Paphos Archaeological Park (Nea Paphos)

In 1994, just a few miles north of Nea Paphos, bones were found in a well. Among the animal bones were the remains of a child which were carbon dated at both Arizona and Oxford universities, and were found to be 11,300 years old (9300 BC). The site has now been confirmed as the first Aceramic Neolithic site and, thus, the first signs of human activity on the island of Cyprus. That might seem a rather young age considering the spread of human beings around the Mediterranean area, and the fact that in places like Britain we see “human” activity around a million years ago, but Cyprus is a “remote” island in a historical context, and places like Britain were once connected to mainland Europe up until around 10,000 years ago. In essence, Cyprus has always required a sea voyage to reach it.

The badly named ‘Paphos Archaeological Park’ describes the city of Nea Paphos, which was founded by Nikokles, king of Paphos, in around 312 BC. Prior to this, Cypriot kingdoms had been established since the 12th Century BC all over the island, but the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC brought massive upheavals across the entire western world. Nea Paphos was chosen by Nikokles for several reasons – it had a perfect port for international trade due to its location in relation to Alexandria in Egypt, and the nearby Troodos hills provided immense wealth from raw materials such as wood, which was used in ship building. There was also copper smelting and other products, and these were exported in great quantities.

Nikokles had basically shifted the capital from Palaepaphos (Old Paphos) to Nea Paphos (New Paphos), a distance of around 9 miles (16km). Palaepaphos had been the centre of the cult of Aphrodite since Mycenaean times, and it was the Mycenaeans who built the temple of Aphrodite there around a thousand years earlier in at least the 13th Century BC.

Politically, Nikokles had sided with Ptolemy Soter I in 317 BC, along with several other Cypriot kingdoms, in a bid to annexe Cyprus from Antigonus I, who had support from the remaining Cypriot kings. Unfortunately Cyprus was right in the centre of the Alexandrian empire, and thus in the middle of the power vacuum that ensued after Alexander’s death. Although the Ptolemies won the power struggle against Antigonus I, Nikokles himself was limited only to the maintenance of the office of the priest of Aphrodite after the royal institution was abolished in 312 BC. The replacement of the kingdoms in favour of a new political and administrative system meant there was no more place for kings on the island of Cyprus but, at the very least, the kings were still given high status and a dominant place in the new political system. Ironically, this split in Cyprus continues to this day, although it wasn’t always like this. Despite being one country, Cyprus is cut by the Greeks and the Turks – two thirds Greek and one third Turk, after the Turks invaded in 1974, with tensions still remaining. There have been several skirmishes and crises in the 20th Century, notably those of 1914, 1955 to 1964, and then the Turkish invasion of 1974.  Greeks and Turks have been on the island for many centuries. At the time of writing new talks have started to establish a permanent agreement between both parties.

During the building of Nea Paphos the new city walls were of a “staggering” size, creating great defences for the city. As per most Hellenistic or Greek cities, there was also built a theatre and a gymnasium, and also temples or sanctuaries of “Apollo Hylates, Zeus Polieus, Leto, Artemis Agrotera, Hera, and Aphrodite”. All of these original buildings, however, had been completely destroyed by both earthquakes and later Romanisation. Remnants of the massive defensive walls of the city can still be seen in various locations around the perimeter although, again, most of them have been destroyed. Remnants of the great defensive walls show clearly there were four main entrances into the city, and the northern entrance was guarded by two large towers with an external road, 115 feet (35m) long.

Just inside the northern entrance, at Toumballos, there are rock cut chambers which hint at a “probable” Apollo sanctuary. The ruins date the the 4th century BC and the sanctuary appears to have been part of a military encampment (1). Previous excavations of this area had produced about 150 coins and an oil lamp (2). Further excavations were carried out in which a room was discovered beneath the dug trench. Inside, a mosaic floor was discovered with “white and dark” tiles (2). A corridor was then found which led to a well. More excavations concluded that a “seismic event” occurred during the early Christian period, but the mosaic floor dates to a later period. The construction materials deeper down date to the Hellenistic period, where a head of a statuette was found, possibly of Aphrodite. In the northeastern corner fragments of vases were found also dating to the Hellenistic period, and an intact cup dating to the 3rd or 2nd century BC. Other finds include a carved stone head of a woman and a Lusignan silver coin. The Lusignan period was from the 12th to 15th centuries AD (2).

Although the gymnasium has never been located (there must have been one), the theatre was discovered at the northeastern end of the site. The semi-circular auditorium was 270 feet (88m) in diameter, the orchestra 37 feet (12.4m) in diameter, and the stage building 90 feet (30m) wide. Written sources place the theatre’s origins in the 4th Century BC, and references to the Paphian comedian, Sopatros, in the 3rd Century BC.

Despite there being sanctuaries mentioned in texts, only the sanctuary of Apollo Hylates has surfaced. Discovered in the 19th Century in the eastern necropolis, the sanctuary is dated to the 4th Century BC. The sanctuary is unique among other Apollo sanctuaries in that it was cut into the rock, and consists of two small chambers reached by a rock cut passage and a stairway.

Underneath the later House of Dionysus (see below), a mosaic was discovered dating to the 4th Century BC. The mosaic of Scylla (image 170) is arguably the most important Hellenistic mosaic in the whole of Cyprus. Made of black, white and red pebbles, the portrayal of Scylla shows her as half woman and half fish, with three angry dogs emanating from her waist. In her hands she holds a trident and a ship’s mast respectively, and the mosaic is the oldest in the entire country.

Finds from the Hellenistic period include a hoard of coins dating to the Ptolemaic era. As with most of the Hellenistic finds, they were found under the House of Dionysus in the Hellenistic strata, under the Roman mosaic floors. How a hoard of 2,484 coins hidden in a large Hellenistic amphora was missed by the later inhabitants one will never know but, on the contrary, they were discovered fifteen feet (5m) below the surface. That’s a staggering depth considering the closeness of the time periods in question. The coins were minted in various locations – Alexandria, Salamis, Kition, and Nea Paphos – and were in circulation between 204 and 88 BC. They weren’t the only items to resurface, however. Unbelievably, 11,000 clay seals showing divinities, kings, and other images from the state archive were found in the same layer. A kiln, a bronze foundry and also clay statue moulds were also found. These finds provide evidence that there was not only a mint in Nea Paphos, but also a statue-making workshop.

From 50 BC we see massive changes at Nea Paphos due to the conquering Romans, who arrived in 58 BC. The Romans introduced what is considered a more liberal system than the Ptolemaic one, and Cypriot cities enjoyed higher self-governance.

In 22 BC, Emperor Augustus detached Cyprus from Cilicia, the Roman province located directly north of eastern Cyprus, in southern Turkey, and turned it into an independent region. Oddly, a new calendar was introduced, with the months bearing the names of Augustus’ family and titles. The city was also named “Augusta”. New coins were also minted, mostly showing the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Palaepaphos.

In 15 BC Nea Paphos was destroyed by a severe earthquake, but Augustus had the city rebuilt in a relatively short time.

St. Paul arrived in Nea Paphos in 45 AD, preaching the word of Christ, and he converted the Roman proconsul of the city, Sergius Paulus. In true Christ-like fashion he also “blinded the sorceress Elymas”. According to the apostles things weren’t so literal as Elymas, who was actually male and thus a sorcerer and not a sorceress, was only temporarily blinded when the apostle Paul tried to give a teaching. It was this “act of god” that converted Sergius to Christianity. The stela of the apostle Paul still stands at Kato Paphos.

Nea Paphos was destroyed once again by an earthquake in 76 or 77 AD, but the city was reconstructed by the Flavian emperors. Yet again we see the city destroyed by earthquakes, both in 332 and 342 AD, and these two earthquakes also destroyed “Salamis and other coastal cities”. Unfortunately this happened again not long after, as another earthquake struck in 365 AD. Often large earthquakes that destroyed cities left them is such ruin that they were abandoned, but despite the series of earthquakes of the 4th Century, Nea Paphos continued. However, the final earthquake saw the decline of the city in the 4th Century and the capital was changed to Salamis since Salamis was rebuilt by emperor Konstans II between 337 and 361 AD. The city was renamed Konstantia. Later the city was destroyed by Arabs in the middle of the 7th Century, and from this point this city was seen as small and insignificant in the grand scheme of the Byzantine Empire, and it only retained its status as a Bishopric.

The economy of Nea Paphos was revived under the Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II. He reconquered the island in 965 AD, during his campaign in Cilicia and northern Syria, taking it back from the Arabs (3). From this point there was a Byzantine revival that lasted until 1191 AD, whereby around 200 churches were built on Cyprus, many of them in the Paphian region. (1) Most of these, however, were destroyed by a great earthquake which struck Paphos in 1159, the devastation being mentioned by Saint Neophytus. At the beginning of the 12th Century, until its destruction in 1159, Nea Paphos was a centre and stop off point for several famous pilgrims, who were travelling to the “holy places”. (1)

During the Lusignan Dynasty (1192 – 1489), Paphos became the capital of the four districts of the island. The most notable story during this time period is that of a small village called Chrysocho or Akamantis, referring to the area of Marion-Arsinoe. Stephanus Lusignan had mentioned this in his book, “Chronography and brief history of the island of Cyprus”. Akamantis has not been located, but it is said to have been founded by the Athenian Trojan war hero, Akamanthos, whose name is given to the cape of Akamas. The lost village is either located near the cape, or in the wider area of Marion-Arsinoe.

Nea Paphos enjoyed its heyday during the early centuries of the first millennium, and the remains of the public buildings reflect the status the city enjoyed.

The Odeum (Photos 227-230; 234 & 235; 238-248; 250, 253, 255 & 256) is located in the northern half of the city, near the modern lighthouse, and was built in the beginning of the second century. A small theatre, the odeum was used solely for musical events, with an external diameter of 155.2 feet (47.3m) for the auditorium. The orchestra had a diameter of 37.1 feet (11.3m). The odeum was destroyed in the earthquake of 365, and after this it was used as a metallurgical workshop until the 7th Century Arab raids. The odeum has been partially restored by the department of antiquities.

The Agora (Photos 227-230; 237 & 238; 248-256) was built after the odeum sometime around the middle of the second century. A large colonnaded square – 311.7 x 311.7 feet (95m x 95m) – with an inner courtyard, the portico was built using smooth columns with Corinthian capitals. The entire structure, however, was completely destroyed by the dual earthquakes of 332 and 342 and only the foundations remain. With not even a single column drum standing, this alone proves how devastating the earthquakes of the 4th century actually were.

The Asclepeion (Photos 228; 231-233; 236 & 237; 240; 250; 253-255) was located on the southern side of the odeum but was built at the same time as the agora. A large building with three connected spaces, the first contained two rooms separated by a corridor. The second large space contained an apsidal room with two other rooms and a subterranean room. The third area contained a single room with an entrance at the southern side. Next to this area there was once squared courts with a roof and two large rooms on both sides. As with the odeum and agora, the asclepeion was destroyed by the earthquakes of the 4th century.

The House of Dionysus

The House of Dionysus (Photos 165 to 216) is one of the largest Roman-Cypriot villas, covering an area over 6,000sq.ft (2,000sq.m). The villa contains forty rooms surrounding an impluvium (garden pond), which is located in the centre of the atrium. The open courtyard is colonnaded and another, smaller, colonnaded courtyard contained a nymphaeum in the centre. The eastern wing contained the bedrooms, latrines and baths, and the western wing contained a large rectangular room connected to the atrium’s stoa. This served as the main reception hall and dining room. The whole house was built with two levels, and the hall was surrounded by many small rooms which are found at a lower level than the eastern rooms, and were used as kitchens, workshops, storerooms, and servants quarters. The rooms located in the north and south have been classed as common areas. A sewage system was located underneath the house, and a large external paved stone corridor, 142 ft x 12.6 ft (47.3m x 4.2m), existed on the west side. This corridor had walls 24 ft (8m) high and 3 ft (1m) thick, and was likely a colonnaded stoa leading to the villa’s gardens. Quite obviously this villa belonged to a very wealthy individual, and the mosaics found clearly emphasise this fact.

The bedrooms and bath were covered with pebbles and mortar, while the kitchens and workshops were made of clay. The rest of the villa is covered in some of the best mosaics ever found anywhere in the world. The villa is named the “House of Dionysus” because of the many depictions of the wine god. One may never know if the owner of the villa was a wine merchant or an alcoholic, but whoever they were they have provided us with immense insight into not only mosaic making, but the thinking processes of the inhabitants.

The western stoa contains four mythological scenes set out on floor mosaics. The southern panel shows the tragic story of Pyramos and Thisbe (Photo 203), who could be considered an early version of Romeo and Juliet. The aforementioned young Babylonian lovers were forced to conduct their affair away from their disapproving families. One day they agreed to meet under a mulberry tree near a spring. Thisbe arrived first, but while she was waiting for Pyramos a lioness appeared, covered in blood from a fresh kill. Thisbe ran away to hide, but in her haste her shawl fell to the ground. The lioness tore the shawl and left traces of fresh blood all over the garment. When Pyramos arrived, he naturally assumed Thisbe had been attacked, killed and eaten, and subsequently committed suicide. When Thisbe returned she found her lover’s body, and thus she also committed suicide, falling onto Pyramos’ corpse. From this day forth, the mulberry tree’s white petals turned red in mourning. While this mythological story, or versions of it, can be found all over the world, there are no doubt many true accounts. Even today in places like India, couple suicides are common when families do not approve of the affairs. In the mosaic, Thisbe can be seen on the left, dressed in a chiton and with a horrified look. In the upper centre, the leopard can be seen with the shawl (contrary to the lioness of the myth). To the right, Pyramos lies on his side holding a reed in his left hand, and a water jug turned on its side with water flowing out onto the ground. In his right hand he holds a cornucopia. The myth of Thisbe and Pyramos is portrayed by the Roman poet Ovid in Metamorphoses, and also in Shakespeare’s A midsummer night’s dream.

On the second panel is portrayed the myth of Ikarios and Dionysus (Photos 204, 205 & 208). Ikarios, the legendary king of Athens, is located in the centre. In his left hand he holds the reigns of two oxen, which are located to the right, pulling a cart containing wine skins. His right hand is stretched outwards, and his head is also turned in the same direction, towards Akme, who sits semi-naked on a carpet and wears a crown of vine leaves. She is about to drink wine that was given to her by Ikarios. Next to Akme, a semi-naked Dionysus sits on a pedestal, also wearing a crown of vine leaves. Dionysus is offering Akme grapes. Behind the oxen, on the right hand side of the mosaic, are two drunk shepherds. Above them is the phrase, “The first ones that drank wine”. The story associated with the images is that Ikarios once paid homage to Dionysus in Athens. In return, Dionysus taught Ikarios the art of planting vineyards and wine making. The first people that Ikarios offered wine to was the beautiful nymph Akme and the two shepherds, but when the shepherds became drunk they assumed Ikarios had poisoned them, and thus they subsequently killed him.

The third panel contains the myth of Neptune and the Danaid Amymone (Photo 206). There are several variants of the myth, and one of them tells that during a drought Amymone took her jug out and wandered around to find water. When she came across a deer, she tried to kill it but her arrow missed and it landed near a sleeping satyr who, on waking up, saw the beauty of Amymone and attempted to rape her. Poseidon, however, appeared at the scene and saved Amymone, and he subsequently fell in love with her. He then used his trident to strike the rocks and he created the famous well of Lerna at Argos. In the mosaic, Amymone is wearing a peplos and a chiton and is sitting on a rock. In front of her sits a wine jug, and opposite her the bearded Poseidon (Neptune in Roman myth) stands wearing a himation, with his heavy trident resting over his left shoulder. In the middle, a flying Eros holds the torch with the flame of love in his right hand, while in his left he offers a rectangular umbrella to Amymone.

The dynamic myth of Apollo and Daphne (Photo 207) fills the fourth panel, with the god of male beauty, encapsulated by the beauty of Daphne, trying to woo her incessantly. Peneios’ daughter, however, runs away and finds Zeus, and begs him to turn her into a laurel (Daphne) tree. Daphne, another water nymph, is the most prominent figure in the mosaic, and stands naked holding her veil in both hands, which flows above her head. The metamorphosis of changing into the laurel tree is already happening on her legs. Apollo is crowned with laurel leaves and his bow is being held in his left hand. With his cloak flowing behind him, he runs naked in an attempt to stop the transformation of Daphne. Peneios is lying down next to Daphne in the image of a river god. In his left hand he holds a cornucopia, and in his right he holds a reed. His right arm is resting on a jug from which water is flowing out.

The mosaic scenes (Photos 194 – 198) of the three other stoa of the atrium depict hunting scenes typical of north Africa. These mosaics are extremely expressive and contain men with lances and stone pestles, as well as hunting dogs. The animals depicted being hunted are deer, bulls, lions, wild boar, leopards, bears, zebra and agrino. The addition of agrino (or mouflon – a Cypriot sheep) shows an emphasis on the animals found only on the island of Cyprus.

Behind the central atrium’s northern stoa wall, two other adjacent floors contain a mosaic depicting the myth of Phaedra and Hippolytus (Photos 178 & 179). In this well-known myth Phaedra, Theseus’ wife and Hippolytus’ step-mother, fell in love with the young Hippolytus, but because he didn’t respond to her advances she accused him of making illicit propositions to her. Theseus, on hearing the story from his wife, became angry and asked Poseidon to exact revenge. One day, when Hippolytus was passing pacifically in his cart, Poseidon startled his horses and they bolted, overturning the cart and killing the young man. When Hippolytus’ innocence came to light, Phaedra committed suicide. In the mosaic, Phaedra is located in the centre sitting on a throne, clearly frustrated. She wears a peplos and a cloak. Hippolytus stands to her right with his dog, completely indifferent to her advances. Standing naked but for a chlamys over his shoulder and a lance, in his right hand he holds the letter Pahedra had sent him through her servant. Behind Phaedra, again we see the winged Eros, holding the torch of love in his right hand and his bow in his left.

To the right there is a rectangular mosaic floor (Photos 180-183) with many geometric patterns – triangles, squares, rectangular and cruciform – surrounded by shields, axes, grapes, pomegranates, anthemia and many others. The outer band contains Greek key motifs. In the largest room another rectangular mosaic (Photos 188-193) contains circles, swastikas, vases, plates and many fruits.

To the east a small mosaic portrays the Rape of Ganymede by Zeus (Photos 185-187). Zeus is disguised as an eagle. His wings are open and he holds Ganymede, the most beautiful of all mortals, by his thigh. Zeus carries Ganymede off to Olympia to become the god’s wine bearer. Ganymede is wearing only his shoes, a mantle and his Phyrgian cap, which reveals his origins. In his right hand he carries his lance, while his left hand is holding the eagle’s shoulder. His shield is attached to the eagle’s right wing with a strap. The mosaic is surrounded by a symmetrical guilloche.

To the south of Pyramos and Thisbe and behind the southern external wall of the atrium’s western stoa a peacock mosaic (Photo 200) can be found. Framed in a small square panel, many of the peacock’s feathers were made with blue glass tiles. The peacock faces forward and the entire mosaic is completely symmetrical. The next mosaic floor (Photo 199), to the east and behind the atrium’s southern stoa, is divided into sixteen equal square panels decorated with different coloured geometric designs – “meanders, cubes, lozenges, hexagons, octagons, semi-circles, and other shapes”.

With the peacock there is the interesting Four Seasons mosaic (Photos 209 & 210) in the same room. The central panel of the nine squares has not been fully identified, but the most prevailing theory is that the image represents the god of eternal time. The eight squares surrounding the central figure clearly represent the seasons, four of them showing the corresponding flora and fauna during each season. Spring, located at the southeastern corner, is holding a shepherds crook with a crown of flowers. The corresponding image, above and in the eastern position, contains a goat, a tree with a bird, and vegetation. Autumn, in the southwestern corner, is holding shears and crowned with leaves. The southern central panel contains grapes and other fruits. In the northwestern corner we find winter, portrayed as an old man with a beard, with an upturned jug on his head with water pouring out. In the west central panel there are birds. Summer, located at the top right, holds a sickle and is crowned with ears of corn. The corresponding panel contains many vegetables.

In the next room, to the west, a mosaic displaying the mythical figure of Narcissus (Photo 169) can be found. Narcissus was from Thespiai, Boeotia, and was the son of Kefissos and the nymph Leiriope. He was chased by many nymphs but remained uninterested by their attention. The nymphs then asked Nemesis to take revenge on Narcissus, who agreed. For his crime of ignoring the lustful females, Narcissus was made to fall in love only with himself, left only to admire his own reflection in a clear spring. Eventually he died of depression, and then the gods turned him into a beautiful narcissus flower, which then blossomed every spring alongside the banks of the river and the spring itself. In the mosaic, Narcissus is portrayed semi-naked, sitting on a rock, leaning over a well as he peers at his own reflection. The interesting thing about this story is that “depression” appears to have been a recognised mental illness two thousand years ago.

The largest room in the villa is found to the west of the central atrium’s western stoa, and is also covered in mosaics of a very elaborate nature (Photos 171 & 172; 174-177; 208). The room was used both as a reception hall and a dining room. Despite extensive destruction, many of the mosaics retain their preservation. The centre of the floor is decorated with a large rectangular panel with “multi-figured tree trunks, fruits, and akantha leaves combined with birds fruits and flowers”. There are many patterns that surround these images, mostly symmetrical shapes.

On the same floor is a large rectangular panel depicting Dionysus’ Triumphant Procession (173-175; 177; 208).  The composition is based on Dionysus’ return from his victorious campaign in India. Dionysus himself is located in the middle of the procession, sitting in a chariot which is pulled by two panthers and driven by a silen – a god of woodland. Dionysus has a crown of ivy leaves and holds a thyrsus. Silen has a similar crown on his head and a thyrsus in his right hand. In front is a crouched figure, turned back and facing Dionysus and holding a strap in his right hand, which suggests the individual is an animal tamer. In front of the animal tamer stands a female figure – a maenad – who is banging cymbals together. Next in the line is an Indian servant with hands bound together, and the final figure in the front of the procession is a semi-naked male blowing a long trumpet in celebration of the god’s triumphant arrival. Behind the chariot there is a satyr carrying a large blue jug in his left hand and a leather wine skin in his right. This figure has pointed ears and his left foot is placed onto the back of the chariot. Behind him stands Pan, the hooved god of the forest, with his staff raised in joy. Next we see another Indian servant with hands bound together behind his back, and behind him another maenad seemingly offering libations with a cup. Finally, at the far left of the mosaic and at the back of the procession, we see another maenad carrying Dionysus’ thyrsus and a flower wreath. A guilloche surrounds the entire mosaic, and two smaller panels, on the northern and southern sides, depict Dioskuroi, Kastore, and Polydeukes, returning victorious from the battle.

The House of Theseus

Around 450 feet (150m) from the House of Dionysus is The House of Theseus (Photos 51 to 149). The name given to the house is due to the main mosaic of Theseus, located on the floor of the southern wing. The building is the largest public building found thus far in Roman Cyprus. The house measures 460 feet (120m) by 240 feet (80m) and contains more than one hundred rooms, located in four wings around a large, open, square peristyle courtyard. This atrium measures 180 feet by 180 feet (60 x 60m). All the private dwellings, servant’s room, workshops, and common rooms, were located in the northern, eastern and western wings, while the ceremonial rooms were in the southern wing. Remains of baths were discovered in the southeastern corner, typical of Roman bath development – a frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium, sudatorium, apodyteria and, of course, the underfloor hypocaust system. The inclusion of baths within the building shows how majestically large it was.

The main entrance, located on the east wing, looks out onto the main street, which then leads on to the theatre and the harbour. The entrance is surrounded by two large apsidal rooms which were used together as a single reception hall. The house seems to have been built upon over several phases, as mosaics date to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries, with the oldest dating to the late 3rd century. The earliest phase of building includes the mosaic of Theseus killing the minotaur (Photos 88-92). It is located in an apsidal building in the eastern end of the atrium’s southern stoa, and is presented with astute artistry. The scene is made inside a circle surrounded with many guilloches separated by circular patterns of lozenges. Theseus stands in the centre of the mosaic, in the labyrinth, and is preparing to kill the minotaur with his raised club. The minotaur has already fallen to the floor. Lying on Theseus’ right side is a bearded man who supposedly represents the labyrinth personified, although that seems a strange deduction. At the top of the scene, Crete and Ariadne wait for news of Theseus’ fight with the minotaur. Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, King of Crete, and she fell in love with Theseus and helped him find his way out of the labyrinth so he could kill the minotaur. Although parts of the mosaic were destroyed in the dual earthquakes of 332 and 342, the heads of Crete and Theseus were reconstructed, most likely towards the end of the 4th century.

Also at the end of the 4th Century a new phase of building occurred. A mosaic floor of a bedroom contains the scene of Neptune and his wife Amphitrite on a Triton. Although the mosaic was in a very bad condition, the main part was found largely intact. Poseidon’s left hand is supporting Amphitrite’s left hand, which is raised. In his right he holds his trident. Amphitrite is shown naked and her right hand is holding up Poseidon’s chin, and there is a blue halo around his head. The panel is surrounded by various geometric patterns.

The House of Aion

The House of Aion (Photos 2 to 50) is also lavishly decorated with mosaic compositions, and in what appears to be the dining room we find many panels. In the south west panel (north west panel in the picture) Leda and the Swan is depicted (Photos 18; 41-45; 47-49) with the naked Leda being found in the middle ready to take her bath in the Eurotas River. Eurotas is personified and stands next to Leda, while Lakedaimonia – Sparta – is standing next to Eurotas. At Leda’s feet we see Zeus disguised as a swan, while to her right there are three Lakaines (young Spartan females). There is another figure behind the three females and slightly to the right of them, but the face is destroyed and the figure is unknown.

The north west panel shows the scene of the newborn Dionysus (Photos 18; 37-40; 44 & 45; 47-49). This mosaic is extremely interesting in that the style of the scene is similar to that adopted by the later Christians as the birth of Christ, especially through the Byzantines. The composition is extremely well preserved and almost looks new, apart from a little damage, mostly in the bottom left corner. On the right we see Hermes, surrounded by the personifications of Ambrosia, Nektar, and Theogony, holding the baby Dionysus on his lap as he begins to hand the baby to Tropheus, who is located in the middle. Tropheus is ready to hand the baby to three nymphs located on the left, who have already prepared a bath for the new baby. Behind the nymphs stands Anatrophe, ready to take the infant to raise him. Last, but not least, standing behind Anatrophe is the mountain of Nysa, personified as a woman.

In the central panel we see the “beauty contest between Cassiopeia, queen of Ethiopia, and the Nereids” (Photos 18; 32-36; 44 & 45; 47-49). In the centre is Aion (Century – the god of time). On his right, up in the sky, the sun is personified. Next to him is a naked child, the personification of Kairos (time). Cassiopeia, the winner of the contest, also stands naked, complete with her victory crown – a wreath – given by Krise, the personification of justice, with her maid to the right. On the left of Century stand the defeated Nereids, Thetis, Doris and Galateia. They are shown in conflict, and are sent to the bottom of the sea by Bythos (Bottom) and Pontos (Sea), both personified as a centaur and Triton respectively. Above Thetis is the protome of Zeus and Athena. Athena wears a helmet and holds a shield with her left hand, while Zeus is crowned and holds a scepter in his left hand.

In the southeastern corner is the “triumphant procession of the newborn Dionysus” (Photos 18-23; 44 & 45; 47-49). The god’s chariot is in the centre, pulled by two centaurs, one holding two flutes and the other plays a lyre. The panel is badly damaged, with only Dionysus’ legs and a hand with a torch being preserved. Beneath the chariot stands Skyrtos, a naked satyr, who offers fruits to Dionysus on a plate. In the front of the procession stands a semi-naked maenad with a quiver in her hand. At the back Tropheus sits on a horse, and standing next to him a young woman holds a basket on her head with “The mysteries of Dionysus”.

The last panel, located in the northeast, shows an image of “Marsyas’ defeat in the musical contest between him and Apollo” (Photos 18; 25-31; 44 & 45; 47-49). Sitting on a pedestal is the triumphant Apollo with a laurel wreath on his head, and a halo. In his left hand he holds a laurel branch, with the arm resting on his lyre. Interestingly, he holds a plectrum in his right hand, and with the same hand he points to Marsyas and orders his punishment – he is to be flayed alive. In front of Apollo’s legs is Marsyas’ double flute, with Olympus, Marsyas’ son, begging mercy for the life of his father. Standing to the right of Apollo is Plani (deceit), who deceived Marsyas by persuading him to enter into competition with Apollo.

The First bath of Achilles, dated to the 5th Century AD, is found in a large apsidal room in the centre of the southern wing, In the middle Thetis is reclining on a bed after she has just given birth to Achilles. On the left can be seen Anatrophe, near the end of the bed, personified as a kneeling servant, and she holds the newborn baby on her knees, preparing him for his first bath. The bath itself is a circular basin located in the front of the bed. Behind Anatrophe stands Ambrosia (food of the gods) with a jug in her hand. She is also personified as a servant. Achilles’ father, Peleus, sits with a sceptre in his hand, and behind him are the three Moires (fates), who will give the new baby his predestination – Klotho, with a distaff and a spindle; Lachesis, with a  pen and book (to write down the life of the baby), and Apostros, with an open tablet (where the newborn’s fate will be written). As with the newborn Dionysus panel, the first bath of Achilles is also a later representation of the birth of Christ with the Byzantines. The room also had a marble covering on its wall.

The House of Orpheus

Near the House of Theseus, the House of Orpheus (Photos 150 to 164) has not been totally excavated at the time of writing, but it is of a similar architectural style to the House of Dionysus. There are several rooms around an open peristyle court, and these were decorated with coloured mosaic compositions and frescoes. Like the House of Dionysus, the building dates to the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd centuries AD.

On the floor of one room there are two panels, both of which are surrounded by triangles, spirals, and light shields. The first shows Heracles and the Lion, in which Heracles (Hercules) is confronting the large cat completely naked with his bare hands. After Heracles killed the wild animal, he skinned it and delivered the hide to king Eurystheus, for it was him he had undertaken the risky fight.

The Amazon and the Horse is found above, where one of the Amazons, the warlike daughters of Area and Armonia, stands holding the bridles of her horse in her left hand. In her right hand the Amazon holds a double axe, which is her only weapon. She is wearing a typical Phyrgian cap on her head, revealing her origin. The horse itself stands with his front leg and tail raised. The myth says that the Amazons were living in Asia Minor, where men were prohibited, but the Amazons begot children from men from other areas to preserve their race. They only kept the daughters they gave birth to, while boys were either killed or sent away to other areas. Most of the compositions found of the Amazons show them seated on their horse, but this particular mosaic is one of the few exceptions with the Amazon standing.

On another mosaic floor of the villa Orpheus is depicted exhausting the wild animals and birds with music from a lyre. This stunning composition is located in a large rectangular panel surrounded by alternating geometrical shapes, with parallel lines and triangles. The god’s musician is sitting on a rock, wearing an oriental dress and a Phyrgian cap. The lyre is set on the rock with his left hand while he simultaneously strums the lyre, while his right hand is outstretched and holds a plectrum. All around him, many animals are entranced by the music – eight wild animals and six birds – and a viper near the rock which tries to sting the lyre. Two of the birds have been badly damaged in the upper left and right corners. Above Orpheus’ head is a two-lined inscription, partially destroyed, which states, “Gaios”, or “Titos Pinnios Restitoutos”, who was probably the owner of the house rather than the artists of the mosaic.  

Byzantine Fortress

One of the largest structures in the Paphos Archaeological Park is the Byzantine Fortress. Located close to the odeum and the House of Dionysus the site, during early excavations, was initially presumed to be a sanctuary to Aphrodite. The fortress was likely built in the 7th Century, most probably to protect the city from Arab raids. A huge wall, 210 feet (70m) long, and 10 feet (3m) thick, was surrounded by a trench. Along the walls were eight towers of various shapes. The entrance was located in the eastern square tower and was accessed by a wooden bridge. The bridge was supported by three parallel arches. Inside, the fortress was contained in an open square courtyard, 115 x 115 feet (35 x 35m), with a tower in each corner. There was also a second storey to parts of the fortress, none of which has survived except for several supporting arches. With negotiations between the Byzantines and the Arabs resulting in disarmament, the fortress was abandoned, but it was modified again around the end of the 10th Century. At this time the whole of Cyprus was under rule of the Byzantines. The fortress was finally destroyed by the earthquake of 1223, and has since been rebuilt in places from archaeological work.

Replacing the fortress was the medieval castle, located on the western side of the harbour. Built in the middle of the 13th Century by the Lusignans, it was destroyed in 1570 by the Venetians, during attacks by the Turks, but was restored by them in 1780.

I visited the Paphos Archaeological Park on the 17th November, 2014. It was a glorious day with perfect temperatures and few visitors, which allowed me to take many good photos. Visiting this vast site requires an entire day, if one is inclined to view in detail. The site is an incredible step back into the past as it covers around 2,000 years of uninterrupted history. Naturally the site, along with the neighbouring Tombs of the Kings, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Text and photography © Stephen Maybury, 2017
All text references: (1) unless otherwise stated
Click on the images below to expand and read descriptions



Christou, Demos, 2012; Paphos Archaeological Guide and Historical Review, Second Edition; (Nocosia 2008) (1)

Maric, Vesna, ; Lonely Planet, Cyprus (3) (2)$FILE/2013_en.pdf?OpenElement