Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea with an area of 9251 sq. km. With its sunny climate, beautiful beaches and rich history Cyprus is a prime holiday destination and has extensive tourist facilities to accommodate every taste and budget.

Throughout its history the island of Cyprus has been known by many names. According to one source, up to 128 names have been used amongst which are; Alasia, Asi (Ancient Egyptian and Hittite); Khittim (Hebrew); Yadnana, Ya (Assyrian; Hettim (Phoenician. Today's name is generally agreed to have been derived from the latin word for copper (Cyprum) although another argument is that it is derived from the name of the henna plant known as 'kypros'.

Archeological excavations on the island have identified the first traces of human activity to the Paleothic (Stone) Age around 10,000 - 8,500 BCE. Standing, as it does, at a startegic point on the trade routes of the Eastern Mediteranean it has historically been coveted by the ruling power of the region and so been subject to invasion and conquest thoughout its long history.


Lefkosia, the capital of Cyprus is better known to foreigners by its mediaeval name, Nicosia. The city has a population of about 230.000, by far the biggest on the island. 195,300 live in the government-controlled southern quarter while the rest live in the Turkish-occupied northern quarter.

Lefkosia hosts the seat of government, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, the Archbishopric of the Greek Orthodox Church, government services and foreign embassies, high commissions and consulates.

The city's origins go back in history as the earliest human settlements found in the vicinity of the modern city date back to the 3rd millennium BC. It was only about 1000 years ago that Lefkosia (Nicosia) became the capital of Cyprus at a time when the island's rulers were forced to withdraw inland in order to protect themselves from the raiding Saracens, who were marauding the coastal towns. Ever since it has remained the capital sharing the country's fate through the centuries.

Around the time when Lefkosia became the capital, Richard the Lionheart of England claimed Cyprus from the Byzantines on the way to the Holy Land. It was then sold to the Knights Templar and later sovereignty was transferred to the Lusignans. Under the reign of the Frankish dynasty Lefkosia remained the feudal capital with a cosmopolitan array of contemporary buildings, palaces and churches. Among them the Gothic cathedral of Saint Sophia , modelled on the Notre Dame of Paris, later transformed by the Ottomans into a mosque, remains to this day a prominent landmark in the walled city.

Towards the end of the 15th century the island passed on to the Venetians, who built the fortifications around the city. In the process they had to destroy several buildings. The circular walls are 4.5 km long, contain 11 bastions each bearing the name of an aristocratic family, together with three Gates: Pafos Gate on the SW edge of the walls now lying in the so-called green line dividing the city, Keryneia Gate to the NW in the Turkish-occupied quarter and Famagusta Gate to the S. in the government-control quarter. The latter has been renovated and serves as the capital's major cultural centre hosting art exhibitions, conferences, lectures, concerts and other cultural activities. The ditch running along the ramparts has been transformed into park space, parking lots, open markets and an open air theatre decorated with modern sculptures.

 In 1570 the Ottoman Turks conquered Lefkosia after a bloody siege, which was followed by extensive massacres and destruction. The period was marked by the public hanging of Archbishop Kyprianos, three Bishops and other priests and Greek Cypriot dignitaries, for their alleged support for the 1821 National Uprising in Greece and for inciting their people to rise against Ottoman rule.The Ottomans built a number of mosques in the city while they converted several Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches into mosques. Economic and cultural activities were maintained at lower levels during Ottoman rule.

The British, who took over from the Ottomans in 1878 and remained on the island as colonial masters until 1960, also left their mark on the face of the city. Many of today's government buildings, including the Presidential Palace, many of the ministries, the Supreme Court, government buildings, police stations, the Archaeological Museum and schools date back to this period. Lefkosia started expanding rapidly after the end of WW II and its population reached 100,000 in the early 60s. It's suburbs expanded rapidly during that period (1946-1965) and joined up with the city proper. Later Kaimakli and Pallouriotissa were accommodated within the city limits, while Strovolos, Aglandjia, Agios Dometios and Engomi were upgraded to municipalities.

Following the Turkish invasion of 1974 the city expanded further in a southerly direction as a consequence of the influx of thousands of refugees from Turkish-occupied territory. Thus, Latsia, Lakatamia, Tseri and Geri, settlements to the south of the capital, also grew in population the first two being granted the status of municipality.

Since 1974 the de-facto partition of Lefkosia was completed. The Greek Cypriot suburbs to the north of the walled city - Trachonas, Omorphita and Neapolis - were captured by the Turks and their inhabitants also became refugees.

Today Lefkosia is a thriving commercial centre. Many offshore banks and businesses operate from the Cyprus capital while the local bank, insurance and service sectors in general are especially strong. The city has been a centre of trading activity for centuries and is well-known for the hustle and bustle of its commercial streets.


The city of Lemesos (Limassol) is situated in a picturesque location on the shores of the Bay of Akrotiri in the narrow coastal plain, between the two ancient city kingdoms of Amathus to the east and Kourion to the west. It is within an hour's drive from the capital Lefkosia to the north, the port cities of Larnaka to the east and Pafos to the west and the main mountain resorts of the Troodos range.

Lemesos is today the island's second largest city with a population of 155.500, the most important tourist and commercial centre and the biggest port.
It was already the island's main port during Lusignan times. However, by the 19th century, after being ravaged by fires, floods and earthquakes, it lost most of its importance to Larnaka and Ammochostos (Famagusta), which became the main ports of the island.

It gradually gained in importance during the British colonial period with the establishment of Cyprus's first industrial units - mainly agricultural product processing (wine-making, fruit-juice production, fruit-canning) and light industry (shoe-making, clothing). Its population grew rather rapidly during the first half of the 20th century mainly because of the influx of rural populations from the district itself as well as from Pafos district to the west.

Following the Turkish invasion of 1974, Lemesos took over from Ammochostos as the island's biggest port. It also became the island's biggest commercial and tourist centre while industrial activity also increased. The population of the city increased dramatically in 1974 since tens of thousands of refugees from Turkish occupied Cyprus found refuge here.


The modern city of Larnaka is built on the shores of the Bay of Larnaka in the SE of the island, a few kilometres to the north of the ancient kingdom of Kition. It has a population of 68.800 and ranks third in size among the island's settlements, after Lefkosia and Lemesos. Almost half of the inhabitants of the city were refugees, mainly from neighbouring Ammochostos district.

Throughout the centuries, Kition had remained one of Cyprus's main city-states, enjoying periods of prosperity when trade was flourishing. It is connected with important milestones in the island's history, which include the liberation of the city from the Persian yoke by the Athenian General Kimon, and the presence in the city of Lazarus, the man Jesus Christ brought back from the dead. The vulnerability of the city to earthquakes, floods and raids contributed to its decline during the Middle Ages.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, under Ottoman and British rule, it gradually regained some of its former importance. Most of the European states of the time had established their consulates in the city, while the port became the busiest in the island, both in terms of passenger and freight traffic. It was during that time that the ancient toponym of Kition was abandoned and replaced by that of Larnaka, which is a derivative of the ancient Greek word "larnax", meaning sarcophagus, because of the presence of many ancient tombs in the wider area of the city.

The city declined somewhat during the first half of the 20th century partly because Lefkosia attracted most of the foreign diplomatic missions and partly because the port of Ammochostos took over from Larnaka as the main port of the island.

The city's decline continued until independence in 1960. There followed a period of slow and steady development but at all times the city remained in the shadow of the three big cities - Lefkosia, Lemesos and Ammochostos. Tourist development in the city and district was minimal up until 1974 compared to the rapid development in Ammochostos and Keryneia.

The situation changed dramatically following the 1974 invasion. With the loss of the port of Ammochostos, the closure of Lefkosia (Nicosia) International Airport and the loss of the tourist infrastructure in Ammochostos and Keryneia, Larnaka became once again one of the focal points of the island's economic activity. Larnaka International Airport (4km to the south) opened up soon after the invasion, the port was upgraded for both freight and passenger traffic, the city acquired an extensive boat marina while new luxury hotels were built along a ten kilometre sea-front. Also to the north of the city limits are located the island's only oil refineries.


The city of Pafos, on the southwest coast of the island, is, according to legend the birthplace of the Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite. It was founded by King Kinyras in 1400 BC. The port of Pafos was built by Nicocles, the last king of Pafos, at the time of Alexander the Great. It became the capital of the island replacing Salamis during the Hellenistic Period as its masters, the Ptolemies, favoured a location closer to their capital, Alexandria. The Romans retained Pafos as the seat of the Roman Governor. It was here that Apostle Paul converted the Roman Governor of the time, Sergius Paulus, to Christianity. The city contains many catacomb sites dating back to the early Christian period.

Despite its vulnerability to foreign incursions and raids, the city survived through the centuries, retaining an indefinable, legendary charm through the ages. It even survived the devastating earthquake in the 4th century AD.

Pafos, however, was gradually losing much of its attraction as an administrative centre, especially after the Arab raids in the 9th century AD. The result was that the capital was moved inland to Lefkosia (Nicosia). The city and its port continued to decline throughout the Middle Ages and Ottoman Rule, as Lefkosia, and the port cities of Larnaka and Ammochostos (Famagusta) were gaining in importance.

The city and district continued to lose population throughout the British colonial period and many of its inhabitants moved to Lemesos, Lefkosia and overseas. The city and district of Pafos had remained the most underdeveloped part of the island until 1974.

The Turkish invasion and occupation of the major tourist resorts of Keryneia and Ammochostos led to major investments by the government and the private sector in the district of Pafos. There was rapid economic activity in all fields but especially tourism and the district's population stopped shrinking and indeed showed some signs of increasing. The government invested heavily in irrigation dams and water distribution works, road infrastructure and the building of Pafos International Airport while private initiative concentrated in hotel, apartment and villa construction and the entertainment infrastructure.

Today Pafos is a popular sea resort, despite it's stony beaches, with a population of 39.500. It is divided into two major quarters - Ktima, on the sea terrace, is the main residential district, and Kato Pafos, by the sea, is built around the mediaeval port and contains most of the luxury hotels and the entertainment infrastructure of the city.