History & culture

From the Neolithic Age to the present day, Cyprus has had up to 12,000 years of continuous habitation and has witnessed the passage of great civilisations and a roll call of legendary kings and conquerors. The island has, throughout its often turbulent history, been fought over, bought and sold, coveted and cast-aside, conquered and re-conquered. Its unique geographical location at the confluence of the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia has been its unique selling point and quite often its undoing.

Prior to becoming the frequently coveted jewel of the classical kingdoms of antiquity, Cyprus had Neolithic and Chalcolithic inhabitants who lived in round houses made of stone. The museums of Cyprus display an impressive record of artefacts from these periods.

The rich copper deposits of the island (and which may have given it its name), and an influx of migrants from Anatolia, ushered in the Bronze Age which saw the development of urban centres around the island’s coast. Cyprus attained high levels of prosperity during this period and sea-faring trade spread the island’s fame. This led to the bewildering changes of ownership of Cyprus – like a piece on a Monopoly board — during the Archaic and Classical period.

The list of its rulers, kings and conquerers is long indeed — from the Mycenaeans of deep antiquity, through Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians, until Alexander the Great took control of the city kingdoms of the island and launched the Hellenistic Period. In 58 BCE the Romans expanded their empire to include Cyprus. It was then gifted to Cleopatra VII and then taken back.

In around 50 CE the Apostles Paul, Barnabas and St. Mark brought Christianity to the island under which it again flourished for a time, though under the changing rule of an array of squabbling and acquisitive kings, lords, barons and knights. This included several hundred years of Byzantine rule who, in turn lost the island to King Richard (the Lionheart) in 1191. He was unable to afford the upkeep of the island and so sold it on to Guy de Lusignan under whose rule the island briefly witnessed a spectacular period of prosperity.

The warring European city states of Genoa and Venice then vied with the Lusignans for control of the island, and its fortunes waxed and waned as these rulers over-taxed and mistreated the long-suffering inhabitants.

This makes it somewhat understandable when these inhabitants welcomed the arrival of the Ottoman Empire and saw them as liberators from the Venetian yoke.

The Orthodox Church replaced the Latin Church and the Ottoman period saw 300 years of relatively benign rule. In 1878, the by now crumbling Ottomans leased the island to the British Empire and Cyprus became Britain’s strategic base. During the First World war Britain annexed the island totally from the Ottomans and continued to rule until the founding of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960.

In 1974, nationalist officers from Greece and the Cyprus National Guard attempted a coup against the democratically elected government of Cyprus with the aim of uniting the island with Greece. Turkey exercised its rights under the Treaty of Guarantees which founded the republic and intervened to overturn the coup. The island was subsequently divided into two regions, north and south and in 1983 the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus was declared.