History & Culture
Akrotiri peninsula was once a small island, which was merged with the rest of Cyprus, through geomorphological processes of thousand years. The geomorphologic phenomenon of the connection of an island with a dry part of land within a timeframe of thousands of years is called tompolo. In the case of Akrotiri Peninsula, the specific geomorphologic phenomenon is called double tompolo, because there is connection of two sites of the island with the two sites of mainland.
All the sediment carried out from Kouris River to its delta was building up over time and became a solid mass of dry land. This created a tombolo in the west part of the Peninsula, which joined the island to mainland Cyprus. This process it is believed that occurred at least 56 thousand years ago. Later, over the process of several years, a second tombolo was created on the east side of the Peninsula, from the sediment that Garilis river carried out and connected mainland Cyprus to the east side of the former island. The Akrotiri Salt Lake is a result of the gradual unification of the surrounding land. This final connection of the island with the mainland is estimated to occur 2,000 years ago.
Akrotiri Peninsula is an area with a rich history and culture dating back to ancient times. The long history of Akrotiri unfolds through the archaeological findings of the area. The south cliffs of the Peninsula, a locality also known as Aetokremmos, host the earliest known archaeological site in Cyprus and it is believed to be the first part of the island ever to be inhabited by people during the pre-Neolithic period. The residents of Aetokremmos were hunters and gatherers, who were hunting pygmy hippos and pigmy elephants. This explains why at the site many fossilized bones of big mammals were found.
The several archaeological and religious sites from different periods prove that the area was inhabited during the different historic eras, such as from Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Christian periods.
Cultural and Historical Attractions
Monastery of Agios Nicolaos of Cats (Agios Nikolaos ton Gaton)
Situated on Cape Gata southeast of Akrotiri Salt Lake, it is perhaps one of the first byzantine monasteries of Cyprus, as it dates the late 4th century. Abandoned in the late 16th century, it was re-occupied by Orthodox nuns in the early 1980s.
According to tradition, the monastery was founded by Agia Eleni, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, who left a piece of wood from the Holy Cross at the site. During that period, Cyprus experienced a severe drought, forcing many people to flee the cape and the area became infested by snakes. Constantine the Great sent a commander called Kalokeros to Cyprus to release thousands of cats in order to clear the area of the snakes, and thus the cape was saved and came to be known as Cape Gata (Cape Cat). Whilst the monastery has just a handful of nuns now, there are many cats, which are said to be the descendants of those who cleared the area of snakes.
Panayia Galaktotrophousa Chapel
This is a simple wooden-roofed chapel on the northwest of the Salt Lake, nestled among the orange groves near the Asomatos village community. Restoration works that were carried out by the Antiquities Department after a fire that broke out in 2000, indicate that this chapel has a very long history, dating back to the late 11th century.
Agios Demetrianos Chapel
Close to the Akrotiri Marsh, Agios Demetrianos Chapel is a small chapel (basilica) dating to the Arabs Raids period (12th century). The chapel is always open.
Agios Georgios Chapel
Agios Georgios Chapel, a picturesque stone built, single room basilica, is situated on the southwest of Akrotiri village. According to estimations it is dated back to the 17th century. It is always open.
Kourion Archaeological Site
The archaeological remains of Kourion – which was one of the island’s most important city-kingdoms in antiquity – are of the most impressive on the island, and excavations have unearthed many significant findings, which can be viewed at the site. The city-kingdom was built on the hills of the area, and overlooked and controlled the fertile valley of the river Kouris. According to archaeological finds, evidence suggests that Kourion was associated with the Greek legend of Argos of Peloponnese, and that its inhabitants believed they were descendents of Argean immigrants. The once-flourishing kingdom was eventually destroyed in a severe earthquake in 365 AD.
The magnificent Greco-Roman theatre – the site’s centrepiece – was built in the 2nd century BC and extended in the 2nd century AD. The theatre has been restored, and is now used for open-air musical and theatrical performances – mainly during the summer months – making it one of the most popular settings for high-calibre cultural events.
East of the theatre are the remains of a prominent building, the ‘House of Eustolios’, which was originally a private villa that was turned into a public recreation centre during the Early Christian period. Along with the House of Eustolios, there are further impressive mosaic floors in the ‘House of Achilles’ and the ‘House of the Gladiators’, with the villas named after the scenes depicted on the mosaics.
Also, worth seeing is the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, situated about 2,5 kilometres west of the ancient city. Apollon Hylates, God of the Woodland, was the protector of Kourion and it is believed that he was worshipped at the site from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. His sanctuary was an important religious centre and underwent many extensions and alterations in different periods.
The Akrotiri shipwreck, known also as the Mav Achaios, was built in 1932. In the 1970s, the ship had to transport wood from Yugoslavia towards Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, near the Red Sea. However, a fire onboard and heavy storm swept through the ship, which ran aground in the Akrotiri peninsula and sunk. Because of the shallow water depth in the Akrotiri Peninsula, that is only about 7 meters, the ship was partially submerged. Nowadays, it stands halfway out of the water creating an enchanting landmark.
Besides the archaeological and religious sites, an important historical tradition of the Akrotiri area is basketry, one of the oldest fields of handcrafting. In the past, many residents of Akrotiri area dealt with basketry professionally, while nowadays this traditional professional is practiced by a few, since it is no longer profitable. The raw material used for the making of baskets, mainly included plants found in wetlands and the constant need for raw material contributed to the wetlands conservation. In Akrotiri Environmental Education Centre, visitors can receive information about this traditional technique.