What is Paphos?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan
Paphos is mentioned in Homer's "Odyssey."
Paphos is mentioned in Homer's "Odyssey."

Paphos is a city in south-west Cyprus. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1980. The term can refer either to Old Paphos or New Paphos. The city of new Paphos is currently inhabited, with a population of roughly 50,000 people, while Old Paphos is an important archeological site.

The site is most renowned as the mythical birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite. It is said that after Aphrodite rose from the sea, she first set foot on land there. There is historical evidence that she was worshipped there at least since Homer’s time, as she is mentioned by name, along with Paphos, in the Odyssey.

The name of the city comes from an Aphrodite-related myth as well. Pygmalion, this mythical ivory-worker, is said to have carved a statue of his perfect woman, Galatea. Aphrodite then brought the statue to life, and Galatea bore Pygmalion a child, named Paphos. His son, Cinyras, is then said to have founded the city bearing his father’s name, in honor of the goddess who made his birth possible, erecting a magnificent temple devoted to her worship.

Historically, the region has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic era. A number of pre-Hellenic fertility goddesses were worshipped there before Aphrodite was imported, sometime in the 12th century BCE.

The priests who ruled over the area were known as the descendents of Cinyras, or Cinyradae, and used Hellenistic modes, although they were Phoenician in origin. Paphos was a central location throughout most of the known world at the time, as Aphrodite was an important goddess throughout the Aegean.

Although the mighty temple to Aphrodite has since been destroyed, its remnants still remain. A modern architect has also attempted to rebuild the temple, working from depictions of the temple on coins of the era, and on models of other temples from the period.

The city worshiped uninterrupted for years until Christianity eventually made its way to the city. It is mentioned by name in the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul is said to have converted the ruler of the city, Sergius Paulus, to Christianity.

In the region there are a number of sites worth visiting. The Paphos Archeological Park contains two beautiful Roman villas, now ruined, the House of Theseus, and the House of Dionysos. These villas are adorned with beautifully-preserved mosaics, which many people find the primary attraction of the site. The Odeon, a classical Greek theatre, has recently been restored, and there are regular performances, which can be a wonderful experience after a day in the park. The Tombs of the Kings, although not actually tombs for kings, are nonetheless beautiful decadent tombs, giving insight into the burial practices of the 4th century.

An airport has irregular service connecting the city to the outside world, and is mostly used for travel purchased as part of a charter package. People can also reach the city by vehicle from Limassol, and taxis run regularly. The site itself is fairly small, and can be explored on foot.

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    • Paphos is mentioned in Homer's "Odyssey."
      By: Lefteris Papaulakis
      Paphos is mentioned in Homer's "Odyssey."