Larnaka stands on what once was the ancient city-kingdom of Kition- a successful port city founded in the 13th century. Larnaka is the ideal place to start your Cypriot adventure. It serves as a great base from which to explore the several places in the Larnaka District because of its proximity to major motorways, nearby airport, numerous restaurants, pleasant beaches and relaxed atmosphere. I spent nine nights total in the Amorgos Boutique Hotel in Larnaka’s center, and every day I was easily able to access other cities and towns while still making it back to Larnaka for dinner.
The Larnaka region was one of the first Christianized areas in the world. The city has been an important commercial port since the 13th century. It’s the South Beach of Cyprus and there’s always something to do- whether you are in the mood to party, scuba dive, relax by the beach, shop till you drop, or get away from the hustle and bustle to discover nearby picturesque villages. The best part is that many of Larnaka’s attractions are within walking distance from each other. Here are some of the highlights from the district:
Agios Lazaros Church
The Agios Lazaros Church, located in the St. Lazarus Square, is the final resting place of the man who Christ rose from the dead after dying 4 days earlier. Lazarus, after having been resurrected, left to Cyprus and died there after becoming the first bishop of Kition. The church was built over the place that his tomb was found. The sarcophagus reads, “The four-day Lazarus, friend of Christ.” The church was built in 890 AD by the emperor of Byzantium, Leon IV. The relics of the saint, however, were transferred to Constantinople. The church has a small onsite ecclesiastical museum.
Hala Sultan Tekke
This mosque adorns the shore of Larnaka’s salt lake. Hala Sultan Tekke is considered to be one of the most sacred places of Islam because it was built atop the grave site of Umm Harem, a woman who was close to the prophet Mohammed. It was she who Mohammed told of conquering the Mediterranean and converting it to Islam. Umm Harem fell off of a mule and died near where Hala Sultan Tekke was constructed.
Medieval Castle and Museum
The Larnaka Castle is located at the southern section of Finikoudes beach- one of Larnaka’s most popular stretches of beach. The castle is believed was originally constructed in the 1380′s, but then rebuilt by the Ottomans and used as a prison by the British. The castle was most probably designed to function as a lookout fort for the harbor. The entire structure today has many sections that date back to different periods. There is also a museum on the second floor of the castle that exhibits Byzantine wall paintings, Medieval pottery, Ottoman cooking utensils, and battle gear from the Venetian period.
Kition Archaeological Site
Unfortunately what remains of ancient Kition pales in comparison to what it once was in its heyday. Only the bases of a few structures remain. Kition was one of Cyprus’ most prosperous city-kingdoms. It had the most important commercial port in ancient Cyprus. Modern day Larnaka would literally would have to be torn apart to uncover more of Kition. The nearby Larnaka District Archaeological Museum houses many artifacts found at the Kition archaeological site. Its exhibits also show that there was international relations between Cyprus and other area in the world via Kition’s port.
Finikoudes Marina and Beach
Finikoudes means small palm trees, and when you visit, you’ll see why the name is so fitting. Lined with elegant palm trees, the Finikoudes Marina and Beach is the perfect place to take a stroll. The beachfront promenade has a constant lively atmosphere. Vendors sell everything from postcards to sun tan lotion. Dozens of restaurants and cafes draw in hungry locals and tourists alike, and offer them unobstructed views of the nearby beach. Visitors can rent umbrellas and sun chairs and enjoy a stress-free day on the sand. Enjoying an ice cream by the fountain at the Municipal Cultural Center, watching the daily catch of fish being hauled in, or taking in the pink skies at dusk are just a few leisure activities one can enjoy in the Finikoudes area.
Simplicity and old world charm characterize the dozens of villages scattered throughout Cyprus. Rural tourism is picking up and it’s because people want to experience the feel of small, traditional villages. They want to get to know the authentic side of Cyprus. Two of these villages are Lefkara and Choirokitia.
Driving into Lefkara is quite a scenic ride since the town is perched on a mountain side. The higher section of Lefkara (Pano Lefkara) is also the historical part of the village. Once a prominent and renowned place for lace and embroidery, Lefkara’s lacy heritage is still going strong. Leonardo Da Vinci visited Lefkara and purchased lace, which he then gifted to the Cathedral of Milan. The iconic pattern of lace that he bought is still being produced to this day by the local women. There are dozens of small lace shops in Pano Lefkara, each with its unique treasures and specialties. They each, however, have the “Da Vinci” patterned lace. The shop owners are nice, but be warned: it can take weeks to complete even a small piece, and for this you’ll pay a high price. Some of these women are fourth and fifth generation needleworkers, so you can be sure that you’re purchasing something authentically Cypriot. Lefkara is also home to the Church of Timios Stavros. It holds a piece of the holy cross as does the nearby monastery of Stavrovounos.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, Choirokitia’s Neolithic settlement amazes and showcases the way Cypriot inhabitants lived almost 10,000 years ago. These one-room dwellings offered them protection and the ability to live in communities. The site contains reproductions of these hut dwellings to give visitors a better idea of how their homes looked. The smallest of huts were used to house their animals while the larger ones were used as sleeping quarters. These peaceful people were hunter/gatherers.
I would like to give a very special thanks to my sponsor, ScotteVest Travel Clothing. I want to also give thanks to Patrick from Naturally Cyprus, the Larnaka Tourism Board, and the Amorgos Boutique Hotel in Larnaka.