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A Very Greek Drama Amongst the Roman Ruins
Kourion (Limassol, Greece)
Member Name: Hishyeness
Kourion (Limassol, Greece)
Advantages: Stunning views and well preserved mosaics.
Disadvantages: Can be physically demanding. Ruins are spread over a wide area.
With our grand tour of Cyprus coming to an end for another year, there was just enough time to fit in one more excursion before focussing our efforts on the much less glamorous task of preparing to close down my father-in-law's summer house.
With Kolossi Castle marked off the itinerary, we decided to visit its close neighbour, the archaeological site of Ancient Kourion (or Curium in Latin), which is well known for its amphitheatre, beautiful views, and well preserved floor mosaics.
The site is closest to the town of Episkopi, about 15km west of Limassol on the Akrotiri peninsula. Episkopi is clearly signposted from the main Limassol to Paphos motorway, and once you get to the town, simply follow the brown heritage signs to the site.
A modern ticket office, built in a style that blends well with its surroundings, sits by the automated barrier. You have to park up and buy a ticket from the window before you are allowed entry into the main site. A couple in an SUV tried to tailgate in behind another car, but a burly guard emerged from behind the building, frantically waving his arms, and successfully flagged them down. Looking sheepish, they parked up and took their place in the queue behind me.
Tickets cost a measly 1.70 Euro per person, which seems the standard rate for sites controlled by Cyprus' Department of Antiquities. Judging by effort put in by the hirsute fellow in the sweat stained blue uniform who prevented the unauthorised access, they take this contribution to the upkeep of their national treasures quite seriously!
As seems to be the case across the sites on the island, don't expect to get any written information for free. Guides and books are available to buy from the ticket office and range in variety from the official guide at 6 Euro, to much more expensive academic treatises on the ancient history of Cyprus for 25 Euro. Credit and debit cards are accepted.
Once past the barrier, it's a short drive up the road, past the coach park to the main car park adjacent to a modern looking (but like the kiosk, sympathetically built) pavilion. We arrived late in the afternoon, around 5pm on a Friday. The site was relatively quiet at that time of day, with all of the cars parked haphazardly under the few trees offering shade from the waning sun. I followed suit.
The area covered by the site is quite large and requires a good two or three hours of exploring to fully do it justice. It is also physically demanding, as the complex is built on a hill and the various sites are quite widely spread. We visited on our way back down to Larnaka from a three day mini-break in the Troodos mountains, so we arrived with a stroppy four year old and my very tired (and pregnant) wife in tow.
As such, giving it my full attention was not really an option. With limited time, I concentrated on investigating the main part of the complex closest to the pavilion - namely the ruins of the House of Eustolios, a rich Christian inhabitant of Kourion, which contains the best preserved mosaics, and the reconstructed amphitheatre. When we spilled out of the car, I left my wife to get my daughter an ice cream and made a beeline for the ruins of the House of Eustolios.
(I reluctantly missed the House of Achilles and the House of Gladiators, both of which are on the north-west part of the site and which also boast well-preserved mosaics, as well as the remains of the Roman agora (marketplace) and an early Christian basilica).
THE HOUSE OF EUSTOLIOS
The house, located at the southeast end of the complex, dates to the late 4th/early 5th century AD and consists of many rooms surrounding two courtyards and baths. The ruins are completely covered by an enormous semi-transparent fabric marquee supported by a wood and metal framework which protects them from the elements. All four sides are open, allowing the sea breeze to do its best, cooling, work. You view the mosaics from a series of interconnecting elevated walkways, with benches placed at various vantage points for those who want to linger. There is a stunning view over the cliff toward the sea, and on a clear day (most days in Cyprus) you can see right down the coast to Limassol.
The mosaics themselves are impressive and well preserved. There are strategically placed information plaques explaining their content and relevance in both Greek and English and I took my time reading them and correlating them to their subjects. I was quite pleased I had finally found an antiquities site in Cyprus that provided decent (and free) on site information. Also under the cover are ruins of the baths, with evidence of Roman plumbing and heating systems, and the remnants of the spartan and relatively featureless servants quarters.
My wife had joined me at this point, and a quick look at my daughter confirmed that she had finished her ice cream and wasn't about to commit an unspeakable crime against antiquity by dropping it. However, just as I was breathing a sigh of relief, a gust of wind caught her sun hat and blew it over the railing onto the mosaics.
After the usual marital recriminations (somehow I had convinced myself that the gust of wind was my wife's fault) and a frank exchange of views (that included my indignant refusal to climb over the railings to retrieve it lest I damage the antiquities) neither of which did anything to dampen my daughter's enthusiastic and insistent wailing, I was dispatched to the pavilion in search of "official" assistance.
I found the site office, and convinced a guard (using a comedy mixture of pidgin Greek and sign language) to accompany me back down to where my daughter was still acting out her own personal Greek tragedy. To my astonishment, he climbed over the railings, stomped across the face of the mosaic and unceremoniously handed back the offending article to my unbearably smug wife, before informing me, in perfect English "When they are that age, everything is a tragedy".
Feeling ever so slightly peeved, I moved on to the amphitheatre. It was originally built in the 2nd century BC but the current site dates from Roman times with 2nd and 3rd century AD additions and restorations. It was thought to have hosted gladiatorial games in the old days, but now serves as a working theatre which accommodates around 1500 people. When we arrived, a German dance company were practising for a production.
I left my wife and daugter to sit and watch the rehearsal and went exploring. The amphitheatre is largely reconstructed. Although it is obvious which parts are new (i.e. most of the seating areas), the materials used and the manner of the construction allow the new and the old to blend in seamlessly.
The backdrop to the stage is the wide blue expanse of the Mediterranean. The amphitheatre faces east, and it must be quite something to watch a production here as dusk descends and the sun sets behind you. As from the walkways at the house, the view is simply stunning.
I took a set of ancient and worn steps down toward the base of the crescent shaped amphitheatre, but apart from some lingering evidence of various under-chambers and the ruins of decorative columns, there really wasn't much to see. A little further along on the left, below the recently constructed toilet block that also serves as the changing rooms for the thesps and dancers, was a little "graveyard" of broken decorative features - including remnants of Doric and Corinthian columns, broken stone lintels carved with various floral flourishes.
I sat on one of these, savouring the relative silence and soaking in the fabulous view across the Bay of Akrotiri. For a moment I could imagine myself transported back a thousand years, until an excited, little, wind-assisted voice, broke my momentary reverie. "Daddy! Daddy! I can see you!". I turned to see my daughter frantically waving from the amphitheatre. It was obviously time to go.
FACILITIES & OPENING HOURS
The pavilion serves as the hub of the complex and contains a periptero (kiosk) serving refreshments, the staff office and toilets. The most interesting feature is the architects scale model reconstruction of the site as it would have looked in its prime centuries ago. Encouraging, almost all of the site is noted as being wheelchair accessible. Disabled toilet facilities are provided.
The complex is open daily all year round from 08:00 (for early risers obviously!) but closing time depends on the season. The site closes at 17:00 between November and March; 18:00 in April, May September and October; and 19:30 from June to August.
Kourion is worth visiting for the stunning views alone, but the mosaics are well worthy of the trip in their own right. My limited time meant I did not have the chance to visit other parts of the complex, so I am definitely planning a return visit when we next come out to Cyprus. If we manage to attend the theatre as well, so much the better. Highly recommended.
The official Cyprus Department of Antiquities web site, located here: http://www.mcw.gov.cy
is an excellent source of more academic information, not only on Ancient Kourion, but for all of the antiquities under its jurisdiction. It proved an invaluable resource for the confirmation of the historical and practical information used in writing this review.
© Hishyeness 2009 - previously on Ciao.
Summary: An excellent morning or afternoon out.