An island in the south-eastern-most corner of the Mediterranean, between Syria and Lebanon to the east and Turkey
to the north. Its territory has been divided for decades, with the northern third occupied by Turkey since 1974. The north declared itself an independent country in 1983, but is recognized only by Turkey. Nevertheless North Cyprus
is given its own separate entry here for organizational reasons (NOT for political reasons).
This chapter is about the southern two thirds of the territory, which constitutes the Republic of Cyprus. This is a member of the EU and the eurozone (but not Schengen).
The dark destinations within (southern) Cyprus that are covered on this website are the following:
There’d be more, such as an abandoned hospital high in the Troodos mountains, but since I visited Cyprus in winter, this was not accessible at the time (I travelled there in early January 2023). There’s also an ossuary underneath a church in Mammari and a quirky medical museum in Larnaca, but I didn’t manage to get to see those either. And I’m sure that if you dug a bit deeper still, you’d find yet more candidates for dark-tourism interest. But for now you have to be content with the destinations in the list above.
Cyprus has an ancient history going back to before antiquity. At times it had kingdoms of its own, but for most of its history it was occupied/governed by, inter alia, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetians, the Ottomans and finally the British.
In 1878 Britain
signed a treaty with Turkey/the Ottoman Empire by which the British would take over the administration of the island, and after the start of WW1
, with the Ottomans on the enemy side, Britain seized the territory outright. In 1915 Britain offered the island to Greece
, provided it joined the war effort on the Allied side. But Greece declined and stayed neutral (until 1917, when the Cyprus offer was no longer on the table).
So Cyprus remained in British hands. It took until 1923 for newly founded post-war modern Turkey
to acknowledge Cyprus as a British
possession and relinquish any territorial claims (through the Treaty of Lausanne). The island became a Crown colony
In the beginning, the majority Greek Cypriots rather welcomed British rule and the fact they were no longer dominated by Turkey. But for many the ultimate goal would be “enosis
”, i.e. “unification” with Greece
. Needless to say, the minority Turkish Cypriot population was not keen on such an outlook.
As it became clear that the British colonialists were intent on staying and no ‘enosis’ was on the cards, a paramilitary group called EOKA was founded by one Georgios Grivas. The acronym stands for “Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston/Agónos”, or ‘National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters/Struggle’. (There are slight variations of the name, and its translation, in circulation … and apparently these variations are along subtle linguistic/ideological lines, as a Greek friend of mine explained to me at length. But interesting as they are, this is not the place for going into the full details.)
EOKA set about conducting guerilla warfare attacks on British administrative and military targets with the aim of ending colonialism and achieving ‘enosis’. This civil “struggle” lasted from 1955 to 1959
. On the one hand, the British reacted with an iron fist – captured EOKA fighters were incarcerated in specially established concentration camps
), and some British guards even resorted to torture. A number of EOKA members were executed (see the Imprisoned Graves
). On the other hand, Britain, together with Greek Cypriot and Turkish leaders, also pursued a diplomatic solution.
Eventually, in 1960, Cyprus was released into independence – under the condition that Britain retained two military bases on the south coast of the island so as to continue to exploit its strategically important location (these British military enclaves exist to this day). For EOKA it was a partial victory only. British colonial rule had been overcome, but the ultimate goal of ‘enosis’ had not been achieved.
Nor did independence bring peace, quite the contrary. In the early 1960s, ethnic
division and clashes
between Greek and Turkish Cypriots spiralled out of control. The violence peaked in 1963, with atrocities perpetrated on both sides, including by EOKA (see e.g. Museum of Barbarism
). To counter this, the UN
sent in a peacekeeping force
in 1964. It was then that the infamous Green Line
was established, a UN-controlled “buffer zone”
to keep the two parties apart, initially only in the capital Nicosia
, but later the buffer zone would split the entire island from east to west. After that the two ethnic groups kept largely away from each other and the situation quietened down. Or so it seemed.
There were also wider, even global political factors at play. In the then dominating Cold War
climate, Greek Cypriot president Archbishop Makarios pursued the path of non-alignment
(a movement crucially initiated by Yugoslavia
’s Tito – see also Brioni
) but also had meetings with the Soviets
. This worried the British and especially the USA
. The fear of a communist
“domino effect” was still rife.
So in July 1974
, the CIA
, seeking the instalment of a more pro-western government, helped along a coup
in Cyprus organized by the then military junta
of (mainland) Greece
, which had come to power in 1967 (starting one of the darkest chapters in Greece’s history!). Cypriot President Makarios was nearly assassinated (but he escaped), the archbishop’s palace was largely destroyed and a new right-wing pro-Greek president was installed.
Days later Turkey
, fearing imminent ‘enosis’, and with it suppression of the ethnic Turkish Cypriots, launched a military invasion
of the north. The Greek Cypriot military had no means to fend off the attack, and with significant air support an amphibious landing force established a bridgehead near Kyrenia (Girne) on the north coast. The Turkish military then quickly advanced south and eventually took control of the entire third of the island north of the Green Line
. Almost 200,000 ethnic Greek Cypriots were driven out of the north, especially from Varosha
, which subsequently became a ghost town within the Turkish military-controlled buffer zone. At the same time most of the remaining Turkish Cypriots who had still lived in enclaves in the south, moved into the northern part.
Meanwhile, the military junta in Greece had been toppled and replaced by a democratic government, and this together with Britain and Turkey met to seek a solution for Cyprus. But by that time the division
of the island was already de facto complete. With it, the idea of ‘enosis’ also fell by the wayside. The Turks refused to withdraw and to this day the Turkish military remains in the north. In 1983 the north declared itself an independent country, but only Turkey
recognizes it as such – for everybody else, and especially the Greek Cypriots in the south, North Cyprus
is seen as an illegally occupied territory.
The Republic of Cyprus was initially badly hit by the loss of the northern third of its territory, which included valuable agricultural land, two major cities and important ports. There have been attempts at discussing a possible reunification of Cyprus, but nothing has come of it to this day. Meanwhile settlers and much economic support from Turkey bolstered the north, while the south also gradually recovered economically. In 2004
, the Republic of Cyprus joined the EU
and later adopted the euro
as legal tender (while in the north
it’s the Turkish lira), whereas Turkey’s ambitions to join the club too failed (and by now are dead in the water). Over time the economic development of the Republic of Cyprus outpaced that of the north, but tourism is a major pillar of the economy in both parts.
After decades of nearly complete division, in 2003
the North Cyprus government decided to open up checkpoints along the Green Line and allow civilians from the south to visit the north and vice versa. The south was taken by surprise and it was unclear how this move would pan out. As it turned out, people from both sides wholeheartedly embraced the new freedom of movement, and in a peaceful fashion. Today crossing the dividing line has become routine and is largely a breeze – though some restrictions remain (see under North Cyprus
And this takes us to the next section …
Cyprus is a comparatively easy destination, especially of course for EU citizens, though note that Cyprus is not within the Schengen area, so there are passport controls for everybody at immigration. But for many nationalities visa-free entry for up to three months applies.
Greek is spoken as the main language in the south, but thanks to the British colonial legacy, English is spoken by practically everybody and most signs, restaurant menus, etc. are in English as well. (Note that there is also a sizeable Russian-speaking community.)
Given its island location, getting to Cyprus
will for most people mean taking a flight to one of the island’s international airports, with Larnaca being the main one used by major airlines, whereas Paphos airport in the west of the island is more for beach-holiday shuttling. The former international airport of the capital Nicosia
found itself in the Green Line
buffer zone and has hence been abandoned ever since.
In 2022 a new high-season ferry connection from Limassol to Piraeus in Greece
went into service, otherwise there are ferry connections only to the north, sailing from Turkey
Getting around in Cyprus outside the cities is best done by hire car, though there is also a decent bus network. Outside the main season, and especially in winter, however, overland services are much reduced. Note that most car hire companies do not allow their vehicles to be taken across the border to the north. Driving is on the left – another British legacy.
The climate is Mediterranean, with summers that can be very hot indeed, and relatively mild winters, though night temperatures can drop into single figures. The Troodos mountain range often gets covered in snow during the winter and you can even go skiing there.
Cyprus is indeed quite touristy, yet most visitors concentrate on the island’s coasts, where there are countless beach resorts and hotels. Fewer tourists also head inland, though mountain scenery and the many ancient architectural relics from Cyprus’s long and rich history are also amongst the premier non-dark tourist attractions.
In terms of food & drink
, Cyprus is heavily influenced by Greek cuisine, though immigration has also brought international cuisines to the island. The best-known culinary gift Cyprus has given to the world is halloumi, a cheese that doesn’t melt when being fried or grilled, and it is in those forms that it is omnipresent everywhere and is a must-try staple for visitors too. Otherwise Cypriot food tends to be quite meaty, but vegetarians can relatively easily find alternatives. Being an island, Cypriot cuisine also features a lot of fish and seafood, especially on the coast, of course.
As for drinks, Cyprus has a long tradition of winemaking, and there are many very good varietals to be had, including ones not found elsewhere. Greek wines are common too as is that Greek aniseed spirit ouzo, but Cyprus also makes its own grappa-like spirit called zivania. The usual sugary soft drinks as well as simple lager beers are ubiquitous, but in recent years, the craft beer scene has also made some inroads into Cyprus, especially in the larger cities. Tap water is said to be safe to drink, thanks to EU regulations, yet many people prefer the taste of bottled water. I was absolutely fine with the tap water in Nicosia