In a few years’ time, it will have been ten thousand years since the first signs of civilization in Cyprus. That makes it one of the oldest human civilizations in the world. It is also one of the most famous, with Shakespeare’s Othello being set here back in 1603. But it has by no means been an easy ride. Our ideal position at the crossroads of 3 continents (Asia, Europe and Africa), perfect weather and stunning natural beauty have made us the pride and envy of countless empires and dynasties over the years. I have lived through it all and today I’m going to tell you a little bit about my life. You see, while everyone debates the future of this prosperous little island, I can tell you its history. And from that, you can conjure your own predictions for this sun-soaked rock I call home. For as the Argentinian’s say, ‘experience is the mother of all science’.
My early days were primitive and development was slow. The Neolithic and Chalcolithic age covered the first 6,000 years of my life and involved the establishment of sparse early settlements. While things were quite basic at first, the transition into the Bronze Age saw the birth of an opportunity to become very wealthy. I was still young, so I had lots of energy to exploit the bountiful copper deposits in the Troodos Mountains – a trend that, coupled with the easy port access available via our numerous natural harbors, helped dramatically increase my wealth in the time before Christ. I became one of the richest men in what is now modern Europe. Even the name ‘Cyprus’ stems from the word ‘Cuprous’ – synonymous with copper. Fast forward a few centuries to my adolescence and one Jesus Christ was born just a few hundred miles east in Bethlehem, thus beginning the seemingly everlasting battle over the holy land, Jerusalem. Adding to its holy significance is the fact that St. Helena, mother of Constantine the great left a relic of the Holy Cross at Stavrovouni, thus founding a stunning hilltop monastery near Larnaca that still functions today. This propelled Cyprus high up the priority list for expanding empires in Europe. We became and remain a tactical imperialist’s dream – our location, as ever, making us irresistible to the various empires around Europe. From Alexander the Great to Richard the Lionheart, this little island became unprecedentedly desirable around the turn of the millennium. Every emperor in the land wanted to get his hands on Cyprus – and who could blame them? Even then, long before the age of tourism, Cyprus had been established as the birthplace of the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite. In the same way that our shores attract investors from far and wide today, they attracted those seeking to conquer before.
As time went on and powers changed, new towns and villages were established all over the island. In 58BC, the Romans took Cyprus and held it for what would be 600 years of remarkable prosperity. Many buildings and roads date from this era, chief among which being the ancient city of Kourion on the south coast, home to a world class amphitheater that, remarkably, is still functional today. According to numerous well-traveled actors, it is one of THE great places in the world to perform, and has been for centuries. Further East, the town of Famagusta was established and Lefkosia was made the capital. After the Romans came the Venetians, who ruled the land for over 3 centuries. Catherine Cornaro famously became the Queen of Cyprus following her husband’s passing, and ruled the land for the rest of her life – even hiring leading defense architects from around Europe to help her build fortifications around the cities of Nicosia and Famagusta when she feared invasion. Despite her efforts, both of these cities were conquered by the Ottomans in 1570, and 20,000 Turks proceeded to inhabit the island in the following decades. The Ottoman rule can mostly be characterized by corruption and sloth and was undoubtedly unhealthy for the island, so I was almost relieved when the British bought the island as part of a deal back in 1878. They used Cyprus as a strategic base from which to mount their Middle Eastern conquests, and luckily for us, allowed the locals a little more independence than had previously been experienced under the Turks. While this was initially a welcome change, the two wars of the 20th century had taken their toll on British imperialism and the island was no longer being run as efficiently as it had been at first. Thus, on the 16th of August, 1960, the independent state of the Republic of Cyprus as we know it today was born. With peace on the horizon, I thought I was settling in for the long run. Unfortunately, however, the island was independent and whole for a mere 14 years. In 1974, the Northern half of Cyprus was illegally annexed by the Turks – evidentially feeling that their 300 year occupation stretching as far back as the 16th century had not been enough. Till this day, the island remains divided, with a UN buffer zone separating the two sides. Most people don’t know much different to the way we are today. If you were born post 1974, it is all you have ever known, and if you were born before that fateful day in July then it likely feels like a long time ago. But it wasn’t. 44 years may seem a while, but in my 10,000 year life it is but blip. Today, having joined the European Union in 2004, it is the international world of business that has awoken to Cyprus’s bursting potential, and it has been a pleasure to watch our previously small villages and towns transform into the cosmopolitan oases that they are today.
Through all the occupations and turmoil’s, few things have always remained the same: strong sense of patriotism amongst the every-cheerful locals, and a profound amount of natural beauty. Whether it be our sweeping golden shores or vine covered mountains, I could not have chosen a better home for the 10,000 years I have spent on this earth – a diamond in the rough of the deep Mediterranean, with enough history to baffle even the wisest of scholars. Even today in age of technology, Cyprus continues to challenge stereotypes by being a small sunny island with a strong, stable and prosperous economy that is helping drag that famous Cypriot patriotism and culture right to the forefront of international commerce. Long may it continue so.