Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cyprus | 10,000 B.C. to Present

I guess it was inevitable that I would someday end up on the island of Cyprus. It is, after all, one of the great crossroads of the world, linking the seaways between Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, and Africa. The northwest tip of Cyprus is just forty-five miles from the coast of Turkey. The coast of Syria is sixty-five miles from the northeast corner of the island. Beirut is 110 miles from the southeast tip of Cyprus; Damascus 160; Jerusalem 228. From the southwest coast of Cyprus it’s 280 miles to Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile in Egypt, and 325 to the Big Bopper, Cairo. All of these places have left their mark on Cyprus. 
©2105 Google Earth (click on image for enlargement)
The island has been inhabited for 12,000 years at the very least. The earliest human inhabitants may have shared the island with dwarf elephants and hippopotami. A well-preserved Neolithic village has been dated to 6,800 b.c. By 2500 b.c the indigenous population was engaged in trade with Egypt, Greece, and the Near East. Mycenaean Greeks settled on Cyprus around 1400 b.c. and by 1000 b.c. the island was largely Hellenized. Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love and Sex, was believed to have been born on Cyprus, as was her lover, the dreamboat Adonis. A temple in western Cyprus dedicated to her became one of the great pilgrimage sites of the ancient world. By 800 b.c. the sea-faring Phoenicians, centered around what is now the coastline of Lebanon, set up trading posts along the southern coast of the Island, including one near the present-day town of Larnaca. Then came Assyrians from what is now Iraq, followed by Egyptians from the valley of the Nile. In 545 b.c. the Achaemenids of Iran overran the island. In 333 b.c. the Macedonian adventurer Alexander the Great supplanted them. After Alexander’s death the island become part of Hellenized Ptolemaic Egypt. 

The Ptolemaic Greeks eventually lost control of the island and in 58 b.c. it became part of the Roman Empire, during which time it became the plaything of Roman rulers. First, in an attempt to woo them as allies, Julius Caesar gave the island back to Ptolemy XIII and Arsinoë IV, the brother and sister of the legendary temptress Cleopatra and erstwhile rulers of Ptolemaic Egypt. When both he and they were eliminated from the scene the totally besotted Mark Anthony gave the island to Cleopatra, by then undisputed ruler of Egypt, as a token of his love for her, which was only fitting, since Cyprus was the home of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. (Some say it was a wedding gift; the problem is, Mark Antony was married to someone else at the time and Cleopatra was not the type to play second fiddle. The marriage alleged by some may never have taken place. She did have children with him, however: including the lovely twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. The name Alexander was intended to memorialize Alexander the Great: the name Cleopatra was traditionally given to female contenders for the throne of Egypt. The Cleopatra who so famously felled Julius Caesar and Marc Antony was in fact Cleopatra VII)  

In 46 a.d. the Apostle Paul (Saul) of Tarsus along with Barnabas, a Jew born on Cyprus who had converted to Christianity, visited the island and managed to convert to their new creed the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, making Cyprus the first country in the world to be ruled by a Christian governor. The Greek gods and pagan beliefs were soon superseded by the new teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the sex goddess Aphrodite giving way to the Virgin Mary. With the division of the Roman Empire in 395 A.D. Cyprus became part of the East Roman, or Byzantine, Empire headquartered in Constantinople. Christianity went unchallenged on the island until 647, when the Muslim invaders reached the island. (Some sources credit the Prophet Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr, with leading the invasion and temporarily seizing control of Larnaca, on the southern coast. Abu Bakr, however, died in 634.) The Umayyad Caliph Muawiyah I (r. 661–680) and the Abbasid Caliph Harun-al-Rashid (r. 786–809), he of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights fame, are both said to have made raids on the island. Numerous other Muslim incursions (a total of twenty-four according to Frankish historian Stephen de Lusignan) contested East Roman control of the island for the next three centuries before the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros Phocas finally reasserted control in 965.

Then came Europeans in the guise of Crusaders. King Richard I (the Lion-Heart) of England captured in the island in 1191, during the Third Crusade, and married his wife Berengaria in Limassol, on the southern coast, on 12 May 1191. He eventually sold the island to the militant order of Crusaders known as the Knights Templar. It was in turn passed on to Guy, leader of the French royal house of Lusignan. The Lusignan Dynasty ruled the island until 1473, when the great trading combine known as the Republic of Venice took nominal control. In 1489 Venice formally appropriated the Island and fortified the city of Nicosia by building the Venetian Walls, which still exist to this day. Then came the Ottomans, who since 1453 had ruled their empire out of Istanbul. On July 1, 1570 they invaded the island and within three weeks the capital, Nicosia, had fallen. For the next 228 years they ruled the island. In 1878 the Ottomans ceded control of Cyprus to Great Britain in return for the latter’s help in fending off the Russians, who were encroaching on the Ottoman Empire from the north. Although occupied by the British, Cyprus remained nominally part of the Ottoman empire until 1914, when the Ottomans sided with Germany in the First World War; thereupon the island was seized outright by the British and finally made a Crown Colony in 1925. 

During the 1950s Greek Cypriots started a movement to make Cyprus a part of Greece. Turkey, which alleged discrimination against Turkish Cypriots by the Greek populace, vehemently opposed a union between Cyprus and Greece. Attempting a compromise, in August of 1960 the United Kingdom, Greece, and Turkey, all signed the so-called London and Zurich Agreement finally granting Cyprus its independence and creating the Republic of Cyprus. It was hoped that as an independent country Cyprus would be able to iron it its ethnic and religious differences on its own. Instead, inter-communal strife between Greek and Turkish elements worsened, resulting in over two decades of domestic violence. In 1974 Turkey invaded the island, ostensibly to restore order. International pressure eventually led to a cease-fire, but by then Turkey controlled the northern part of the island, including the northern part of the capital, Nicosia. In 1983 the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was created, encompassing slightly more than a third of the island. The southern two-thirds or so of the island remained as the Republic of Cyprus. The two Cypruses, including the capital, remained strictly divided. Not April 23, 2003 was the Ledra Palace border crossing opened in Nicosia, reconnecting the two parts of the capital for the first time since 1974. On April 3, 2008, the Ledra Street pedestrian crossing was also opened, allowing for the first time easy access to both sides of city by locals and tourists on foot. Meanwhile, in 2004, the Republic of Cyprus had become part of the European Union, placing it firmly within the Occidental world. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is to this day recognized only by Turkey. 
Map courtesy of Nations Online Project