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Cyprus > Aphrodite’s Cultural Route September 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Paphos.

Cyprus calls itself Aphrodite’s Isle. Cyprus is the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.

I recently asked George Demetriades, the proprietor of the Seven St Georges taverna at Yeroskipou, Paphos, where the Mighty Aphrodite mystery was all gone.

“You reckon?” he replied, filling a glass with home-made wine. “You should get off your arse and take a look out there.” He pointed in no particular direction. “Aphrodite is here, my friend. This is her home. You just have to know where to find her.”

Fortunately, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation could help. It has created Aphrodite’s Cultural Route, a self-guided tour “in the footsteps of the goddess”. Waymarkers and information boards, have been erected, so that you’ll have some of Europe’s most evocative ancient sites all to yourself. Grabbing a wad of the CTO’s free maps, I set out to explore the Cypriot home of the goddess.

Aphrodite’s Bath lies on the north coast of the Akamas peninsula, which juts out of western Cyprus like a rhinoceros horn. Sparsely populated, bone-dry and dusty, this remote promontory covers just 88 square miles, yet is of archeological and ecological importance out of all proportion to its size. Hundreds of endemic species of flora and fauna thrive in a semi-desert landscape of unspoilt natural beauty, no wonder the area is protected as a National park.

The bathroom lay at the foot of a crag and overlooked the sparkling sea. “Aphrodite’s Bath” announced a guide to a pair of sightseers. “Ladies who drink here lose 20 years of life”. She meant they looked two decades younger, but, studying the bathwater, I couldn’t be sure. Somewhere nearby, Aphrodite’s young lover died in an act of cold-blooded violence. Locals say the killing ended the goddess’s life of carefree abandon, others that the murder robbed her of the only mortal she ever loved,  and they all talk as though it happened yesterday.

The victim’s name was Adonis. Ill-starred from the start, he was conceived after his mother developed an unhealthy interest in her own father. Pregnant and devastated by shame, she begged Aphrodite to turn her into a tree. Ten months later, the trunk split and Adonis was born, and if you think that’s dysfunctional, you haven’t heard Aphrodite’s tale. She emerged from a frothing sea, whipped up by the severed genitals of Uranus, which had been cut off and tossed into the briny by his own son. A plotline worthy of a TV soap, it was the start of a religion that lasted more than 2,000 years.

Her birthplace is half an hour south of Paphos at Petra Tou Romiou, or Aphrodite’s Rock. You’ll know it by the crowds of women stripping off nearby. Legend says if they swim thrice around the rock they’ll find true love, and if they do it beneath a full moon they’ll never age, just like Aphrodite. Eastern Europeans seem particularly enamoured of this story, yet the notes tied to the trees are Greek, Dutch, French and other languages, proving love is a desperate jeu sans frontière.

On the edge of the nearby village of Kouklia lie the ruins of her temple. The sun-blasted remnants of a few columns are still standing, while, underfoot, the white rubble mixes with remains of earthenware offerings brought over 20 centuries.

As temple cults go, Aphrodite’s was benign, a kind of classical mansion that became the leading tourist attraction of the ancient world. Hashish and opium were sold, and every  woman was required to give herself once to the service of Aphrodite, in a custom called temple prostitution. “Tall, handsome women soon manage to get home again,” notes Herodotus, “but the ugly ones stay as much as three or four years.”

While lascivious mortals worshipped their brains out at the temple, the goddess, having just split up with Ares, god of war, was frolicking with new love interest Adonis. Ares was persuaded that his separation from Aphrodite was only temporary and the Adonis kid was getting in the way. By law, gods couldn’t kill mortals… but there was a self-defence loophole. Ares realised that if he just so happened to be a wild boar in the Akamas wilderness, and some pretty boy fancied his chances, then he could defend himself.

Adonis heard about the Akamas boar and planned to bag it. Ovid recorded what happened next: “As the boar broke away, Adonis speared it. The savage beast dislodged the bloody point and charged Adonis as he ran in fear for safety, and sank its tusks deep in his groin and stretched him dying on the yellow sand.”

He was dead by the time Aphrodite found him. As she carried his body from the woods, red anemones sprang up where drops of his blood fell. But I found no scarlet flowers. I’d expected her spirit to be here, wandering the groves in grief, but the goddess hadn’t stuck around. I decided to widen the search.

I travelled from Akamas to the capital, Lefkosia (Nicosia), where I saw crosses worn in her honour 3,500 years before Christ’s birth. I visited her sanctuary in the lost city of Amathus and then the ruins of the kingdom of Kition, where an archeologist showed me a gold coin bearing Mighty Aphrodite’s icon.

Finally, I returned to the Seven St Georges, and found the proprietor up to his elbows in wild honey. “Taste this,” he said, handing me a stick coated in gritty nectar. “It’s an aphrodisiac. You find the goddess yet?”

I shook my head. “Go back to Kouklia and look in the church,” he suggested.

The tiny Byzantine chapel at the edge of Aphrodite’s temple site was built with stones originating from the ruins. Childless and lovelorn women come from all over Cyprus to pray here I was explained.

If you go >

Fly with Cyprus Airwayswww.cyprusairways.com to Paphos Airport.

Stay at the Elysium Hotel, 26 844444, www.elysium.com.cy, outside Paphos, doubles from about 200 euro. For a great selection of rustic hotels, contact Cyprus Agrotourism, 22 340071, www.agrotourism.com.cy.

For further information > the trail maps are available from the Cyprus Tourism Organisationwww.visitcyprus.org.cy.

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