Aphrodite Sanctuary

Standing on a knoll overlooking fertile lands below and facing towards the sea, the Sanctuary of Aphrodite is a highly recommended destination for Cyprus visitors – especially for history and archaeology lovers. 

It is located 14 km east of Paphos in Kouklia village, in the district of Palaipaphos (“Old Paphos”), one of the ancient city-kingdoms of the island. Kouklia was a place of worship dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility, and one of the most celebrated pilgrimage centres of the antic Greek world.

The oldest remains of the sanctuary date back to the 12th century BC, and its cult thrived until the 4th century AD, when the Roman Emperor Theodosius I outlawed paganism. The sanctuary was consequently abandoned and fell into disrepair. Only the low foundations of the sanctuary remain on the northern side, which was rebuilt by the Romans in the 1st century AD. However, the visitor can still feel the mysticism of the evocative landscape, and imagine the glory of this sacred place in its heyday.

Aphrodite wasn’t worshipped here as a statue but in the form of a conical stone, and without a proper temple. According to the Hellenic poet Homer, the holy altar stood in the open air, encircled by walls and fitted with brightly coloured doors. Amphorae and ceremonial bowls found on the site depict erotic scenes and magnificently costumed priestesses circulating around the sacred gardens that once surrounded the shrine. Ritual prostitution seems to have constituted a decisive part of the cult, and all maidens visited the sanctuary once in their lifetime to consume a “holy marriage” with a priest.

The memory of these rituals remained long after the demise of the sanctuary. During spring festivities dedicated to Aphrodite and her legendary lover Adonis, separate processions of garlanded men and women paraded along the Sacred Way from New Paphos to the shrine of the goddess in Old Paphos, where games and music and poetry contests took place. This tradition survives today in the popular Paphos Spring Flower Festival known as Anthistiria.

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