of the island to Roman rule due to the fall of the Ptolemaic dynasty.


Augusta (Sebaste) Flawia in the Roman Period

In 58 BC Cyprus was incorporated to the Roman province of Cilicia with the permission of Ptolemy XII, the ruler of Egypt, who sought the support of the Roman Senate. At that time, Cyprus was ruled by his younger brother, Ptolemy, king of Cyprus. Earlier, the Roman Senate decided to seize Cyprus and confiscate all the property of the younger Ptolemy on the island. The executor of Rome's will was Cato the Younger. Despite the guarantees of preserving privileges and personal inviolability, Ptolemy did not agree to the Roman conditions and committed suicide. His fortune, sold at auction, brought Rome a colossal sum of 7,000 talents.
For a short time, the island was restored to the decaying Egyptian Ptolemaic state by Caesar and Antony, but its fate was finally sealed by the Battle of Actium in 30 BC.

Since 22 BC Cyprus became a province of the Roman Senate governed by a proconsul. One of them, Sergius Paul, is known from the Acts of the Apostles. Despite the political changes, Nea Paphos remained the capital of the island thanks to its strategic location and the possibilities of its harbour. After the earthquake in 15 (or 17) BC which destroyed Paphos, the city changed its Alexandrian character. The reconstruction was initiated by Emperor Augustus, and the city of Caesarea Maritima, located north of today's Tell Aviv, is considered to be a direct architectural inspiration. Paphos was then called Augusta (Sebaste), and the nickname Flawia was added by Emperor Titus, who personally visited the local sanctuary of Aphrodite. As Strabo writes, Sebaste had beautiful buildings and temples. They were mainly inhabited by local Greeks, as well as Romans, Jews and the early Christian diaspora. The residents had the right to mint their own coin with the representation of the temple of the goddess Aphrodite on the reverse, and the administrative institutions established in the Hellenistic period continued.

Thanks to location of Cyprus on the border of tectonic plates, earthquakes struck the Paphos region three more times during Roman Period in 77/76 AD, 126 AD. and twice in the 4th century AD, which caused Augusta to lose its importance to the founding of the Emperor Constantine - Constance (Famagusta, near the former capital of the island, Salamis). The numerous destruction and reconstruction of the city with the frequent re-use of the same building materials resulted in a very complex arrangement of cultural layers discovered by archaeologists today.

Archaeological Excavations in Nea Paphos

Despite the fact that the first professional archaeological excavations was undertaken by British archaeologist J. Du Plat Taylor in the 1933, the remains of Nea Paphos were considered of little interest for a long time. The breakthrough was the accidental discovery of mosaics decorating a large villa from Roman times, the so-called House of Dionysus in the 1960s. At that time, the Cypriot archaeologist, Kyriakos Nikolau, began extensive excavations. Already in 1965, the work of the Polish Archeological Mission of the University of Warsaw was initiated by prof. Kazimierz Michałowski.

Since 1980, thanks to the exceptional importance of the mosaics found in Paphos, architecture remains and it's significance as cult place of a pre-Hellenic goddes of fertility, Nea Paphos, Tombs of the Kings and Aphrodite Sanctuary in Old Paphos has been included on the UNESCO list. Later, the Kato Paphos Archaeological Park was created to protect the remains of the city, its necropolises and other ancient sites.

Nowadays, Nea Paphos is the most important archaeological site in Cyprus, well-established among the key research of Ancient Mediterranean cities. In addition to the completed excavations of the Cypriot Department of Antiquities (House of Dionysus, Basilica of Limeniotissa, Basilica of Chrysopolitissa) and the University of Cyprus (Villa of Orpheus) and the British mission (medieval castle Saranta Kolones), research is being carried out on the aforementioned Warsaw mission (residential district Maloutena), the Australian mission (the Theater), the French mission (Fabrika hill), the Italian mission (Toumpallos-Garrison's Camp), and the Paphos Agora Project expedition of the Jagiellonian University (Agora).