Notes on Cyprus – Roman ruins and a future global business hub

Notes on Cyprus - Roman ruins and a future global business hub

When I announced I was going to Cyprus it elicited differing reactions from friends online. For some English friends, Cyprus is associated with cheap package holidays, and the holiday makers that go with it. At some of the places I visited I did see that element, which reminded me of the Australian bogan culture in Bali.

Larnaca beach

But like Bali, there is more to Cyprus than a subset of tourists. A former archaeologist friend reminded me of the rich Roman heritage on the island. And there are some genuinely good beaches here, though as an Australian I don’t associate Europe with going to the beach. I’m more interested in seeing European ruins over a European beach.

Apart from visiting a new country, I was interested in Cyprus to see how it’s reinventing itself after the Cypriot financial crisis, and its place in the world as a travel and business hub. You only have to look at the location of Cyprus on the map to remind yourself that it has been a crossroads of civilisations for millennia.

I liked the vibe of Cyprus the moment I arrived. Not that that means anything as I usually have an abundance of optimism whenever I am visiting a country for the first time. The climate certainly added to that, being in the dry mediterranean summer heat, and just being on an island is always good for the soul.

During my visit I wanted to find out more about the Cyprus citizenship program, and how that will remake the island. I didn’t need to look far as there are advertisements at the airport as soon as you arrive.

Cyprus citizenship

The Cyprus “Golden Visa Program” offers wealthy non-EU citizens the chance to buy a Cypriot passport and residency by investing in property or other businesses. One study says the revenue earned from the program now accounts for 25% of the Cyprus GDP with up to €5 billion having been made so far.

Citizenship by investment

It’s been reported that large numbers of the Russian and Ukrainian elite have been granted Cypriot citizenship, including oligarchs with Kremlin connections. Reading this I imagined the cities to be like Nha Trang or Pattaya, with Russian businesses everywhere, but it’s nothing like that.

I based myself in Larnaca with the plan of doing day trips from there, and I also scheduled a stay in the divided city of Nicosia (which I have blogged about here). Larnaca is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, which was reason enough to visit for me.

City of St Lazarus

There is not a big old town like in Rhodes, but there is a medieval castle on the waterfront.

Larnaca castle

The Church of Saint Lazarus is best known landmark here, named after the back-from-the-dead Lazarus in the New Testament. He was the bishop here (when it was known as Kition), and was buried for the last time here.

St Lazarus

Wandering around the back streets there are some nice old buildings amidst the modern apartments.

Old Town

Apart from the English Breakfast cafes on the waterfront, the city feels like a real town and not overly touristy. I enjoyed visiting the cafes here, such at Lazaris Cafe, near the St Lazarus church.

Lazaris Cafe

I did a day trip to Paphos to see the roman ruins. Cyprus is a small island so it’s quite easy to do day trips between cities. On the way tp Paphos I passed through Limassol, where the tallest residential seafront tower in Europe is being built. Limassol is the second biggest city in Cyprus (after Nicosia), though at just over 150,000 people it’s not big.

One Tower advertising

Another project that is underway in Limassol is the City of Dreams Mediterranean casino resort, which will be the biggest casino in Europe.

Reading about these developments and the passport program got me wondering, what if Cyprus reinvented itself as a mini Dubai. As a member of the European Union with its official currency being the Euro, Cyprus could become a major business hub bridging Europe to the Middle East and beyond. Funds from Asia are already using Cyprus as a gateway to Europe. If Cyprus can reunite it could become a formidable business destination.

Paphos Harbour

In Paphos the Kato Pafos Archaeological Park exceeded my expectations. The mosaics here are incredible.

House of Aion Reception Hall

It helped that I didn’t read up on it before I went, and I was still freshly energised from being back in Europe. There comes a time in your travels when you can get “ruined out”, where even the most amazing ruins start to become the same. If you recognise that happening to yourself you need to get off the road for a while.

Mural hall

On the way back from Paphos I checked Google Maps to see where we were, and I noticed that the bus was now in the UK. I knew that the British Empire had annexed Cyprus, and that the UK still has a connection with the island. I didn’t realise that there were British enclaves here, especially ones that you could drive through. This is a fascinatingly complex island.

UK in Cyprus

I had some more day trips planned, but in the end I was exhausted by the August heat. I was forewarned that it would be hot there, but being an Australian who once lived in the desert I figured I could handle it. In the end though the heat sapped my will to go on any more day trips. By the end I had come around to thinking that maybe those package holiday makers that stayed holed up at their resorts by the pool were the smart ones.


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Comments

  1. The Cyprus citizenship by investment program is incredibly interesting. I would love to know how it turned around infrastructure etc in the city

  2. I think it will be a long road back for Cyprus. A lot of people had a financial haircut during the crisis with banks stealing people’s deposits. There are also many issues with property rights. Local families have been laying claim to people’s houses. I think you’d need to be brave to invest there. Of course its small fry for the uber rich who just want the EU citizenship and will probably end up elsewhere on the continent.

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