Sitting at a table with a view on the Fig Tree Bay of Protaras, on my first day in Cyprus, I scribbled on my notebook:
What I already realized is that I won’t be able to see everything I planned. There’s so much culture and history here. Just looking at the map now I found out about some Neolithic settlements nearby – I want to see it all but I can’t! Shall I add Cyprus to my “Countries to go back” list? I guess so…
It was very clear since the beginning that I underestimated this island. I thought this was going to be the “easy” country of my Middle East trip, and I was wrong! I barely had time for a swim twice in a week, there’s so much to see and no way to be disappointed.
When I arrived to Pafos, on the southern coast of Cyprus, I had the chance of visiting the Roman mosaics. Funny because we have plenty of them in Italy, but I never actually saw any. And I missed out! I wouldn’t be writing this post if I weren’t so impressed.
The so called “Paphos Archeological Park” includes several ancient Roman villas but the one I am about to write is “The House of Dionysos”, the Greek god of wine.
Among the various characters and legends behind them, you will find very interesting topics such as incestuous love, homosexuality and possibly political and religious symbols.
While you go through these photos, keep in mind that these mosaics are dated back to the 2nd century AD. How cool/impressive/you name it is this? Also, the Greek mythology is incredibly fascinating.
Scylla and Charybdis
Scylla and Charybdis, as per many legends, were monsters in the Messina strait (Sicily) that ate every ship that approached the harbor. They are even mentioned in the Odyssey as monsters with a dog’s body and a woman’s head.
Narcissus was a beautiful guy. He looked so good that everyone instantly fell in love with him at first sight, including men, women, old people. He was so overconfident that he refused all his admirers, hurting their feelings. The Gods punished him by letting him fall in love with his reflection in a pond, so that Narcissus let himself die from despair of the impossibility of such relationship.
The four seasons
This beautiful mosaic portraits the four seasons, with Gea (Mother Earth) in the middle. All the characters are females except the Winter (bottom left) who is the only male one.
There’s no legend behind this figure, but the peacock is a symbol of abundance. If the colors are this beautiful nowadays, can you imagine how they must have looked more than 2000 years ago?
Pyramus and Thysbe
The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is said to have inspired Shakespeare who wrote “A midsummer night’s dream” and “Romeo and Juliet” with the characters above in mind. These two lovers were supposed to meet in the forest. Thisbe arrived first and ran away after seeing a tiger, but left behind her scarf. When Pyramus arrived and saw the scarf, stained in blood by the tiger who had just killed a prey, thought Thisbe was dead and killed himself with his sword. When Thisbe came back she found him dead and killed herself too wit the same sword.
Ikarios and Dionysos
Ikarios, the king of Athens, gave hospitality to Dionysos, who shows him how to make wine. Ikarios was delighted by this new delicious drink and started offering wine to the population. Two shepherds drank too much and felt dizzy, suspected they were given poison, and killed King Ikarios. On the mosaic, the two shepherds are described as “the first wine drinkers”. (Not sure if the moral here is not to drink, or rather not to offer your wine to anyone that won’t appreciate!)
Poseidon and Amymone
Poseidon (the God of the Sea) and Amymone (a nymph) were in love, and this is made clear by the Cupid in the middle.
Apollo and Daphne
Apollo was madly in love with Daphne, but she kept refusing him. Her father, Peneus, wished she would get married and give him grandsons, but she kept escaping from Apollo. When Cupid decided to help Apollo by shooting one of his arrows to Daphne, she asked her father to help her. Peneus turned her into a plant so that she could never get married. In the mosaic you can see the moment in which Daphne’s body starts changing into a tree.
Theseus went into the labyrinth yo kill the Minotaur. Ariadne helped him getting out of the labyrinth thanks to the so called “Ariadne’s thread”. They escaped to Cyprus together, and Ariadne died while giving birth to Hippolytus. Theseus then married Phaedra, Ariadne’s sister. Phaedra fell in love with Hippolytus. This mosaic represents Hippolytus and Phaedra, who is sad because he doesn’t love her back.
Zeus and Ganymede
Zeus, the king and father of all gods, was fascinated by the beauty of Ganymede and kidnapped him giving his father two holy horses and a vinestock in change. In order to kidnap Ganymede, Zeus turned into an eagle, grabbed him and took him on Mount Olympus where they became lovers. In the mosaic Zeus is the eagle and he’s taking Ganymede away with him.
Last but not least: interesting decorations
Some mosaics don’t necessarily represent mythological figures, but as you can see from the photo above there are beautiful decorations too. Pictures of food and abundance in general alternate with geometrical decorations… some of which are really interesting! Can you spot anything strange?
When the guide first showed me these symbols, I really didn’t know what to think: a swastika and a star of David… close to each other? That looked too weird. But I was explained that back then and in this area of the world, these were simply geometrical decorations without any meaning. Incredible how a symbol can convey a feeling and a precise meaning, even if after all it’s “just a symbol”!
Have you been to Pafos, and did you visit the Archeological Park? What are your favorite mosaics? I loved these ones and can’t wait to see more!