Cyprus: In search of mighty Aphrodite

The Greek goddess of love was a beauty. Shame the same can't be said of her baths or templeor other sites where they celebrate her on Cyprus

Aphrodite is mighty on Cyprus. Well, you can't blame them for trying. Any island that has to boast Isaac Comnenus, St Spyridon and good King Evagoras as national heroes will have a bit of an uphill struggle when it comes to pulling in the cultural tourist.

Aphrodite is mighty on Cyprus. Well, you can't blame them for trying. Any island that has to boast Isaac Comnenus, St Spyridon and good King Evagoras as national heroes will have a bit of an uphill struggle when it comes to pulling in the cultural tourist. Thank God for Aphrodite. According to both Ovid and Homer, the place she called home was Balmy Cypressus and that was my destination, too.

So which way to the goddess of love?

While speeding west down the A6 from Larnaca, it was heartening every so often to see large brown signs reminding me that this was the right direction if I wanted Aphrodite's Baths. Already my mind was racing with images of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in that sumptuous marble bubble bath which Hollywood campery constructed for her.

And were you seduced?

No, not exactly. The Baths of Aphrodite are tucked away in a cleft on the Akamas Peninsula. No Nubians guard the entrance, just a small postcard stand which calls itself the Information Centre. From here a pathway zig-zags gently up a limestone slope of eucalyptus and scrub grass until the amorous visitor descends into a little wooded dell in the hillside. Here, before a 20ft circular puddle, I found men and women standing in confusion. The famous "bath" turns out to be little more than a shallow pond, overhung by a fig tree and sporting a dead pigeon.

When in doubt the average tourist invariably turns to photographing his wife and this is what all the visitors were doing. There was little else for them to do. The Department of Forestry forbade us from bathing or even drinking where Aphrodite and her lover had once played. It was time to repair to the tourist pavilion for a bottle of Katerina Semillon, by far the best tourist attraction I'd encountered this day.

Surely there's more than that?

I decided to give the "Adonis Nature Trail" and "Aphrodite Beach Complex" a miss and headed back east to Petra tou Romeni where stands the Rock of Aphrodite. Here, according to Homer, was the very spot where the goddess was born from the sea.

I was just nearing Kouklia when a sign for The Sanctuary of Aphrodite distracted me. I turned inland to find a designated world heritage site atop a small dusty hill with views of the Med. The heritage site had an ice-cream kiosk which wasn't open, a sad museum inside the nearby Castle of Conuclia plus some rubble a little further inland. Not much had been made of the fort apart from two upstairs rooms which held broken pottery and photographs of archaeological finds.

Disappointed, I asked the ticket seller where the sanctuary itself was. Following her directions towards that ragged pile of rubble I found a series of razed perimeter walls. According to my guide book the few broken columns before me represented Aphrodite's temple. So this was mecca for all who worshipped Aphrodite, a new kind of goddess who eschewed blood sacrifice in favour of offering licensed prostitutes to ease the pilgrim's burden. No wonder the cult took off. Unfortunately, it is quite impossible to reconstruct any kind of image of the shrine from what little is left. All the ruins can tell us is that, for no discernible reason, many holes were drilled in the perimeter walls of Aphrodite's sanctuary. Intriguing, but not enlightening.

Any other tangible evidence?

I had higher hopes of the rock from which Aphrodite was born. I was wrong, of course. Aphrodite's rock is one of several that stand a few yards out to sea from a rather grotty beach that one lurches upon as the B6 briefly heads inland.

Here I found a tourist pavilion selling lewd postcards. A narrow tunnel led under the road to the beach where I found it impossible to work out which rock was the omphalos of this particular deity. A shaggy bush adjacent to the tunnel entrance said it all. For what looks like several generations, plastic ribbons have been tied to Aphrodite's Bush. All have lost their colour and most look like bleached plastic bags. I found mementoes tied by these ribbons, photos of children, letters and, curiously, empty vodka bottles. Obviously each man leaves the thing he loves.

Admit it. You didn't score with her

Nul points all round. To be honest, anyone who sets off to discover the legacy of Aphrodite on Cyprus will be bitterly disappointed. This island sits on what must be the most potent tourist trap in our hemisphere, and yet all it does is bung up a tourist pavilion and flog us Worship Me Quick postcards. The countryside was stunning, but it appears that the community doesn't know what to do with it.

How can I go goddess hunting?

I flew to Cyprus with Helios Airways. Return flights from Gatwick to Paphos cost £189 through Olympic Odyssey Holidays (020-8343 9090). The Anassa Hotel in Polis (00 357 6 888 000) has rooms from CYP115 (£130) per person per night, based on two sharing. Holiday Autos (0870 400 0011; www.holidayautos.co.uk) offers a week's car hire from £139. Cyprus tourism (020-7569 8800; www.cyprustourism.com).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Coordinator

    £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...

    Day In a Page

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

    Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works