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Mythos Visits: Paphos Archaeological Site

Updated: Jan 1, 2024

Here at Mythos we have recently been lucky enough to take a trip down to Cyprus, birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite. Naturally, being mythology lovers, there was no chance of us going all that way and not checking out some of the nearby historical attractions and we are thrilled to share some of the incredible places we managed to visit.

First of our list was Paphos Archaeological Site. Located near Paphos Harbour in Cyprus, Pathos Archaeological Site boasts an awe-inspiring view of the coast, and a collection of incredible ruins stretching from the Hellenistic and Roman periods to the time of the Ottoman empire. As well as Ottoman, Roman, and Medieval baths, burial sites and churches, the site is home to a Roman theatre and the ruins of four Roman villas.

The city of Pathos has long held a great historical significance, and during the Hellenistic period was named as the capital of Cyprus (a title it no longer holds). it’s the city is said to get its name from, Paphos, the child of Pygmalion and Galatea. Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with his creation and pleaded with the gods to bring the statue to life. Struck by his love, Aphrodite agreed. The statue was brought to life as Galatea and the two were wed, with Galatea eventually giving birth to Paphos. In respect for the city’s cultural significance, the area is now listed as a protected site on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Archaeological Site itself was first excavated under the direction of Polish Professor, Kazimierz Michałowski in 1965 – work which continues to this day.

Three areas identified as dating from the Roman period are the Agora, Theatre and Asklepieion.

An agora was a public space used for assemblies and markets. It would typically have been located either in the centre of the city, or close to the harbour (as seen in Pathos) and would usually be surrounded by public buildings and temples and sometimes, as in the case of Pathos, a theatre.

The importance of theatre in Roman times was heavily influenced by the earlier attitudes of the Greeks and the construction of Roman theatres was very similar (though not identical) to the Greek theatres that inspired them. Of the many festivals held in Ancient Rome, 101 days of these involved the theatre. The largest of these was the Ludi Romani, held in honour of the Roman god Jupiter – ruler of the gods, and god of thunder and sky – and featuring sporting games, races and theatre performances.

Alongside the Agora and Theatre was the Asklepieion. The Asklepieion was a place of healing, named for the Roman god, Asklepios (or Asclepius). Asklepios was the son of the god Apollo – god of healing, prophecy and the sun – and the human princess Coronis. His mother, while pregnant with him, had cheated on Apollo and so been killed by his sister Artemis, either at Apollo’s request, or out of her own decision to avenge her brother. Apollo saved his son, cutting him from Coronis as she lay on her funeral pyre. Asklepios was trained in medicine by the centaur Chiron. His healing halls were places of both physical and spiritual healing, and in some places it became a practice for the unwell to sleep within the Asklepieion, as it was believed that Asklepios could cure the sick through their dreams. A marble statue of Asklepios was found at Pathos, which is now kept in Cyprus Department of Antiques.

Moving forward from the Hellenistic period, near the entrance of the site can be found the ruins of a castle from the Frankish period (1191 – 1489 AD) notable for its two distinct arches. The building is believed to have been built on an earlier Byzantine fort and used to protect the port and city from raids. When the castle was destroyed by an earthquake in 1222 it was abandoned until it was rediscovered during the excavation of the Pathos Archaeological Site.

Jumping forward again to the Ottoman period, between 1571 and 1878 AD, we find Paphos Castle, located outside of the actual archaeological site to the west of the harbour. The castle was later given to the British during their occupation of the island, where it was used to store salt until 1935, when it was protected as Ancient Monument. Due to its location outside the main archaeological site, the castle makes a perfect way to end your tour of Pathos’ ancient archaeological sites, allowing you to then walk through the beautiful harbour and take in the sights and shops.

Those of you who have visited this incredible site, may have noticed something missing from our article. The most famous part of the ruins are the four Roman villas, known for their intricate and well-preserved mosaics. The ruins are stunning enough to deserve their own article, so join us next week as we take a look Pathos’ stunning mosaics.


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