You just have to love a place that refers to itself as “new”, when it was actually founded over 1,400 years ago. The modern day Paphos where we are staying, was first named Nea Paphos or New Paphos in 400 AD having come into prominence after “old” Paphos (or Palaipafos) went into decline due to the Romans banning the worshiping of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Home to numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there is heaps to keep you occupied no matter how long your stay is.
Paphos Arachaeological Park
Just to confuse matters, Nea Paphos now also refers to what is the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Archaeological Park of Kato Paphos. The park houses a number of Roman ruins, but more importantly some extremely well preserved mosaics. This gives the whole site great indoor/outdoor flow ensuring you get good value for your 4.50 Euro entry fee on the three plus hours you’ll need to explore it sufficiently to do it justice.
The Archaeological Park is a sprawling site and to be honest quite confusing to orient oneself. A map is provided at the entrance but for some reason, I kept getting confused where we were. Also, some of the attractions, such as Saint Paul’s Pillar, stand outside the gated off “park” which isn’t immediately obvious when looking at the map.
We started at the House of Aion, which contains one of the most exceptional works of ancient Roman art dating back to the mid-4th century AD.
Sitting alongside Aion’s House is the exposed House of Theseus. Initially built in the 2nd century AD as the residence of the Roman governor, this massive villa had over 100 rooms, which have now mostly crumbled to dust.
Some pillars have withstood the test of time better (or maybe have just been better restored) handily pointing out the way to the Lighthouse.
The house also shows a range of interesting mosaics under the open sky, such as one below showing Theseus, the mythical king and founder-hero of Athens, fighting the Minotaur in the labyrinth of Crete. Other mosaics of interest included one of Poseidon and Amfiti and another of the new born Achilles taking his first bath.
From here we walked past the House of Orpheus which has three mosaics all of which weren’t available for viewing when we visited to The House of Dionysus. The largest covered building on site, the house covers 2.000 square metres, of which a quarter are covered with well preserved mosaic floors. The god Dionysos features in a couple of these which also show mythological, vintage and hunting scenes.
A short walk from the mosaic houses is the acropolis, containing the Odeon situated in front of the new Paphos Lighthouse. Made of pure limestone, the Odeon is still in use today hosting live musical and theatrical performances.
There are quite a few other things to see on site, but in my opinion, these weren’t all that interesting. The Saranta Kolones or Forty Columns Castle sounds more impressive than it looks, the early Christian basilica and subterranean complex in the north east were rather boring and I’m not even sure what the Asklepeion beside the Odeon was all about.
Outside the fenced off part of the Archaeological Park, however, there are some other things worth visiting and which can be viewed for free. Of particular interest was Saint Paul’s Pillar. Here, sometime around 53-57 AD, the Apostle Paul is said to have been tied to the pillar and given 39 lashes five times by the Jews for spreading the word of Christianity. Again, there’s a fair bit of faith required to believe that the pillar currently on show is the actual one that Paul was tied to, but as a means of getting people to recall his Acts (biblical pun intended), it is very effective.
St Paul’s Pillar is situated in front of the Catholic Church of Ayia Kyriaki - Chrisopolitissa. The church in its current form was built in 1500 AD on top of the ruins of an early Christian basilica from the 5th century AD. It was a quick sprint around the outside appreciating it at double speed, before heading back to the waiting family who were enjoying a well earned cup of coffee and lollipops at the waterfront.
Less than 200 metres from the entrance to the Paphos Archaeological Park is the Medieval Castle of Paphos. Originally a Byzantine fort from the early 13th century AD, it was rebuilt by the ruling Ottomans in the 16th century to its present form.
Situated directly on the seafront and besides the harbour which it used to protect, it is possible to walk entirely around the castle. In doing so, we met another bronze sculpture, this one entitled Sol Alter. The sculpture was created for Pafos2017 when the city was awarded European Capital of Culture and represents a young woman aspiring to be Aphrodite who looks after the place where she once lived.
Tombs of the Kings
Having done and dusted UNESCO World Heritage Site number 1 and circled a medieval castle, it was time for UNESCO World Heritage Site number 2, the Tombs of the Kings. Only two kilometres from the Paphos Archaeological Park, this ancient necropolis contains a large number of underground tombs carved out of solid rock and dating back to the 4th century BC. The name, however, is a bit of a misnomer as no kings are actually buried here, but rather aristocrats and high officials who used to live in the area at the time.
The Tombs of the Kings is another wide open site that allows you to savour at your own pace. Out near the coast is a large area full of rock cairns, similar to what was saw at Lawrence’s House in Wadi Rum. Of course, we all had to compete to see who could make the biggest and best rock tribute to the Kings.
I’ll admit to not being massively impressed with the tombs closest to the entrance but as we went along, we were able to visit a series of eight well-preserved tombs. Some of these were just like underground houses with spectacular atriums, columns and porticos.
We were probably at the Tomb of the Kings for two or so hours, which fairly whizzed by. With an entrance fee of 2.50 Euro per adult, you’d be dead silly not to visit this extraordinary place while in Paphos.
We’ve enjoyed our time in Paphos, which has provided us with plenty to see and do. So we bid it a warm Antío and head east to the party place of Protaras.