Cyprus History - The Facts From Pre-history To Today

Cyprus has been settled since pre-historic times and virtually every Mediterranean civilisation has left a cultural footprint on the island. Its history reads like a Who's Who of European civilisation: Aphrodite chose Paphos Cyprus as her first port of call after emerging from the sea, St Paul stopped off here on his way to see the Emperor Constantine, Shakespeare's Othello was set in Famagusta Northern Cyprus and Richard the Lionheart chose to marry his fiancé at Limassol Cyprus during the crusades. In fact, Cyprus has such a rich history that you can hardly set your foot down without inadvertently stepping on an ancient monument.

Cyprus was first settled in Neolithic times, but it would be a few more millennia before the island became known as a trading post. Despite the island's prosperity (or perhaps because of it) things got off to a bumpy start with Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians and Persians all fighting over it. By the 4th century B.C. Alexander the Great had taken the island and it was assimilated into his Greek-Egyptian kingdom. As the civilisation declined Cyprus was forgotten about and it was left to the Romans to pick up the pieces. Cyprus became a senatorial province and next appeared in the history books with St Paul establishing one of the first Christian ministries on the island.

Cyprus' precarious geological position again asserted itself in 332 and 365 when violent earthquakes destroyed many of the towns. Although the Byzantine Empire restored some degree of former glory, repeated Arab raids in the seventh and eighth centuries devastated many coastal settlements. The Middle Ages saw Cyprus conquered by the Knights Templar, the Lusignans and the Venetians, who heavily fortified a number of cities before later losing them to the Ottomans. The island then slid into a long period of decline, which only ended with the arrival of the British in 1878.

Cyprus was formally annexed by the British in 1914 and became a crown colony in 1925. By this time Cypriot passivity was beginning to wear a little thin and British refusal to listen to calls for independence further escalated the situation. The resulting rebellion by Greek Cypriots centred on a group named EOKA who waged a guerrilla-style campaign against British rule. Inter-communal tensions between the Greeks and Turks also began to flare-up.

Independence in 1960 didn't deliver the anticipated peace and the newly formed Republic of Cyprus looked doomed form the start. By 1964 the island was becoming a segregated mosaic of enclaves as the island stumbled from crisis to crisis. In 1974 attempts by the Greeks to mount a coup against the Cypriot Archbishop Makarios (the Republic's leader) resulted in a Turkish invasion. The Turks seized the northern third of the island, forcing 180,000 Greeks to flee their homes.

The Turks officially rubberstamped 'The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' in 1983; although the country has yet to be officially recognised by anyone else. A referendum in 2004 saw the Greek Cypriots rejecting an EU plan for re-unification, so the island looks set to remain one of the most heavily militarised regions on the planet.


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