Follow the footsteps of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty and patron of Cyprus. The route focuses on the 3 most important Archaeological Sites dedicated to the ancient cult of Aphrodite. There are also links to other sites, museums and nature trails related to the goddess.
The World Heritage Site of PALAIPAFOS in Kouklia is the most important of the three sites. It was believed that Aphrodite was born from the sea, near the shore of Pafos. Her temple was said to be founded by Kinyras, a famous king of the Cypriots, or by Agapenor, a Greek hero of the Trojan War. You can see the remains of the first sanctuary of the 12th cent. b.C. where the goddess was worshipped till the Roman times. The ruins of the Roman temple are next to the sanctuary.
MYTHOLOGY: Aphrodite in PAFOS The myth of the birth of Aphrodite from the sea was very famous in antiquity. According to Hesiod, at the time of the creation of the world, there existed only Ge, the Earth, and Ouranos, the Sky who procreated together monstrous creatures. Ge asked one of her sons, Cronos, to mutilate his father. Cronos cut his father’s genitals which fell into the sea. From the foam that was formed, a maiden was born, first taken by the waves to Kythera, then brought to Cyprus. This maiden was the goddess Aphrodite. She was closely associated with Kinyras, a mythical king of Pafos, famous for his beauty and his wealth. But Smyrna, one of his daughters, offended Aphrodite who punished her by making her fall in love with her own father. Threatened by him, she was saved by Aphrodite, who turned her into a myrtle tree. From the trunk of the tree Adonis was born, whom Aphrodite loved dearly and mourned deeply when he died. Pygmalion, a king of Pafos, fell in love with an statue of Aphrodite he had carved. Compassionate, Aphrodite gave life to the statue. In the Akamas, Aphrodite was said to bathe in the spring called today Baths of Aphrodite after making love with Hephaistos or with Adonis.
RITUALS Connected with the cult of Aphrodite in PAFOS In the sanctuary of PALAIPAFOS, which was just an enclosure with an altar where incense was burning, the goddess was worshipped under the shape of an aniconic symbol, a conical stone, until the Roman times. According to tradition her altar was never wet with rain nor ever wet with blood, because she resented bloody sacrifices. She was offered painted figurines of animals, rich perfumes, balms, libations of honey, pancakes, foliage and fruit. A high priest (perhaps the king of the city) together with priestesses and sacred servants served Aphrodite. The art of divination was practiced from the entrails of lambs by the dynasties of high priests until Roman times.
AMATHOUS is one of the two great sites dedicated to Aphrodite where remains of sanctuaries and temples of the goddess can still be seen. The Cypriot Goddess was perhaps worshipped on the acropolis of the city as early as the 11th cent. b.C., as evidenced by a tomb of that period, which could be the tomb of Ariadne – Aphrodite, known from ancient sources as a cult place. Traces of a sanctuary dating to the 8th cent. b.C. have been found, as well as two colossal stone vases of the 6th – 5th cent. b.C., and a cave used for religious practices. What we see now are the remains of the temple to Aphrodite built in the 1st cent. A.D. on the site of previous temples dating to the Hellenistic period. Ancient necropolises excavated in the vicinity have yielded numerous female figurines buried with the dead in their tombs. They evidence the cult of the goddess worshipped in Amathous.
MYTHOLOGY: Aphrodite in AMATHOUS The temple of Aphrodite in Amathous was said to have been founded by Amathous, son of the king Aerias, who was said, amongst others, to have founded the temple of Aphrodite in Pafos. This would indicate that the cult of Aphrodite in Amathous derives from the cult of Aphrodite in Pafos. Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, was abandoned pregnant at Amathous by her lover Theseus on their way back from Crete to Athens after having helped him kill the Minotaur. Ariadne died during labour in Amathous. Amathousians showed her tomb in the grove of Ariadne – Aphrodite. Ariadne had the features of a fertility goddess and could have been identified with the Cypriot goddess. The power of Aphrodite was immense: she punished those who did not respect her, as is shown in the following myths. Aphrodite punished the Propoetids, women from Amathous who denied her divinity, by forcing them into prostitution and changing them into stone figures. The goddess also turned into furious bulls the Kerastes, horned men who sacrificed strangers at the entrance of the city.
RITUALS related to the cult of Aphrodite in AMATHOUS seem to be of very ancient, and mainly oriental, origin. Various ancient fertility rituals were performed at the annual celebration of Ariadne who was said to have died in childbirth. They included a sacrifice and a couvade rite during which a young man performed the part of a woman in labour. Aphrodite in Amathous had probably a bisexual character. Water played an important part in the cult. The two huge stone vases in the sacred area of the sanctuary contained water for purification or other rituals. Some rituals took place in a cave. Sacred stones were worshipped on the acropolis, as well as steles in the shape of Hathor heads. The bull was a symbol of fertility. Men wearing bull masks performed during the rituals. Funerary lamentations took place in the annual celebrations in honour of Aphrodite and Adonis. Other rituals were preserved until later periods, rituals such as sacrifices for the fertility of the fields, perhaps sacred marriage and possibly, sacred prostitution.
KITION – KATHARI Larnaka lies on top of a very ancient city founded in about 1300 b.C. Excavations have brought to light at the site, called Kition-Kathari, the sacred quarter where a Great Goddess was worshipped in sanctuaries and later in temples associated with workshops for the melting of copper. It seems that the Cypriot Goddess was the patron of copper, which constituted at the time the wealth of Cyprus. The site was abandoned about 1000 b.C. At the end of the 9th cent. b.C., Phoenicians came to Cyprus and founded on the same site a new city called Kition. They rebuilt the old temple and dedicated it to their goddess Astarte, the oriental equivalent to Aphrodite, who was worshipped there until the 4th cent. b.C.
MYTHOLOGY: The Great Goddess and Copper Aphrodite and Hephaistos The Great Goddess who was worshipped in the most ancient sanctuaries of Kition was certainly a fertility goddess protecting all products of the land, vegetation as well as copper. That is why workshops for the smelting of copper were found next to her sanctuaries. A 12th cent. b.C. bronze statuette represents her as a naked goddess with her hands on her breasts. Aphrodite was said to have been the lover of the King of Pafos, Kinyras, her beloved priest. Kinyras, famous for his wealth, was known as the inventor of tools and metallurgy. According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite was married to Hephaistus, the smith of the gods. This myth may have originated from the connection the Cypriot Goddess had with metallurgy. Hephaistus was said to have built for her a palace made of gold and jewels in idyllic seclusion, somewhere in the island, most probably in the Akamas area. Aphrodite was called by Homer Kypris, which probably means the Goddess of Cyprus. The name of the island Kypros, of uncertain etymology, has given the word for copper to several European languages. Therefore, Cyprus, the island rich in copper, which the Cypriot Goddess protected, has given her name to this metal throughout Europe.
RITUALS in the temples of KITION Evidence of the rituals that took place in the temples of Kition-Kathari is given by the rich archaeological finds discovered during excavations. In the open courtyards of the temples, there were sacrificial altars and tables for offerings. On the floor of temples, skulls of oxen and other animals were found. These bucrania may have been worn as masks during ceremonies as part of the fertility rites. Anthropomorphic masks were also worn. Cult objects were kept in the enclosed holy-of-holies of the temples, as, for instance, an ivory pipe for smoking opium as well as a perforated vase in which opium was burnt to be inhaled. Opium was used for religious purposes.
THE CHARACTER of the Cypriot APHRODITE Probably originating from an earlier fertility goddess, the Cypriot Aphrodite was seen as having universal power. The Goddess promoted fertility by inspiring desire and love. Notorious orgies, sacred marriage and prostitution probably were part of her cult. As a fertility goddess, she protected agriculture and metallurgy, as the products of nature. Called Aphroditos, she could be represented as a male figure, her sexual ambivalence warranting fertility.
The power of the Goddess was immense. If she was not shown due respect, she took terrible revenge, but she was also merciful. She protected royal dynasties and cities. She was the patron of the sea from which she was born. An image of beauty and magnificence, she was called the Beautiful, the Golden Aphrodite, the Goddess with the golden crown and the golden necklaces.
SECONDARY ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES associated with Aphrodite:
GEROSKIPOU (The Sacred Gardens) Kato Vrysi was an ancient aqueduct that cooled and quenched the thirst of the people and animals of the area. The water appears to have been distributed through underground galleries from the northern rocky hills of Geroskipou and the inhabitants of the community washed their clothes in the tubs of the fountain. According to tradition and evidence from travellers, the Bath of Aphrodite was in Kato Vrysi, whereas the water of the fountain watered the Sacred Gardens of the Goddess. During the annual festival of Aphrodite the solemn procession of worshippers from Nea Pafos to Palaipafos passed through the Sacred Gardens; a route known as Sacred Street. In recent years the water of Kato Vrysi is used solely as holy consecrated water.
NEA PAFOS was founded in 320 b.C. by Nicocles who was the last king of Pafos, and the High Priest of Aphrodite. Nicocles built a temple dedicated to the goddess in the new city, which has not yet been located. Two Hellenistic inscriptions mentioning statues dedicated to Aphrodite have been found in the Fabrika district, an indication perhaps that her temple once stood on top of the hill there. In the Roman Villa of Theseus two statues of the goddess, dating to the late 2nd – early 3rd cent. A.D. were found, one of which depicts the Armed Aphrodite. Aphrodite is also depicted in two mosaics from the Roman period found in nearby houses.
Aphrodite through the MUSEUMS Government and private museums throughout Cyprus have a rich collection of clay figurines, limestone statues and statuettes that show the development of the image and identity of the goddess through the millennia. Figurines placed in tombs, sanctuaries and private houses played an important role in ancient religions and many interpretations have been suggested such as the images of the goddess or her priestesses or of her sacred servants, or companions of the deceased, or talismans used for the protection of the dead, for the stimulation of fertility, or simply for good luck.
Cyprus Museum, Lefkosia (Nicosia)
Lemesos District Museum
Pafos District Museum
Local Archaeological Museum of Palaepafos – Kouklia
NATURE SITES and TRAILS related to Aphrodite:
PETRA tou ROMIOU (25 km east of Pafos) The nature site of the legendary place of the birth of Aphrodite is of unique natural beauty, which excites one’s imagination to visualize the narration of Hesiod’s Theonogy that Aphrodite was born from the foam of the sea.
BATHS of APHRODITE (Akamas Peninsula, near Polis, 46 km north of Pafos) The legendary natural grotto where Aphrodite used to bathe. The location of the site is mythologically associated with Adonis her lover as this is where they met for the first tine.
CAPE GKREKO (45 km north-east of Larnaka) The nature site at Cape Gkreko, along the north-east side of the promontory of ancient Pidalion where her sanctuary was situated. A cult place known only from literary sources, highly recommended for visits due to its natural beauty.
APHRODITE, ADONIS & FONTANA AMOROZA (Akamas Pensula, near Polis, 46 km north of Pafos) Three nature trails starting and ending at the Baths of Aphrodite, of unique natural beauty, linking the mythology on Aphrodite and her romance with Adonis. One finds plants associated with the Goddess Aphrodite, especially in spring.
LARNAKA SALT LAKE (3 km south of the city centre) It is the site where the Cypriot Goddess was worshipped in a sanctuary (which does not survive), perhaps as the patron of exploitation of salt, from the 1st millenium to the Roman Period, finally under the name of Artemis Paralia. The Salt Lake has water from October to May and is a resting place for migrating flamingoes. In summer it dries out, leaving a salt crust.
PLANTS native to Cyprus associated with Aphrodite:
Punica granatum (POMEGRANATE) The fruit of the tree was venerated in the cult of Hera (protectress of marriage and childbirth) and was sacred to both Athena and Aphrodite. Already in early times, the Greeks considered its fruit, containing numerous small fleshy seeds, a symbol of fertility. Its association with fecundity is further stressed by the myth of the Rape of Persephone, itself associated with fertility. Persephone was condemned to stay beneath the earth for half the year because, by eating a pomegranate in the Under-world, she had involuntarily married Hades. Her annual return to earth symbolizes, of course, the coming of Spring and fertility. Both these aspects of the pomegranate passed into the Christian world and survived into modern times.
Myrtus communis (MYRTLE) A shrub sacred to Aphrodite. It was behind a myrtle that she hid her nakedness when she rose from the sea at Pafos. The myrtle symbolizes beauty and youth because of its evergreen leaves, beautiful and elegant flowers and pleasant perfume. Myrtle branches were commonly used to decorate temples and sanctuaries. It is, perhaps, because of its beauty and association with Aphrodite that, in traditional weddings, the myrtle is used for making wedding wreaths. Its use in temples also survives today in the custom of decorating churches and strewing their floors with myrtle branches during special celebrations.