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Palea Paphos History, Cyprus


The origins and ancient history of Palea Paphos, or Old Paphos, is steeped in mythology to the point that it is hard to tell fact from fiction.  Most of this mythology is related to the Greek goddess Aphrodite who was supposed to have been born near the town. 

The town was named after Paphos who, according to Greek mythology, is the son of Pygmalion and Aphrodite.  Pygmalion was said to have created a sculpture of Aphrodite he fell in love with.  It is said that the sculpture came to life and after the two were married, they bore Paphos. Either Paphos, himself, or another family member established the town as a token of worship to the goddess.

It is hard to know how much of that story is actually true, but it is almost certain that Palea Paphos was once the home of a cult devoted to Aphrodite.  Ancient evidence suggests that a temple devoted to the goddess dwelt on a hill nearby.  The ruins of this temple, the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, can still be seen today.  This cult was most likely established around 1500 B.C. and the town soon followed. 

Despite the evidence of a cult devoted to Aphrodite there are other legends regarding the founding of Paphos.  Some say that the town was established by Amazons.  One thing that archaeologists are sure about is that the area has been inhabited since around 10,000 B.C.  Female idols dating back to 3800 B.C. have also been found in the same area; however, it is uncertain if these idols are related to the worship of Aphrodite or some other fertility goddess. 

Palea Paphos became the capital of Cyprus sometime between 323 B.C. and 146 B.C. This was at the request of the Ptolemies who wanted the capital of Cyprus to be closer to their capital in Egypt. 

The Biblical hero, Paul of Tarsus, a traveling missionary, also visited Paphos.  Here he converted the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus.  The stone where he was tied and whipped before converting Paulus is now a famous landmark, the Pillar of St. Paul.

The city of Paphos was eventually moved closer to the sea but Old Paphos was still visited by those devoted to Aphrodite.  At the end of the fourth century A.D., all pagan religions were outlawed by the Roman Emperor, Theodosius I.  It is at this time that the Sanctuary of Aphrodite and other parts of the town began to fall into ruins.  A village, Kouklia, now sits on the site of Palea Paphos.


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