Skip to navigation

Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Cyprus: Pafos

Pafos harbour
Pretty little Pafos harbour

As a place to start and finish our tour of Cyprus, Pafos was an excellent choice, quite a relief as I'd only bought flights to Pafos because everywhere else was sold out. Pafos seems to have managed a balance between package tourism and historical interest that you simply don't find in places like Larnaka and Agia Napa, and because of this it's a great introduction to Cyprus.

Pafos repays a bit of investigation, though, because a cursory glance at its harbour won't reveal all its charm, even though the harbour is one of the more pleasant tourist havens on the island. Where Larnaka's promenade is bordering on the tacky and Agia Napa doesn't pretend to be anything else, Pafos is still rather charming, with its old fort perched at the end of the harbour wall and lots of pretty little fishing boats anchored around the cove. OK, so the shops lining the harbour sell the usual tourist rubbish – I've never really gone for novelty pottery ashtrays or T-shirts with slogans that weren't funny the first time round – and the restaurant we wandered past was unbelievably trying to entice us in by playing David bloody Essex on its hi-fi, but despite some amazing accidents of modern architecture that are worth visiting in their own right, it's the ancient ruins of Nea Pafos that are the real draw-card.

Magical Mosaics

A Roman mosaic
Just one of the amazing Roman mosaics on Pafos' headland

Out on the headland just behind the harbour, Pafos has its very own World Heritage site, and it's absolutely stunning. Even compared to the much-touted Kourion, which the guidebooks tend to gush over in more lavish detail, the ancient site of Nea Pafos is amazing, and I vastly preferred it to Cyprus's other archaeological treats.

The main attraction of Nea Pafos is the collection of Roman mosaics that lay undiscovered under the headland until a farmer accidentally found them with his plough back in 1962. Since then archaeologists have been slowly unearthing the most amazingly detailed mosaics, along with the ruins of the magnificent buildings that used to house them. The art of the mosaic isn't something that's ever lit my fire before, but when you're faced with huge stretches of patterned artwork that turns out to be made from surprisingly large chunks of glass of rock, it's hard not to be impressed.

The ruins of Pafos
The mosaics peep out from the ruins

It's useful to have some kind of guidebook when exploring the ruins of Pafos, as explanatory signs are limited to the names given by the diggers to the various houses that have been found (the House of Dionysos contains lots of mosaics on the subject of wine and partying, the House of Theseus has a fantastic one of the minotaur and its maze, and so on).

But throw in an amphitheatre, a mediaeval Lusignan fortress, a modern lighthouse, and the windswept vista of Pafos' headland, fortunately protected from development by the potential of more archaeological discoveries under its grassy hills, and you've got a fantastic spot for an afternoon's exploration.

A mosaic of the first bathing of Theseus
A mosaic of the first bathing of Theseus; that's him on the left

On the other hand, I presume the summer months would be less kind to casual wandering round the ruins. When we sauntered out to check out the mosaics, the wind picked up and the rain started spattering in a way that would become depressingly familiar over the next two weeks, and apart from a few hardy souls and a few complaining children, dragged out by parents who must have been regretting the decision, we had the place to ourselves. No doubt in the package season Nea Pafos is completely chocka-block with tourists, which would change the experience somewhat. Not that this should be an excuse for avoiding the headland, but I'd pack lots of water and take a sun hat; for us, though, it was Gore-Tex jackets and gloves, followed by a thawing meal of suckling pig by the fire in the unadventurously named but very tasty Mediterranean Tavern, back in the middle of town.

As a place to start our exploration of Cyprus, Pafos did the trick nicely.

RSS Feed