Cyprus is an island located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Neighbouring countries include Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and (to the west) Greece. It has a Mediterranean climate in coastal areas and a semi-arid climate in its capital (Nicosia), with long, sultry summers. Winters are mild, with temperatures ranging from 5ºC to 18ºC. Summers are hot, with temperatures hovering between 32ºC and 36ºC.
Cyprus is known as ‘the jewel of the Mediterranean’ owing to its sunny weather, beckoning sea and friendly people. Tourists are attracted by the country’s romantic coves, golden sands and scenic bays, as well as its verdant pine forests, snowy peaked mountains (perfect for skiing) and serene countryside, where trekking and cycling are popular pastimes. Cyprus is also home to magnificent exponents of ancient architecture; the town of Paphos boasts UNESCO World Heritage status, since it is home to an archaeological site built in the 4th century B.C. One of the most visited sites in Paphos is the tombs of the Kings, carved in solid rock and boasting intricate Doric pillars. Cyprus is also home to the oldest wine label in the world (Commandaria), said to have been enjoyed in abundance by no less than King Richard the Lionheart! If you visit Cyprus, don’t forget to order a plate of haloumi cheese – made from goat’s or sheep’s milk and famed for its creamy goodness.
Cyprus has been inhabited for over 7,000 years. The Greek Achaeans colonised the island between 2000 B.C. and 1000 B.C., bringing the Greek city state political structure with them. Other cultures bore an influence on Cyprus, including the Phoenicians, who founded a colony in Kition. Many other empires left their mark on this island, including the Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians. The latter were particularly intent on keeping their domination over the Cypriots, fighting alongside the Spartans against Pericles and his army to retain control. Alexander the Great liberated Cyprus from Persian rule, but only briefly. Cyprus eventually became part of the Byzantine Empire, though the island was taken by the crusaders in the late 12th century. The Ottoman Turks took Cyprus in 1571, and in 1878, the British took the island as their own. Modern developments include conflicts between Green and Turkish communities in Cyprus and to this day, the country is in talks regarding a possible partition.
The flora of fauna is as rich as it is in other Mediterranean countries. Some of its most famous trees include the oak tree (lania), Mediterranean cypress (nisou) and olive tree (aglisides). Wild mushrooms also abound; Cypriots are keen collectors of a wide array of mushrooms, including the saffron milk cap, milk-white Russula, and giant fennel mushroom. Cyprus is home to a wide range of fauna as well – around 30 mammal species, 370 bird species and various fish and reptiles. Endemic animals include the moufflon (similar to a ram in appearance and considered the biggest mammal on the island), the asio otus owl, and the loggerhead sea turtle. One animal in danger of extinction is the Griffon vulture, once found in abundance on the island.
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