Cyprus, the island of Aphrodite, the third largest island in the Mediterranean, is strategically located in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Europe meets the Middle East, at the crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa.

Cyprus has a history that stretches back into the mists of prehistory, myths and legend with its roots firmly fixed in the Greek Civilisations of Classical History.

Cyprus is the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, love, sex and passion, the beautiful Aphrodite. According to Hesiod's Theogony, the goddess, who was also known as Kypris or the Cyprian, emerged fully grown from the sea where the severed genitals of the god Uranus were cast by his son, Kronos, causing the sea to foam (Greek: Aphros).

The site of Aphrodite's birth from the foam is at 'Petra tou Romiou' or 'Aphrodite's Rock', a large stack in the sea close to the coastal cliffs near Paphos. Throughout ancient history, Cyprus was a flourishing centre for the cultic worship of Aphrodite, where the Greeks of classical Greece came to worship at the temple of Aphrodite.

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean, after Sicily and Sardinia.

Geographically Cyprus is part of the Middle East. Culturally, a mix of Greek and Middle East culture. This is reflected in the music and the food.

Due to its strategic location, Cyprus has been fought over for millennia. It is only since the British left, that Cyprus has truly achieved independence. As part of the settlement, Britain retains bases on the island. Since 1974, the northern part of Cyprus has been illegally occupied by Turkey. The self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised by no country other than Turkey. Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, is the only divided city in the world.

As to be expected, Cyprus has a Mediterranean climate, hot and dry in the summer, cool and rainy in the winter. On average, Cyprus experiences 340 days of sun a year, more than any other Mediterranean resort. Cyprus has long hot summers, a mild spring, autumn extending well into November. The sea is warm from the end of May until October.

English is the second language in Cyprus and widely spoken. The legal system is very similar to the English legal system. Compared with England the crime rate is low.

With the self-destruction of Beirut, Cyprus took over as the offshore business centre for the Middle East. The inflow of 'hot' money from Russia was more problematic.

The University of Cyprus was established in 1989 and opened its doors to its first students in 1992 Before then, Cypriots were obliged to go to England, US or Greece for a university education. Many students still do go abroad for their university education.

The University of Cyprus came of age in May 2006, when it invited Noam Chomsky to accept an honoury degree.

Many Cypriots attend private schools where the tuition is in English, and they study for English examinations, including A levels. A levels are seen as giving a wider choice of university. Somewhat ironic, when in England top schools and many universities see A levels as now so devalued as to be a worthless piece of paper and are looking to establish a more rigorous examination system.

Located in the central plain, Nicosia is the capital of Cyprus and its largest city. Following the illegal Turkish invasion in July and August 2004, Nicosia is the only divided city in the world. Other large cities are Limassol and Larnaca.

Major tourist resorts are Paphos, Limassol, Larnaca, Ayia Napa and Protaras.

Tourism in Cyprus (excluding the occupied north which is insignificant), peaked at 1.5 million UK tourists in 2000. It was down to 1.4 million in 2005. To put these figures in context, 1 million Brits were expected to visit the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik in 2006.

Cyprus has two international airports, Paphos and Larnaca. Larnaca International Airport is a four hour flight from London Gatwick.

The Akamas Peninsular in the west of Cyprus is an area of outstanding natural beauty and ecological significance. Proposed as a National Park and World Bioreserve. This diverse area is under threat from property speculators and the British Military.

The Akamas Peninsula is in the far west of Cyprus at its most westerly point. Named after the son of Theseus, hero of the Trojan Wars and founder of the city-kingdom of Soli.

The Akamas Peninsula is an area of outstanding natural beauty - deep gorges, a wild landscape, wide sandy bays. It is also an area of great biodiversity and ecological significance. Home to 530 plant species, a third of the total for Cyprus, 126 of which are endemic to Cyprus. An unspoilt wild place thanks to its inaccessibility.

The other important unspoilt area is the Troodos Mountains. Mount Olympus in the Troodos, at 1,953 metres, is the highest point on the island.

The densely forested Troodos Range in the south-west takes up approximately one half the area of the island and constitutes the largest volume of ophiolite rock in the world.

Tour companies, despite their self-proclaimed 'green' credentials, seem determined to trash these remote and fragile areas by organising jeep safaris.

If you wish to explore these areas, the only way to do so, especially if you wish to appreciate their tranquility and beauty, is on foot

The narrower Keryneia Range in the occupied north, mainly of limestone, rises up to 1.024 metres and is also known as the Pentadaktylos, or Five Finger mountain. On a clear day, this mountain range can be seen from Protaras.

Agriculture is important, especially the rich red soils around Paralimni.

Cyprus is rich in copper ore and was a source of copper for the ancient world. Ingots of copper were shipped out from Cyprus. The name Cyprus may derive from copper, or possibly the other way on, Cyprus as the source of copper, gave the name to the metal, aes Cyprium, 'metal of Cyprus', later shortened to Cuprum.

There is believed to be vast oil and gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus has recently given the go-ahead for oil and gas exploration off the coast of Larnaca, putting at risk the tourist industry and the sensitive marine environment.

Central to Greek-Cypriot culture is the kafenes or Cypriot Coffee Shop. The kafenes is the Cypriot café, a traditional male habitat for relaxation, playing cards, backgammon and discussing business and politics.

Cypriot cuisine is a blend of Greek, Turkish and Middle East cuisine. The local beer is Keo lager, the local drink brandy sour.

The west of the island is an important wine growing area. A wine festival is held in Limassol during the first ten days of September.

The ideal climate means grapes can grow up to 1000 metres, citrus fruits to 450 metres.

The best wines are those from small family vineyards and wineries.

Cyprus offers far more than the clubs and bars of the coastal resorts of Ayia Napa and Protaras.

Cyprus has its roots in ancient civilisations that pre-date the Greek civilisation. Its theatre dates back to antiquity, ruins and ampitheatres can be found, Christianity was brought to the island by St Paul, it was where wine making is believed to have originated.

Thanks to the Aphrodite connection, Cyprus has become an important place for English couples to get married. It has become big business for the hotels.

A local Cypriot wedding is an entirely different affair to the formality of an English wedding, fairly informal with a thousand or more guests attending.

Following the invasion and illegal occupation by Turkey in July and August 1974, Cyprus remains to this day a divided island, Nicosia the world's only divided city. UN troops patrol the de-militarised buffer zone which divides the island, the green line. Few Turkish Cypriots now remain in the occupied north, regarding it as an open air prison camp, a Turkish gulag. Those in the occupied north who speak out against the Turkish occupiers, or their puppet Rauf Denktas, are met with an iron fist.

Tourists are asked not to visit the occupied north until such time as it is liberated from the Turkish aggressors. Due to its lack of international recognition, there are no direct flights to the occupied north and flights have to go via Turkey. It is possible to visit the occupied north from the south by passing through a military checkpoint.

Greek Cypriots will not accept any settlement of the Cyprus Problem as it is known, until the Turkish military and the in excess of 100,000 Turkish peasants who were relocated to the island go home, the north is demilitarised, the right of refugees to return is fully recognised and honoured and property is returned to its rightful owners.

Post-independence from Britain, Greece, Turkey and Britain were guarantors of the independence of Cyprus. Britain together with USA were complicit in the invasion and stood idly by and let it happen.

The US and Britain wanted a divided island. It is of use to them for its strategic location. The British use their bases for electronic surveillance, first of Russia during the Cold War, and increasingly of the Middle East. The bases are also used as forward bases for any action in the Middle East, as was seen in the action on Iraq. Following Suez, the British realised the importance of forward bases.

Since 2000, the north has experienced economic meltdown.

During 2003-2004 several initiatives emerged on the Cyprus Problem.

April 2003, the Green Line was opened to Greek and Turkish Cypriots to cross. On both sides of the Green Line, the opportunity was taken to see how the other half lived. Cordial relationships were established, old friendships re-established.

The UN put forward the Annan Plan. This was dismissed out of hand by the Greek Cypriots for understandable reasons. Greek Cypriot refugees, contrary to International Law, would not have the right of immediate return, Turkish military would remain in the north, Turkey would have effective control over Cyprus airspace.

The UN sponsored a referendum on the Annan Plan. Greek Cypriot refugees were not permitted to participate, on the other hand, Turkish settlers were! The month before Cyprus joined the EU, the Annan Plan was rejected in the south by 3:1, but accepted in the occupied north by 2:1.

May 2004, Cyprus joined the EU.

Following the invasion, 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled to the safety of the south of the island. Famugusta, which until the invasion was the major tourist resort, now lies derelict. Boat trips along the coast enable the viewing of Famagusta from off-shore.

Many of the refugees set up home in Paralimni, which is now the administrative centre for what was the Famagusta district.

Protaras is the tourist resort of Paralimni – golden beach, water sports, luxury hotels.

To this day, and until a solution emerges, divided Cyprus remains one of the most militarised areas on earth.

In recent years there has been promotion of agrotourism, where tourists stay in small remote villages. Small-scale, brings money into remote areas, without overwhelming and destroying these areas.

Since Cyprus joined the EU in May 2004, Cyprus has experienced a property boom. Residential property price is currently rising at around 15% per annum.

Warning: Do not buy property in the illegally occupied north of the island. The seller is unlikely to have title to the property and as a consequence, the buyer will not have legal title either.

Given that over 92% of property in occupied Cyprus is Greek Cypriot, Church, or Republic of Cyprus government owned, it can be safely assumed that those offering it for sale in the occupied north have no legitimate title.

The environment has suffered greatly from the rapid and uncontrolled expansion in tourism. Somewhat late in the day, the Cyprus government has belatedly recognised the problem.

About the only good that has come of the illegal Turkish occupation of the north, is that due to uncertainty in legitimate land title, very little property development has taken place. At least that was true until the Green Line was opened to both communities to cross in 2003. Since then there has been a property boom in the occupied north, with scant regard to either the environment or legitimate property title.

In recent years, a handful of golf courses have been established. These are an appalling waste of water on an island suffering severe water shortages and should be dug up and the land restored to agriculture.

The main religion in Cyprus is the Greek Orthodox Church. There is also a small Maronite Christian community. Turkish Cypriots are mainly Muslim. One of the consequences of the illegal Turkish occupation of the north of the island has been the desecration of churches and other religious and holy sites.

In recent years the top echelons of the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus have been mired in a series of sex and corruption scandals.

Since Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 there has been a massive influx of workers initially from Poland and more recently from Slovakia and the Czech Republic. From 2007, with two new countries joining the EU, there has been significant numbers of migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

The two local English language newspapers are the Cyprus Mail and The Cyprus Weekly.

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(c) Keith Parkins 2007 -- June 2007 rev 5
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