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Larnaca is Cyprus's third largest town and, quite an important port after Limassol.The palms behind the promenade give a hint of Nice and Cannes and Mediterranean flair, while the sandy beach is ideal for sunbathing. In the adjoining marina amateur sailors from all over the world meet and share their experiences.
Most tourists fly into Larnaca, which became the island's principal airport when Nicosia was forced to close after the Turkish invasion. A walk through the former Turkish quarter around the mosque still has an Oriental feel, and the lively bazaar district near the Lazaros Church makes an interesting place for a stroll. The seemingly endless sandy beach in the east of the town is overlooked by many hotels.
A look back at the past:
According to legend, Kiton, as Larnaca was known in antiquity, was founded by Kittim, one of Noah's grandsons. Whether that is true or not, archaeologists have found the remains of a settlement which dates from the 2nd millennium BC. In 1075 BC the town was destroyed by an earthquake, but it was rebuilt in the 8th century BC by the Phoenicians, for whom it was an important trading post. The town's most famous son is Zeno, born here in 336 BC. He went on to found the Stoic School of Philosophy in Athens. The Stoics believed that man should not be guided by feelings or lust but by reason. Strangely, Zeno lived to an old age, but then committed suicide.
The Frankish name for Larnaca was Salina, after the salt deposits, but the Genoese named it Scala or 'Port.' Today's name for the town was coined by the Venetians who during the Renaissance were interested primarily in the ancient ruins of Cyprus and gave the settlement the name Larnax (meaning 'stone sarcophagus')
The Turkish Fort built in 1625 dominates the coastal skyline. It's a very impressive fort and I like the fact that old canons still stand on the huge walls. If you are interested in bits of old pottery, ancient jewellery and the odd cloth shoe then I suggest a visit to the castle is in order. Here there are displays of archaeological finds from Kition and the Bronze Age settlement by the salt lake. (Open Monday - Friday 7.30 am - 5pm, Thursday until 6pm).
The Church of Saint Lazaros was built by the Roman Emperor Leo Vi (886-912) above the grave of the town's patron saint. According to legend, Lazarus, whom Christ raised from the dead, fled to Cyprus in order to escape from the Jews of Bethany. He later became the bishop of Kition. Emperor Leo discovered his tomb in 890 and sent the remains to Constantinople. They were later removed by Crusaders who took them to Marseilles. In 1970 a tomb with a skull inside was discovered beneath the church. The skull was gilded and is on display. This is when you have to decide if it ever sat on the shoulders of Lazarus. The English cemetery bears witness to that period in Cyprus's history when Larnaca was an important staging post on the trade route from Europe to Asia.
(Opening times: April - August daily 8am-12.30pm and 3.30-6pm, September - March daily 8am-12.30pm and 2.30 - 5pm)
The Pierides Museum in Odos Zenenos Kitieos is well worth a visit. For over six generations the Pierides family collected antiquities and these are now displayed in this fine mid-18th century house. The furnishings also give an insight into the lifestyle of wealthy Cypriots around the turn of the century. I was quite surprised at the opulence of this house and really enjoyed looking at the ceramics which were for me the highlight of the visit to the house. Some of the ceramics ranged from the Early Stone Age to the Middle Ages.
(Open Monday - Friday, 9am-1pm and 3-6pm, Saturday 9-1pm, summer also Sunday 10am-1pm)
The Municipal Cultural Centre houses a palaeontological exhibition, including skeletal remains of dinosaurs and the Cypriot dwarf hippopotamus, as well as temporary exhibitions held on a monthly basis. This is one exhibition I wasn't mad about but I am sure children who are fascinated by dinosaurs would love it. I still find it hard to imagine that a dwarf hippo used to run wild in this part of Cyprus but my knowledge of these things is very limited. If you are a devotee of ancient history you might well be interested in the Archaeological Museum, the Acropolis and the excavations of ancient Kition. At the latter site, archaeologists have uncovered the foundations of Mycenaean and Phoenician temples and workshops where copper implements were made.
I quite liked Larnica but it isn't my favourite town in Cyprus. It's a little too busy for my tastes and the beach in the town is far too crowded. You know I am not one for hectic beaches. Although Makenzie beach is not as crowded and some of the beaches near the hotels in the west of the town are okay, if you go early enough you are able to find a relaxing spot.
The promenade is very attractive and reminds me of the promenade in Split in Croatia. It's definitely worth a stroll in the early evening as the sun begins to set. In fact, I love Cypriot sunsets - they always seem to be so intense and much redder than anywhere else I have visited.
I didn't spend a week here - only a few days which was enough for me to potter around the museums, Turkish Fort and the Church of Saint Lazarus. After four days I was ready to move on to Paphos and then to the Turkish side of Cyprus which I enjoyed much more.
I think if you like busy beaches, crowded, noisy bars and restaurants and hordes of ex-pats then you will enjoy Larnaca but I think there are nicer towns on the island.
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