I traveled to Cyprus in February 2019 by invitation of the Brotherhood of Saint Hilarion to present a 2-hour lecture on my research. I´ve been speaking at events in various countries for many years (England, Italy, Peru, Egypt, Spain, Mexico) but this was my first time in Cyprus. I made many amazing new friends. Over the course of a week, they brought me to a series of fascinating ancient, megalithic, and medieval archaeological sites. Cypriots are warm and wonderful people. Words can´t express my gratitude for their generous hospitality. Two hundred people attended the lecture, and I was invited back in 2020, for an appearance at a much bigger venue. Also, a Cyprus documentary may be in the works.
CYPRUS: A BRIEF HISTORY
The Republic of Cyprus is an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean. Scholars believe the earliest cultures that inhabited the island can be traced back to the 10th Millennium BC. Cyprus was subsequently colonized by several major powers starting in the 2nd or perhaps 3rd millennium BC, including the Mycenean Greeks, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, and Romans. This was followed by the rule of Arab caliphates, the French Lusignan dynasty, the Venetians, and the Ottomans. In 1914, Cyprus was annexed by Britain after more than 300 years of Ottoman rule.
Since Britain´s annexation of the island, Cyprus’s modern history has been dominated by tension between its Greek and Turkish inhabitants. In 1955, Greek Cypriots initiated a guerrilla war against British rule, calling for unification with Greece. At the same time, many Turkish Cypriots favored a partition of the island between Greece (in the South of Cyprus) and Turkey (in the North). In 1974, Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in response to a military coup against Britain by Greek Cypriots which was backed by the Greek government.
“The island was effectively partitioned, with the northern third run by a Turkish Cypriot government and the southern two-thirds by the internationally-recognised government led by Greek Cypriots. United Nations troops patrol the “Green Line” dividing the two parts, and reunification talks have made slow progress.” – www.BBC.com
Travel restrictions were eased in 2003. The following year, Cyprus joined the European Union, but as a divided island—Turkish Cypriots in the North and Greek Cypriots in the South. Cyprus now has approximately 1.1 million inhabitants. About 78 percent are “Greek Cypriots,” identifying themselves as Orthodox Christians; while roughly 18 percent are “Turkish Cypriots,” describing themselves as Sunni Muslims.
During my stay, several members of the Brotherhood of Saint Hilarion brought me to a variety of ancient and medieval archaeological sites. One of the most interesting places we visited lies a few miles north of the ancient city of Salamis (an ancient Greek city-state on the east coast of Cyprus). Here we visited a series of megalithic tombs and temples that are described by scholars as the “Royal Tombs” or the “Tombs of the Kings.” These magnificent structures are thought to date from between the 8th and 7th centuries BC, but this dating is uncertain and has given rise to some debate among scholars in recent years.
The most interesting of these megalithic tombs is called “St. Catherine´s Prison” (also known as Tomb 50), dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria who, legend says, was imprisoned here. This tomb was built with massive stones cut to perfection, with very little space between the joints. The skeletal remains of two sacrificed horses that were found here during the excavations are exhibited on site. The horses were believed to have pulled a chariot, containing the body of the king for whom the tomb was built. It has been pointed out that this burial custom (of horse-drawn chariots pulling the body of the king to the tomb) was described by Homer in The Iliad.
NICOSIA “STAR FORT”
One of the most interesting things about Cyprus is the massive circular shape of its capital city, Nicosia. The circle, with a circumference of about 5 km, is formed by the massive walls that surround and once protected the city. The walls are called “Venetian Walls,” named after their Venetian builders. These walls, which date back to the mid-16th century, form what has become known as a “star fort.”
The origins of this star fort are interesting. In 1489, Cyprus became part of the Republic of Venice, a leading European sovereign state and maritime republic based in the city of Venice, Italy, which flourished between the 7th and the 18th centuries AD. In 1597, the Venetians built the star fort by constructing the Venetian Walls, a series of defensive stone walls which surrounded and protected the city. Many of these walls are still visible today and they are a major tourist attraction. The walls contain eleven pentagonal bastions, which are named after eleven families of the Italian aristocracy of the town who helped fund the wall:
- Caraffa Bastion
- Podocattaro Bastion
- Constanza Bastion
- D’Avila Bastion
- Tripoli Bastion
- Roccas Bastion
- Mula Bastion
- Quirini Bastion
- Barbaro Bastion
- Loredan Bastion
- Flatro Bastion
MEGALITHIC LIONS (FAMAGUSTA)
We traveled to the ancient city of Famagusta on the east coast of Cyprus. Famagusta was once the island’s most important port city with links to trading ports throughout the Levant, connecting Cyprus to the famous Silk Road. Famagusta is a walled city, and many of the medieval and ancient walls are still visible, attracting tourists. In antiquity, the town was known as Arsinoe, named after Arsinoe II (c. 316 BC – 260 BC) of Egypt, a Ptolemaic queen and co-regent of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Strabo describes the city by this name.
There are many majestic and striking monuments here, but most interesting to me was a series of megalithic stone lions. Their dating and origins are unknown, but judging by the number of lions visible throughout the city (including lion reliefs on the city´s protective walls) as well as the reverence attributed to the lion throughout Cyprus, it seems clear that a “lion cult” of some kind developed during a very early phase of the city and even the country´s history.The city of Famagusta in Greek was called Ammochostos, which means “hidden in the sand”. The city is often described as “the city of 365 churches,” because legend has it that, in its heyday, Famagusta had one church for each day of the year. Many of these churches were converted into mosques by the Muslim inhabitants.
CHURCHES CONVERTED TO MOSQUES
As mentioned, the island of Cyprus is now divided between Turkish “Muslims” in the North and Greek “Christians” in the South. When Turkey entered the North, they converted many of the Christian churches there into mosques. It is fascinating to see this architectural transformation, from one religion into another. In fact, I found evidence for my theory that the “minarets” of mosques (often built in pairs) symbolically equate to the “twin towers” of churches/cathedrals. In the following photos we see mosques (formerly churches) that I visited in the ancient cities of Nicosia and Famagusta:
FAMOUS GREEN MAN STATUES
The stonemasons who built Europe´s churches, castles, and cathedrals encoded images of the so-called “Green Man” into their constructions. This mysterious Green Man tradition—which has not yet been sufficiently explained by scholars—once existed across Europe. Church authorities allowed this pagan imagery apparently because they did not consider these “Green Men” as pagan motifs, but merely as ornaments.
In Cyprus, we see examples of this in the so-called “Seven Green Men of Nicosia.” These are a series of seven mysterious Green Man images carved into the entrance of the 13th century facade of St. Nicholas Church in Nicosia.
During our travels, we stopped briefly at a very strange stone building now in ruins that appears to have originally been constructed as a pagan temple. The building doesn´t appear on any tourist map, and it´s not listed in Google or Google Maps. It seems to have been originally built without mortar and its façade is perfectly symmetrical. However, the façade´s right side (or “right half”) appears to have been rebuilt using cement, but with many of its original stones now missing. Perhaps the structure is so old that it fell into ruins but was then reassembled by later stonemasons; or it could be that the destruction was a form of rejection of the pagan tradition by the later Muslims or earlier Christians. We can´t be sure, since there is evidence on both sides of the ledger. The symbolism on the façade and on the walls of the building´s interior match many well-known pagan motifs. This symbolism includes:
– “Triptych” Three-In-One Motifs
– Jachin & Boaz Pillars
– Egyptian Aten-like Symbolism
– Nature Motifs (Acanthus, Lotus)
– Tree of Life
KYRENIA´S MEGALITHIC HARBOR
Scholars believe Kyrenia Harbor, built with square ashlar megalithic stones, was originally constructed by the Romans. The original Roman port was situated parallel to the current one, but very little now remains except for a massive breakwater built with megalithic stones which today forms part of the modern pier. Like many other megalithic constructions in the ancient world, this port is attributed to the Romans; yet one could argue (based on the island´s previous Mycenean, Minoan, Hittite, Phoenician, and Egyptian inhabitants) that this breakwater was not originally built by the Romans, but preceded the Romans by centuries if not millennia.
During the Middle Ages, the Venetian city state and its merchants refurbished Kyrenia Harbor as well as the great castle of Kyrenia, which was strategically located to guard their trade.
Kyrenia Castle has overlooked and majestically guarded the important and strategic North Cyprus port of Kyrenia since the 1500s. Despite the fact that the town of Kyrenia is believed to have been in existence since the 10th century BC, scholars say the first evidence of the castle is from Roman times. It was subsequently fortified by the Byzantines, then later strengthened again and enlarged by the Lusignans. (The House of Lusignan was a royal house of French origin that ruled over the kingdoms of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Armenia from the 12th – 15th centuries AD.) Concerned about a possible Ottoman invasion of Cyprus (with the Ottoman mainland only miles away) the Venetians fortified Cyprus by enlarging and reinforcing the walls of Kyrenia Castle.
ROYAL CITY OF AMATHUS
As part of our tour, we visited the ancient royal city of Amathus. The site is located on the Mediterranean, which served the trade with the Greeks and the Levantines. Amathus is home to a series of well-preserved ruins, including a cult sanctuary of the goddess Aphrodite. Cyprus is the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, and various images of the goddess can be seen across the island´s ruins and artifacts. Here Aphrodite took on an Eastern flavor, apparently influenced by Mesopotamian, Phoenician and Egyptian settlers. The local cult of Aphrodite took on a male/female character named “Aphroditus,” who was a male Aphrodite. Aphroditus was depicted as a female with feminine clothing but also a phallus. Aphroditus was celebrated in Athens in a transvestite rite, hence the origins of the word “hermaphrodite.”
Amathus also plays a part in another Greek myth, the story of Ariadne. Plutarch tells us that Theseus (of Minotaur fame) abandoned Ariadne (who helped Theseus conquer the Minotaur´s labyrinth by supplying the thread) at Amathus, where she died and was buried.
Kolossi Castle was a former Crusader castle which scholars believe was built c. 1210 by the Frankish military, when the land of Kolossi was given to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (also known as the Order of Saint John, Order of Hospitallers, Knights Hospitaller, Knights Hospitalier or Hospitallers). It is said that the castle was taken over by the Knights Templar in 1306, but returned to the Hospitallers in 1313, following the abolition of the Templars. The main structure consists of a single three-story keep, with an attached bailey (rectangular enclosure) measuring 30 by 40 meters.
Kolossi Castle held strategic importance in the Middle Ages. It contained large facilities for the production of sugar from the local sugarcane, one of Cyprus’s main exports in the period. This 800-year-old Cyprus castle is the birthplace of the world’s oldest wine, Commandaria, an amber-colored sweet dessert wine. Historians say that during the era of the crusades, this Commandaria wine was served at the 12th century wedding of King Richard the Lionheart to Berengaria of Navarre. During the wedding, King Richard pronounced Commandaria “the wine of kings and the king of wines.”
RUINS OF KOURION
The Mount of Kourion, on which the archaeological ruins of the ancient city of Kourion have been discovered, occupies a dominant position on the southern coast of Cyprus. The oldest remains are dated by scholars to the middle and late bronze age. Kourion is traditionally thought to have been founded by Argives (citizens of Argolis in the Peloponnese in Greece) in the 13th century BC, and historians have long believed that its inhabitants were descendants of Aegean immigrants.
The most important monuments are mainly from the Roman era. These include a theater (with a magnificent acoustic resonance), the Amathus Gate Cemetery, the Forum, the Nymphaeum, the Forum Baths, the House of the Gladiators, the Baths and House of Eustolios, and the Early Christian Beachfront Basilica.
Among the most interesting things I saw here are the Greco-Roman mosaics, which decorate the floors of various ancient temples, homes, tombs, and courtyards. Some of my favorite of these mosaics can be found in the House of Achilles, named after the Greek mythological hero.
SAINT HILARION CASTLE (MOUNTAINTOP CASTLE)
My hosts, the Brotherhood of Saint Hilarion, were eager to show me the castle from which their Order took its name. Saint Hilarion Castle, perched upon a steep hilltop on the Kyrenia Mountain Range with commanding views over Kyrenia and the coast, is probably the best preserved of North Cyprus’s three castles. Many people believe it inspired the castle in Disneyland. The earliest references to the castle are said to derive from Richard Lionheart’s 1191 campaign on Cyprus. The castle is believed to have been named after a 10th century monk who chose the site for his hermitage, and whose relics can still be seen there.
The museums of Cyprus are priceless. During the past several thousand years, the island was colonized by several major powers starting in the 2nd or perhaps 3rd millennium BC. Cultures including the Mycenean Greeks, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, and Romans all left their mark. During my stay, my hosts took me to a number of museums in Cyprus, including the museum located across the courtyard from the St. Barnabas Monastery, which houses a number of incredibly sophisticated pottery pieces, stone artifacts, and sculptures. The rich symbolism and iconography encoded onto this pottery provides us with a wealth of information concerning the religious, spiritual, and philosophical beliefs of its creators.
Salamis, located on the east coast of the island, was one of the most important cities of ancient Cyprus. According to Homer, Salamis was founded after the Trojan War by an archer named Teucer, who came from the island of Salamis, near Attica. The city grew in size, in part because of its excellent harbor, and it eventually became a key Cypriot center for trade, exchanging goods with Phoenician, Persian and Egyptian merchants. Some scholars believe Salamis was once the largest city on Cyprus, and that it may have been the capital around c. 1100 BC. Tradition holds that Salamis was the first stop on Paul the Apostle’s journey to teach the gospel of Christ to the first-century world.
Many of the structures were constructed from finely cut masonry (large ashlars, but not megalithic). For example, the Roman baths are among the best preserved archaeological ruins here. Salamis´s massive outdoor theater, which is perhaps the site´s most spectacular ruin, is said to have once sat up to 15,000 people. Many statues are also visible at Salamis, and some are exceptionally well preserved.
In the 7th Century AD, Arab invaders destroyed the city, forcing its inhabitants to flee south, where they built the medieval town of Famagusta (Magusa).
My lecture—where I presented my findings during my 25 years of research into ancient history, symbology, and occult science—was attended by approximately two hundred members and friends of the Brotherhood of Saint Hilarion. It was an evening I´ll never forget! I met many kind, open-minded, intellectually curious men, women and young people. Everyone was so enthusiastic about the lecture that I was invited back to Cyprus to present a second lecture in 2020. There may even be a documentary about Cyprus in the works. Keeping fingers crossed that this dream can be made into a reality.
The best part of Cyprus for me was all the wonderful people I met during my stay. Over and above the art, architecture, ruins and artifacts that I was privileged to see, what made my Cyprus adventure so memorable was the many new friends I made among the Brotherhood of Saint Hilarion. (Very special thanks and my heartfelt gratitude to Kerem Can, Erkut Culluoglu, Wissam Sabbah, Asim Vehbi, Ahmed Vehbi, Sam Eid, and Abbas Yildirim). Cypriots are warm and wonderful people. Kind, caring, curious, friendly, loving, and open-minded. Now I know why tradition has it that Cyprus is the legendary birthplace of the ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite!
Richard Cassaro is a Madrid-based author, lecturer, filmmaker, and tour guide from New York City. His published books Written in Stone (2011), The Missing Link (2016), and Mayan Masonry (2018) offer rare insights into ancient megaliths, spirituality, mythology, magic, symbolism, secret societies, comparative religion and occult archaeology. Cassaro has discussed his work on the History Channel, and in documentary films like Magical Egypt 2. His articles have appeared in print journals and web media around the globe; and he has delivered well-received lectures about his findings in the UK, Italy, Peru, Egypt, Spain, Mexico, Cyprus, and the U.S. In his capacity as a field investigator, he hosts travel adventures to archaeological sites worldwide.
Richard Cassaro © Copyright, All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to www.RichardCassaro.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.