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Myths & Legends of Pafos

The birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty

The mythical island of Cyprus is a picturesque haven, where past meets present at every turn, and a strong cultural presence that is evident in every aspect reflecting the island’s traditional inheritance.

An island that is renowned for its magnificence, and the ancient home of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, Pafos was the principle centre of her worship. In his work titled, “Bacchae,” Euripides calls Cyprus the island of Aphrodite:

…may I reach Cyprus,
the island of Aphrodite,
where Erotes, the heart – the healers,
mingle with the mortals,
in Pafos, where the hundred-mouthed ravines

of the torrential river bloom.

Among the six administrative districts into which Aphrodite’s island is divided today, Pafos is certainly the richest in antiquities, legends, traditions and natural beauty.

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The birth and life of Aphrodite

Aphrodite was the daughter of Uranus and Dione. Her birth is the subject of many famous artworks. Believed to have emerged from the foam of the sea at the renowned archaeological site, Petra tou Romiou, Aphrodite then went on to Mount Olympus, accompanied by Eros and Pothos, to claim her place among the assembly of gods. It was here where the goddess of love and beauty was named “Aphrodite,” meaning born from the foam of the sea, and Cyprus, the land where she first appeared.  Aphrodite is also the goddess of joy, laughter and passion. She is the guardian of young girls and governess of the fertility of animals and plants. Her symbols include rabbits, sparrows, goats, pomegranates and apples.

Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, god of fire and patron of metalworkers. Unlike Aphrodite, Hephaestus had an ugly appearance and for this reason, Zeus chose him to marry Aphrodite, but despite this, she had many affairs with both gods and men.

The greatest of all artisans, Hephaestus’ wedding gifts to his beloved spouse included golden palaces, precious stones, and a piece of land surrounded by a golden fence. Located on a mountaintop in Cyprus, and inaccessible to mortals, the Baths of Aphrodite is today a popular tourist attraction and one of the most important ancient sites related to Aphrodite. A small grotto, shaded by an old fig tree, this historical site is renowned for its sweet climate, fertile soil, natural springs and green foliage.

Ares, the god of war, had a long love affair with Aphrodite, which lasted for the duration of her marriage to Hephaestus and beyond. When Hephaestus learned of the affair, he placed a strong and invisible net on top of the bed and caught the lovers in the act. His wrath woke the other gods and brought them to the scene. Hephaestus demanded that Ares should suffer the consequences of his adulterous crime; it was Poseidon, god of the sea, who came to Ares’ rescue and offered to pay a fine in exchange for his freedom. Aphrodite returned to her famous baths, anointed with oils and perfume; her beauty and radiance restored, unknowingly that she was carrying Ares’ child, Harmonia.

Aphrodite and the Trojan War

According to classical mythology, it was at the wedding of Peleus, King of Thessaly, to the sea nymph Thetis where Eris, goddess of strife and discord, wreaked havoc for not receiving an invitation to the celebratory feast. The event was the talk of the town and nearly all the gods and goddesses were invited. Eris snuck into the wedding and threw a golden apple in the room with the inscription, “to the fairest,” resulting in a dispute between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite claiming it belonged to them.

Zeus was called upon to decide who should receive the apple. However, Zeus was very wise and knew that he did not want to get in the middle of this argument. He handed the responsibility over to Paris, the Trojan prince, to settle the dispute.

Each of the three goddesses attempted to bribe Paris by offering him all types of gifts. Hera offered wealth and power; Athena guaranteed wisdom and skill, while Aphrodite promised him the fairest mortal woman in the world for his wife. Paris chose Aphrodite’s offer, at the same time provoking the animosity of Hera and Athena.

As time passed, Paris became impatient waiting for his bride. Accompanied by Aeneas, son of Aphrodite, he set sail to Sparta where they were eventually welcomed by King Menelaus and his wife Helen – the most beautiful woman in the world. During their visit, King Menelaus departed for Crete to attend his grandfather’s funeral, leaving Helen alone to entertain her guests. The next morning, the Trojans also departed only to return later that evening and abduct Helen and her baby, and take them to Troy. It was the goddess Aphrodite who, together with Peitho, goddess of persuasion, and Eros, god of love, cast a spell on Helen, that made her believe Paris was her husband Menelaus. A violent storm forced them to seek shelter in Cyprus.

Upon reaching Troy, King Priam welcomed Helen into his household, seizing the opportunity to settle old scores against the Greeks. In the meantime, an outraged Menelaus declared war on the Trojans, seeking help from the other kingdoms in Greece. Agamemnon, Menelaus’ brother, sent Talthybius, Odysseus and Menelaus to Pafos, encouraging Cinyras, King of Cyprus, to join their fight.

Cinyras, however, sent only one ship to help them, and made a personal gift to Agamemnon – a magnificent corselet – in order to avoid any grievances. The Greeks were too preoccupied with their mission and thus Cyprus remained at peace and increased in prosperity.

The Trojan War lasted ten years. The Iliad, an ancient Greek epic poem attributed to Homer (c. 8th Century B.C.), tells part of the saga of the city of Troy and the war that took place there.

Pygmalion and Galatea

Pygmalion lived in Amathus, and was dedicated to his work as a sculptor. He declared that he was not interested in women, but then found one of his statues to be so beautiful and realistic that he fell in love with his creation. Pygmalion prayed with all his heart and soul, beseeching the goddess Aphrodite that she turn his ivory figurine, whom he called Galatea, into a real woman. Touched by his deep veneration, Aphrodite was in awe of its beauty and perfection that she granted Pygmalion his wish.

Their love blossomed, and the couple were married. Aphrodite blessed the lovers with happiness and prosperity. The couple had a son, Paphos, who later founded the city of Pafos in Cyprus.

Cinyras

Cinyras was a ruler of Cyprus in Greek mythology. According to myth, Cinyras offered a corselet to Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, when he found out that the Greeks were getting ready to sail to Troy.  Despite promising to send fifty ships in aid of the Greeks, Cinyras did not keep his promise and sent only one, along with forty-nine sculpts of ships made of clay. This infuriated Agamemnon who cursed him and subsequently punished by his father Apollo, who beat him in a musical contest and killed him. Apollo would later bring him back to life with the help of the medicine god Asclepius, whereupon Cinyras discovered that his daughters threw themselves into the sea and transformed into sea birds.

Cinyras was the creator of art and musical instruments, and renowned for having significant beauty. Believed to have fathered many children, including Myrrha – who later developed a lust for her father and tricked him into sleeping with her. Myrrha became pregnant, and, after released from her unnatural lust, she pleaded with the gods to transform her into something non-human.  The gods heard her cries and eventually transformed her into the Myrrh tree. Her son, Adonis, was born out of the bark of the tree.

Adonis

Adonis looked, and often behaved as if he were immortal. Like Ares, god of war, Adonis was one of Aphrodite’s many conquests. Fuelled by jealousy, the outraged Ares turned himself into a wild boar and terrorised the region of Pafos, killing all the inhabitants with sheer brutality. News of his viciousness reached throughout Cyprus. Adonis being a hunter, ignored Aphrodite’s warnings, and set out to slew the beast.

Upon seeing Adonis, Ares ran quickly around him, gathering dust and blinding his rival. The boar eventually attacked and wounded Adonis.  Aphrodite heard his dying groans and rushed to the scene, only to arrive late. She sprinkled Adonis’ blood with nectar; the drops that fell to the ground turned into Anemone flowers, whose life expectancy is short, and petals easily shaken by the breeze.

Overcome with grief, Aphrodite pleaded with Zeus for her lover’s return. Zeus promised to ask Persephone, queen of the underworld, only to realise that she too had also fallen in love with the young boy and was not willing to let him go. Zeus intervened, allowing Adonis to live wherever he pleased for four months of the year, provided he divide the rest of the time between the two goddesses.

The death and resurrection of Adonis is staged through a theatrical performance at the “Adonia Festival” held in Pafos every year on the 25th and 26th March. The first day of the festival mourns the death of the boy, where women throw flowers, branches of the myrtle tree, and pots with plants, into the sea, symbolising Aphrodite’s grief. The second day rejoices Adonis’ resurrection through musical performances and celebratory feasts.

Rock of Digenis (Petra tou Romiou)

There is a strong tradition that persists to this day regarding the solitary rock, located north of Fabrica Hill, en route to Pafos harbour. Legend has it that Digenis desired Rigaina, whose house was on the top of this hill.  Rigaina would only agree to marry Digenis if he could transport water for her from some distant location, which in this case was either Mavrokolympos or Tala. Although the task required great strength and effort, Digenis undertook it, and managed to transport the water through clay conduits – traces of these are still evident in the village of Chlorakas today.

However, Rigaina failed to fulfil her end of the promise, thereby enraging Digenis who then threw a huge rock at her from the Moutallos area, which landed in front of her house. Rigaina reciprocated by throwing her spinning needle, a granite stele, which landed in the fields underneath the Moutallos rise.

Heritage of Agios Agapitikos

Located on the northeast corner of Farbica Hill, lies a cave known as the “Cave of Agios Agapitikos.” It is still unclear as to whether there is any connection between the cave and the sarcophagus found in the central square of Pano Arodes Village, dedicated to the same saint.

Similar to Arodes, adjacent to the Cave of Agios Agapitikos there once stood other caves dedicated to Agios Misitikos and Agios Xorinos. The latter caves, however, do not exist anymore. Tradition has it that those who are in love should visit the cave, unobserved, leave some coins behind and take some earth from the cave and throw the sand into their loved one’s drink. In order for the escapade to be successful, it has to be carried out in complete secrecy, and without the help of a third party.

Other insteresting places

Lemba Village

A cultural village with archaeological findings that testify to a history of tens of thousands of years. Dating back to 3500 BC, the Chalcolithic settlement of Lemba is one of the most important archaeological finds in the area and home to the “Lady of Lemba” – an ancestor of Aphrodite and the main female deity identified with fertility of nature and women.

The site features replicas of five houses reconstructed using the same materials and building methods used in Chalcolithic times, and is a popular tourist destination that forms part of the Aphrodite Cultural Route. The innate hospitality of the inhabitants, natural beauty, coastal landscapes and unique cultural heritage of Lemba are bound to transport you into a dream-like journey in time and history.

Agios Georgios Basilicas - ``Pegeia Fountains``

Located approximately 4.5km from the village of Pegeia, and close to the fishing shelter, one will discover the ruins of two early Christian basilicas with rare and interesting floor mosaics, depicting animals. Believed to have been the site of an important Early Christian settlement, the basilicas are also located close to rock-hewn tombs dating back to the Roman period. The picturesque Pegeia Fountains are the subject of many folk songs, and are on display in the cobbled square of this popular village.

Pafos Municipal Gallery

Located in the town centre, the Pafos Municipal Gallery displays the work of local artists stirred from environmental elements and everyday life. Pieces often vary art style including paintings, mosaics and wood, stone or metal sculptures. Visit the gallery for an authentic introduction to Paphos’ artistic, cultural element.

Location: 7 Gladstone Street, Pafos

Tel: +357 26 930 653

Open Daily (Monday – Sunday):                                10:00 – 13:00

Monday – Friday (April – October):          17:00 – 20:00

Entrance Fee:  Free

Partly accessible to wheelchairs.  Opening and closing times as well as entrance fees, are subject to alterations without notice. Visitors are advised to check before visiting.

``Loutra`` - Ottoman Hammam (Baths)

The Ottoman Baths of Pafos operated until the 1950s. The stone built structure features a vault with reception area, intermediate area where visitors used to undress, and finally the main baths.  Located in the old marketplace of Pafos, today this historical landmark is a UNESCO listed heritage site. Fully restored to its former glory in 2015, the Ottoman Baths of Pafos are a testament to the town’s rich and diverse history, heritage and culture.

Location: Old Marketplace of Pafos

Tel: +357 26 930 653

Open Daily:

Monday – Sunday (16 April – 15 September):                     09:30 – 17:00

Monday – Sunday (16 September – 15 April):                     08:30 – 16:00

Closed on Public Holidays.

Entrance Fee:  €2.50

Partly accessible to wheelchairs.  Opening and closing times as well as entrance fees, are subject to alterations without notice. Visitors are advised to check before visiting.

Baths of Aphrodite

Located at the northwest peninsula of Cyprus known as Akamas, an area that was once inaccessible to mere mortals, the Baths of Aphrodite is today a popular tourist attraction and one of the most important ancient sites related to Aphrodite. The goddess’ secret hideaway and the place where she would meet her lover, Adonis, the Baths of Aphrodite is a small grotto, shaded by an old fig tree, renowned for its sweet climate, fertile soil, natural springs and green foliage.

The Akamas Peninsula is a wild, uninhabited region featuring picture-postcard landscapes, flawless beaches, deep valleys, cave islets and gorges. Visitors can explore the unique flora and fauna of the peninsula, on foot through one of the many adventurous hiking trails, riding a trail bike, or even bumping along in a sturdy four-wheel drive.  The Akamas Peninsula is part of the Aphrodite Cultural Route.

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