Birthplace of Aphrodite, UNESCO World Heritage Site… The pretty port town of Paphos in Cyprus has many accolades to its name. In 2017, it adds one more: European Capital of Culture.
I lived in Paphos for a few weeks last November and December. Despite the fact that the entire old town was a ginormous building site in preparation for its European Capital of Culture status, I loved my time there. I mean, my Masters degree is in Greek archaeology, so give me a pile of old ruins to scramble around and I’m happy!
One of my favourite places in Paphos is the Tombs of the Kings, just north of Kato Paphos. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, these monumental underground tombs date back to the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and they’re carved out of solid rock. I went twice. Once with a friend, but I had to go back on my own to satisfy my inner Lara Craft and really spend time getting to know the site. I visited in the early afternoon, when the sun turned the tombs the colour of fresh honeycomb. Eventually, I’ll write a longer post about my time in Cyprus. Until then, here are a few of my favourite pictures from that trip for this week’s mini photo essay.
Despite their regal name, the Tombs of the Kings were not used to bury royalty. Instead, they were the final resting place for the high-ranking officials and nobility of ancient Paphos. It was the magnificence of the tombs that gave the site its name. Sadly the contents of the tombs were looted long before their modern discovery. But once I’d wandered away from the crowds and managed to shake off the over-friendly guard who was following me a little too persistently, I could sense the mysterious atmosphere surrounding this ancient burial site.
The eight tombs are scattered over a large area, bordered on one side by the azure-blue Mediterranean Sea, the crashing waves a soothing soundtrack to the site.
The most popular and most impressive tomb is Tomb 3, with sturdy Doric columns bordering its atrium and a network of tombs and passageways leading off the central square.
My favourite was Tomb 5. It doesn’t have the finesse of Tomb 3, its columns heavy square pillars, pockmarked by the weather. Yet it has something. Fewer people and a deep sense of calm. I was alone in the tomb for ages yet felt as though I was sharing the space somehow, though not in a creepy or scary way. The afternoon sun angled in, casting deep shadows in the golden honeycomb walls, and a pigeon cooed gently over my head, its nest tucked in one of the deep holes under the the roof. I lingered for ages, eventually tearing myself away when a couple noisily descended into the space, breaking my reverie.
Although unique in Cyprus, some of the tombs are heavily influenced by those found in Alexandria, Egypt, where tombs of the dead imitate houses of the living. This was most evident in Tomb 8, one of the largest complexes, whose doors and archways gave the impression I was wandering around an ancient Berber village.
I adore archaeological sites (no surprise there!) and the Tombs of the Kings was one of the best sites I visited in 2016. If you’re heading to Paphos in 2017 for the city’s European Capital of Culture celebrations, make sure you take the short trip out of town to wander around the dusty tombs and soak up their mysterious atmosphere.
Have you been to the Tombs of the Kings in Paphos? Which was your favourite tomb? Tell me in the comments below…