Sandro Botticelli (2016) La nascita di Venere (detail).

Cypriot Heart in the Hands of the Goddess

At first sight it seems to be a dazzlingly white, dry and rugged rock thrown into the deep blue sea. Then comes response to other senses, especially to smell. And the same voice keeps echoing: “it’s enough to breathe in and get healthy.” A vibrating aroma of various spices is merging together with a sweet taste of the air and salty wind. Yeah, I know well that blissful feeling filling me body and soul every time I am travelling around the Mediterranean region.

Many a time I need to screw up my eyes because of the burning sun, looking for a shadow or for a tiny cup of strong Cypriot coffee or tea, under a huge parasol. Another time, it is enough to plunge under the surface of crystal clear water and admire gleams of the sun dancing on its sandy bottom, creating flickering geometric patterns. I’ve heard Cyprus is perfect for taking first steps in scuba diving. Probably next time I’ll go for it at Ayia Napa sea caves … but only if it happens to be in Cyprus again…   

Cyprus Divided and United

Before I get here I was struggling to assign the island to the right continent. Placed just between Europe, Asia and Africa, it’s often described as a part of Eurasia. Which I guess in some ways means a good compromise.

Nicosia. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The island country is divided, or let’s say, torn apart into two parts. There’s the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Republic of Northern Cyprus. The former is Greek, the latter is Turkish, and not recognized by the rest of the world but Turkey. Cyprus formally belongs to the European Union. Nevertheless, the northern part just in theory. The border between two nations, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, is known as the Green Line and comes across Nicosia, the capital of the divided country. The formal division is even believed to be one of main tourist attractions. Maybe it is so, but for me it’s less than attractive. For some the line seems even artificial. All these mutual agreements and disagreements seem too tangled to me.

View on North Nicosia. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Here are some examples: Cyprus belongs to the European Union but not entirely; whereas Cypriots from the both sides and Europeans can cross the Green Line just waving their ID to the guard, the Turkish are not allowed to do so, still they can come to the northern part without visa. Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus in the south, the rest of the world pretends there is nothing such as the Republic of Northern Cyprus. Despite that unusual circumstances, the whole island fully and happily exists on the map and ordinary people from the opposite sides usually get on well much better than their politicians or governments.

After the Turkish invasion a great movement of Cypriots started: Greek Cypriots ran away from the north to the south, while Turkish Cypriots did the same deliberately the other way round, or it happened that British soldiers took them in trucks by force from the south northwards. Both sides left behind their family lands and houses. Even today, when the border is open, some Cypriots refuse to cross it as they reject the fact their country was cut in two. Passing by a village in the southwest I see a desolate mosque just next to a Christian church full of life and people and I’m surprised when I hear that Cypriots from there take care of the mosque in hope their Muslim neighbors may someday come back.

Cypriot sweets. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Actually, I enjoy the whole island equally and I take just the same pleasure from meeting and talking to people either from the south or north. Apart from the language and religion, they share similar lifestyle; they love their island, are attached to their families, dine out together for hours, laugh, play vibrant music, dance, and celebrate every single moment. But maybe I’m wrong and I am unable to notice differences that are striking to Cypriots …

Timeline of Cypriot History

Like in many places worldwide, Cyprus has been settled, invaded, conquered, occupied and struggled about throughout ages. Its beginnings come down to the tenth millennium BC. Cyprus was subsequently home to Neolithic cultures, Mycenaean Greeks, the Assyrians, Egyptians, and Persians till the fourth century BC, when it was overcome by famous Alexander the Great. Soon after the island was ruled by Ptolemaic Egypt, followed by the Classical and Eastern Roman Empire, Arab caliphates, the French Lusignan dynasty and the Venetians. And finally, in the sixteenth century it was sized by the Ottoman powers. In the nineteenth century the British came in turn and the island was formally annexed by Britain in 1914. British military bases are still here, on the piece of land where no tourist coach can stop.

Such a mixture of complex flourishing societies gave basis to multiplied legends, stories and superstitions. All of them added some essential elements to a collective bag of the Cypriot history. The final result is a unique cultural blend offering an unforgettable experience to archaeologists, historians, and tourists.

A Female Fertility Deity

The island itself looks like … a marble Cycladic abstract figurine in the shape of violin that is believed to represent a female fertility deity. And so Cyprus is famous for being dedicated to one of the most famous Greek goddesses, Aphrodite. As the synonym of beauty, sexuality and fertility, the goddess is believed to have been born out of the sea foam on the Cypriot coast, just south of Paphos. Aphrodite’s birthplace is known as Petra tou Romiou, also referred to as Aphrodite’s Rock, and it is surely one of the most charming landmarks in the Cypriot landscape. I have read that at sunset couples in love come there to contemplate its romantic landscape; at their feet seawater crashing against high rocks foams and glistens in the light of the auroras.

Aphrodite’s Beach, Cyprus. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Near the coast filled with little polished stones of various colours, there is a huge rock emerging from the sea, with smaller ones around it. By all accounts, wherever the newly born goddess, Aphrodite, put her foot on the shore while taking her first steps on, she left behind a track of stones in the shape of heart. If you find any and then offer it to somebody you love, they will never leave you and stay with you forever. When I reached the famous Aphrodite’s Rock I didn’t mean to look for any hearts of stone, but I felt as if enchanted by this magic place and finally I found myself out there bending over and tossing stones around in an effort to try my luck. Finally I picked up one out of a towering pile. It was a heart … well … at least it was similar to one. Some tourists bend under the loads of stones taken away from Aphrodite’s beach. With a first glance, they all look like hearts but long after the goddess’ magic stops working, they turn out to be just shapeless pieces of rock. Or maybe I do not believe in enough … Suddenly I got angry with myself. How a man can be so easily deceived with a bunch of superstitions. I launched my heart stone with all of my might to the sea and I said in thoughts to beautiful Aphrodite  : „Keep it for yourself!”

A giant wave rose up in between the rocks and fiercely crashed against my back. Aphrodite’s beach, Cyprus. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Nothing happened. The sea was calm and mild with a warm breeze and white-crested waves lapping on the shore. I moved down towards the water. A wave rippled directly beneath my feet and I felt its nicely cold touch on my sunbathed skin. As the sun was shining stronger, I closed my eyes and turned back to the sea, wholly lost in my happy thoughts. And then it happened … A giant wave rose up in between the rocks and fiercely crashed against my back.

Surely one may think it was Aphrodite who replied.

Before I realized what had happened, my friend asked me laughing: ‘Are you OK …?’

Of course, I was … only a little frightened, all wet and entirely surprised with the unexpected attack from the sea.

‘I was going to swim here but only in my swimsuit. Now it makes no sense’.

‘Maybe you should try’, she replied with a smile. ‘Three times round the rock and you will find your true love’.

Aphrodite’s beach, Cyprus. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

‘Well, maybe’, I agreed resigned while trying to pull my wet dress up a bit, as it became quite heavy after having soaked the salty water like a sponge. It’s not a nice feeling when you get a kick from a goddess taking revenge on you.

Actually, some legend has it you need to swim naked and it must be done at night to make your wish come true. Moreover there exist different versions of it; if you make three tours around the rock by swimming, you will fall deeply in love, or be fertile forever, or get younger, or it will bring you good luck. Or maybe all of these at once … Irrespective of which of the circulating legends is correct, the place is surely one of the most worth seeing on the island.

I didn’t find another stone in the shape of heart that day but a few days later I was sitting on another stony shore on the southeast coast of the same island, and while my fingers were playing with warm stones, they picked up one at random. When I saw it, I smiled to the sea. It was “my heart”.

… and yet something more on Cypriot gods

It’s believed that Aphrodite’s cult started during the Mycenaean times. By all accounts, the Greek goddess was brought to the shore of Cyprus on board a shell, to provide its inhabitants with happiness, beauty and fertility. Still she is not the first female deity venerated in Cyprus. Probably she originated from earlier goddesses, such as Mesopotamian Inanna or Ishtar, also widely worshiped on the island. Among all objects one can buy as a souvenir in Cyprus, there are very interesting pieces of silver jewelry for women, namely pendants representing Cypriot cruciform figurines dating back to the Prehistoric and Bronze Age. Tourists have a wide choice of their sizes and variations. I went for such a small copy of the Chalcolithic age deity, commonly known as Idol of Pomos, excavated in the village of the same name, in the northwest of Cyprus, and exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in Nicosia.

Cyprus
Alexandros Heraclides (2020). “Prehistoric Cyprus. ‘Idol of Pomos’ – Chalcolithic cruciform figurine, Cyprus”. In: Pinterest. Also see : Idols – Cult Figures Lookalike Human Beings in the Ancient World.

The original artifact is made of blue-green picrolite and is represented as wearing a pendant in the form of its own copy, so it is sure once it served as such and was probably used as an amulet or totem. You can also see it displayed on the Cypriot euro coins of one or two euro. At first sight it looks like a cross; the mysterious figure has its arms outstretched and placed perpendicularly to the elongated body. It’s hard to say which sex it represents. All in all, we can admit the figure is sexually ambiguous. Some scholars argue that cylindrical necks and heads are to show phallic symbols.  Risen legs put alongside look like female vulva. Moreover, we also get an impression the figurines’ bodies were deliberately made in the way they can easily “change their sex”. When we once take a look we may recognize the male aspect, another time, the female one. From this point of view they are gender-neutral and may be called hermaphrodites. If it is so, the matter of gender does not come from nowadays but was already present a long time ago. Figurines that contain both, male and female genitalia, are found in the whole Mediterranean region and were produced in numbers, from the Neolithic to Bronze Age, that is to say, at the time when art took strongly abstract forms. I was told that gender neutral figurines from Cyprus bring good luck as they represent the balance between two aspects, and so they let us keep such a balance in our lives.

Olive oils in Cyprus. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Some Cypriot woman assured me it really works: ‘If you need evidence of its power … ‘, she said. ‘Just take a look at our flourishing island.’

Featured image: Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) “La nascita di Venere(detail). Public domain. {{PD-US}}. Published by Husky (2009). Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. 

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Petra tou Romiou. Aphrodite’s Rock” (2015). In: Aphrodite Hills Resort. Available at <https://bit.ly/3oPF0eZ>. [Accessed 19th Jun, 2018].

”Cyprus” (2015). In: Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3802BD3>. [Accessed 19th Jun, 2018].

Heraclides A. (2020). “Prehistoric Cyprus. ‘Idol of Pomos’ – Chalcolithic cruciform figurine, Cyprus”. In: Pinterest. Available at <https://bit.ly/37ZFg4x>. [Accessed 14th Dec, 2020].

Worlds of Gender: The Archaeology of Women’s Lives Around the Globe (2007)  Milledge N. ed. Plymouth.

Krzak, Z. (2007) Od matriarchartu do patriarchartu, Warszawa: Wydawnictow TRIO.

“Idol of Pomos” (2015). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/33jUu2S>. [Accessed 19th Jun, 2018].

Botticelli, S.  (1445-1510) “La nascita di Venere(detail). Public domain. {{PD-US}}. Published by Husky (2009) Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/2V12pgQ>. [Accessed 19th Jun, 2018].

McDonald G. (2008). Cypr. Dookoła Świata [Cyprus. Spiral Guide]. Nowicki W. trans. Wydawnictwo Pascal. Bielsko-Biała.

4 thoughts on “Cypriot Heart in the Hands of the Goddess”

    1. Hi Pissouri Bay Divers!

      Thank you for your interest in my website. Your diving courses & training seem very interesting. I hope to come back to Cyprus in the future and dive with you! Stay safe.

      Joanna

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