"Limassol – Ancient Amathus, Agora"

Limassol (or Lemesos) is a multicultural bustling town that is expanding and transforming itself more than ever before. As one of the oldest coastal towns, it is flanked by two ancient cities, Amathus and Kourion, and guarded by the Amathusian Aphrodite and Appolo Hylates.

It is a town of great visual diversity and contrast from spectacular seafront views, historic places like the mediaeval Castle, Byzantine churches, grandiose traditional buildings, quaint old houses and luxury seafront hotels.

Not only is it the busiest port, but it is also a major industrial town with more factories than any other town in Cyprus, and the island's foremost wine producing area with numerous renowned wineries.

Limassol is also a leading cultural centre that has harboured many prominent figures of the Cyprus literati including the national poet Vassilis Michaelides, and a town well known for its innovative spirit. Journalism, literature, theatre, commerce, sports and the movement of ideas marked the history of the town during the twentieth century.

But above all, Limassol is a town with a soul, a town whose people are reputed for their geniality and vitality, who relish merry-making and take pride in their annual Carnival and Wine Festival.

The review also covers other important cultural events like the presence of Cypriot artists at the Skopje Biennale, the "No-Body" Dance Festival and the Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy held in Limassol, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Cyprus PEN Centre.In the present issue of our review "Cyprus Today", we continue our tour of the main towns of Cyprus offering our readers some glimpses of the rich history and cultural life of Limassol. We hope that the articles signed by Nasa Patapiou, Historian-Researcher, Titos Kolotas, writer and Nadia Anaxagorou, Director of the Cultural Services of the Municipality of Limassol, will help our readers shape a more vivid image of the town.


Limassol - A stroll through place and time

Limassol, lying between two ancient kingdoms, Amathus and Kourion has its own historical and cultural appeal. With the blessing of Apollo Hylates and Amathusian Aphrodite, its grace is unique, its hospitality open-handed and timeless.



Present since Neolithic times, the ancient city of Amathus was one of the oldest coastal towns of Cyprus. It was founded by Amathos, son of the hero Aerias, himself founder of old Paphos. The town, a Greek port of the Mediterranean, had its indigenous people, the Eteocyprians, descendents of the legendary king Kyniras, at the time of the Trojan War, who had refused to mix with the newly arriving seapeople from the East and West. Until the end of the fourth century BC, the kingdom employed two official languages, Greek and the one named by scholars Eteocypriot which is transcribed in syllabic script but has not been deciphered.

Αccording to Peon, the Amathusian, Theseus and the pregnant Ariadne were shipwrecked during a storm on the shores of Cyprus. While Theseus was trying to mend his ship, waves pulled him out to sea and he was never to return. Local Cypriot women looked after Ariadne but she died at childbirth. The deified heroine was buried in a sacred grove called the wood of Ariadne- Aphrodite, thus assimilating her to the great goddess of the kingdom. Grateful Theseus thanked the Cypriots for their tender care towards his wife and annual sacrifices were made to her honour as well as a ritual representation of the birth by men dressed as women.

Amathus was haunted by these primal deities as late as Roman times. It was in this area that Aphrodite and Adonis shared their love and games and the Cypriots honoured them with famous sacred shrines. Here also lay the legendary necklace of Europhile which had the power to make any woman the most desirable woman on earth, but who unfortunately could never to find happiness.

The gods of Amathus were the horned god, half man half bull, whose role was that of protector of pregnant women, the goddess of fertility, represented as a stone or as a woman with upraised arms, the cult of the Egyptian god Bes was clearly important from 900 BC until the Roman period, and along with the future "goddess of Cyprus" (dea Cypria), later assimilated with the Greek Aphrodite, the people of Amathus also worshipped an eastern goddess, Anat or Astarte, perhaps conflated with the Egyptian Hathor. Apart from Adonis, other male deities worshipped at Amathus were Zeus: Zeus Xenios, good to guests and Zeus Orompatas, who walks in the mountains, and the hero Heracles, protector of cities and sailors. There was also a hero cult of King Onesilos of Salamis.

The legend connecting Amathus to Oneisilos is alive and inspiring poets and thinkers. This great hero, this rebel king persuaded the Amathusians against their will, to join forces with the rest of the island kingdoms against the Persian rulers of the island in 499 BC. And when Onesilos was defeated after being betrayed, the people of Amathus, Herodotus wrote "in revenge for his having laid siege to their town, severed the head from the dead body of Onesilos and hung it up above their gates. In time, a swarm of bees filled it with honeycomb. In consequence of this, the townspeople consulted the oracle at Delphi, and were advised to take the head down and bury it, and, if they wished to prosper, to regard Onesilos thenceforth as half divine, and their country's protector, and to honour him with annual sacrifice. This was done, and the ceremony was still observed in my own day." (Herodotus. The Histories. Trs. Aubrey de Selincourt).

The acropolis of Amathus is known worldwide on account of the seventh century BC colossal vase made of one piece of stone found at the Sanctuary of Aphrodite. The 13-ton and 3.19 metre diameter stone vase, which was transferred to the Louvre Museum in 1865 was one of a pair of vases that served for lustral purification upon entering the sacred precinct. An Eteocypriot inscription, a-na, also found on small vases offered to the goddess, is written on one of the bull-ornamented handles of the huge vase.

The only existing watercolours and engravings portraying the antiquities of Amathus as they looked in the eighteenth century (including the famous vase) were produced by Luigi Mayer, who visited Cyprus in 1792, and they appeared in the volume "Views in the Ottoman Empire, a part of Asia Minor hitherto unexplored" published by Robert Bowyer in 1803. Edmond Duthoit, a French artist who visited Cyprus in 1862, also produced sketches of the two colossal vases of Amathus. Additional high quality workmanship is displayed in the single polychrome fourth century sarcophagus found by Luigi Palma di Cesnola in 1877 in a tomb of the north cemetery. Chariots, horsemen and soldiers are shown in a procession on the two long sides, while four Bes figures, the dwarf-god of Egypt, who once played consort to Aphrodite, and four nude Astartes stand as ornaments on the two short sides. The rich polychromy recalls the Amathus style; the convergence of eastern and Greek concepts and choice of divinities also suggest a local creation. Whatever the source of the subject matter, it is a celebrated example of sarcophagi for inhumation and a major work of Cypriot art. After 58 BC, when Cyprus was annexed by Rome, the ancient city was abandoned and became a senatorial province, as under Roman rule, Nea Paphos was the new centre of administration. The fourth century signaled the entry of the city into the Byzantine world which would be interrupted by Arab invasions. By the seventh century, earthquakes and Arab attacks destroyed it completely. The fourth century witnessed the first record of a Christian bishop at Amathus, Mnemonios. His successor Saint Tychon, whose life is known to us through the writings of a later, seventh-century Amathusian, John the Almsgiver, was a vigorous evangelist and it may have been he who transformed the temple of Aphrodite into a centre of Christian worship, since he is said to have chased out the priestess with a whip. St Tychon is also said to have built a church, the ruins of which have been found. Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great landed at Limassol Bay on her return from the Holy Land and built a church of the Holy Cross and many more on the island.



The kingdom of Kourion lies west of Limassol. This ancient city was founded by the Argeans in the 13th century BC. Various historical sources and archaeological evidence attest that Kourion was one of the most important and glorious ancient kingdoms of Cyprus. It is referred to for the first time in an Egyptian inscription of the period of Ramses III (1198-1167) as one of the places in Cyprus and Asia Minor which the famous Egyptian Pharaoh wished to be under his domination. A number of its buildings have been preserved: the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, Apollo of the forests, the archaic precinct, the Circular temple, the Priest's Residence, the Palaestra, the Baths and the Stadium. There are also the House of Achilles with its renowned mosaic floor depicting various geometric motifs and exceptional figurative compositions, the Fountain House, remnants of the Aqueduct, parts of the Nymphaeon, or bridal suite, the House of the Gladiators with its mosaic representation of a gladiators' fight, perhaps the only mosaic to represent such a scene in the Mediterranean, the Temple of Poseidon as well as Hellenistic and Roman tombs.

A royal tomb at Kourion was excavated and found desecrated. In fact, the site of Kourion was first explored by the American Consul, Luigi Palma di Cesnola in 1873. He excavated quite unprofessionally at several points, and maintained he had discovered the famous "Treasure of Kourion", now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York. The finds comprising this treasure consist of jewellery of different types and dates which came from thousands of pilfered graves. There were bracelets and amulets, jewellery in electrum and agate, jasper, sard, chalcedony; beads of rock crystal still strung on golden wire; silver bowls and ewers stacked one inside the other and an exquisite gold leaf diadem. The intaglios of the archaic Greek ring-stones are among the loveliest known. Animal-headed pendants came to light, with arm-bands inscribed from a king of Paphos; ruby and amethyst earrings, necklaces formed of acorns or carnelian and onyx bugles. Here too was found the scepter-head of the Kourion kings, crowned by two eagles with filigreed wings and gouged eyes. The Ancient Theatre, of an impressive beauty on account of its location, is a small Hellenistic theatre dating back to the late 2nd century BC. It was radically remodeled in the second half of the 1st century AD, most probably during the time of Emperor Nero (AD 50-75) and having suffered great damages after the earthquakes of the year AD 77 it was reconstructed and enlarged to its present dimensions during Trajan's reign (AD 98-117). The 3,500 seat theatre is used to this day for cultural performances, thus perpetuating the Greek civilization tradition over the centuries.

The House of Eustolios, the house of "reverence, prudence and piety" as hailed by one mosaic inscription on the floor near the entrance of the south wing, stands next to the Theatre and slightly above it. The entire building complex of well-hewn limestone blocks consisted of more than thirty rooms and a bathing establishment. This house and the neighbouring Theatre were the main public buildings for the amusement and recreation of the inhabitants of Kourion from Hellenistic times to the end of the Early Christian period. It continued to be used as a public centre for bathing and social meetings until the mid-7th century AD. On the southern side of the Kourion hillock, overlooking the sea stands the Early Christian Basilica. Dating to the beginning of the 5th century AD and replacing earlier constructions, of which remains were also uncovered, this imposing building was the Cathedral church of the first Bishops of Kourion. Zeno, one of these Bishops, who represented the Church of Cyprus at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, was probably the builder of this finely decorated Basilica. The church and its dependencies were destroyed during the Arab raids in the mid-7th century AD, but soon after its abandonment, a new Bishopric, a three-aisled Basilica was erected in a nearby village, later named Episkopi (Bishopric).



By the end of the 4th century AD, the two big towns, Kourion and Amathus, were prospering, and between them grew another town, Nemesos, probably derived from the Greek adjective "anamesos", meaning in between, that eventually became Limassol or Lemesos. Others believe the name came from the words Nea-polis, indicating the new town which had been built after a series of earthquakes demolished Amathus and a number of Arab raids destroyed Kourion. Yet others claimed that the name derived from the Latin word 'nemus', meaning woods, apparently plentiful in the area in those times.

It was the last Byzantine ruler of the island, the self-appointed emperor, Isaac Comnenus, who had ruled Cyprus harshly and independently of Constantinople, who first fortified the new town in his efforts to prevent the English King Richard the Lionheart from landing on the island in 1191. When an English vessel of the Third Crusade on board of which were Berengaria of Navarre, King Richard's fiancée and Richard's sister Joanna, Queen Dowager of Sicily, Isaac Comnenus attempted to coax them ashore. But when they demurred, he refused them fresh water. When the English fleet arrived and 'found the ladies outside the port of Limezun, exposed to the winds and the sea, Richard, seasick and fuming at the insult to his betrothed, landed his men and prepared for a full-scale invasion.' (Chronicle of Benedict of Peterborough. Trs. H.T.F. Duckworth). After a battle in which the town of Amathus was totally destroyed, Isaac surrendered. Richard hastily married Berengaria in the chapel of St George in Limassol, and the same day he had her crowned Queen of England, and himself King of Cyprus. Richard must have realised the strategic and commercial value of Cyprus, and he subjugated the whole island. Soon afterwards Richard, ever short of money, offered it to the Templers for a hundred thousand bezants, but the knights could not control the unruly population and a year later he gave the island to Guy de Lusignan, who had been King of Jerusalem before Saladin's re-conquest, and who founded here a three-hundred-year dynasty.

According to Archbishop Kyprianos (1756- 1821) it was Guy de Lusignan who built Limassol: "Neapolis, the new town was built by the first Lusignan king, and was given the name Limosion in remembrance of a city in France. There was a large forest there once called Nemesos. When the town was built it included many churches and monasteries belonging to the Greeks and the Latins.

During the 13th and 14th century travelers like Wilbrand of Oldenburg or Wilhelm von Boldensele visit the town and make reference to its harbour, churches, slight fortifications but above all they extol the vineyards of Engaddi and the quality of the wine: excellent, sweet, wholesome and very strong.

The Castle of Kolossi became the Templars' headquarters after the Holy Land was lost. They kept their rich Commandery at Kolossi with a fief of sixty villages, and as late as the fifteenth century rebuilt the castle. It rises seventy seven feet high to its crenellations, whose machicoulis look too delicate for war, and is blazoned by the coats of arms of two Grand Masters, with the shield of the Grand Commander Louis de Magnac who built it. Here, on the red-soiled foothills, the knights cultivated vines of the Commanderia, oldest of all named wines, which is still drunk nowadays. Thick and sweet, almost a liqueur, it was famous throughout European Christendom. It is said that the Ottoman Sultan Selim was so intoxicated by it that desire for these vineyards caused his invasion of Cyprus.

5.jpg Pedestrian street along the Limassol beach Limassol seafront The medieval castle of Limassol The Municipal Library of Limassol

Limassol enjoyed two centuries of prosperity. By the end of the 14th century the town was in decline, shaken by earthquakes. In 1373, the Genoese half destroyed it, and soon afterwards it was twice sacked and plundered by the Egyptian Mamelukes: in 1425 and 1426.

Dhareri, Vezir of the Sultan Malik el Eshref, recounts the fierce attacks: "...the Egyptian soldiers advanced towards the town, which they took by assault and burnt to cinders, after having pillaged it......The commander of our squadron recognizing that the Lemsoun castle was too strongly fortified for him to take it, re-embarked his troops and returned to Egypt." And the next year ... "The siege of Lemsoun was set and pressed with so much ardour that the castle was soon stormed..... Countless people were massacred there and those who escaped the carnage were made prisoners of war."

Apparently, Limassol never recovered from the attack. A fifteenth century priest, Pietro Casola witnessed the deplorable state of the city which he realises "from the ruins and beautiful walls that it must have been a large and beautiful city. But both its cathedral and castle were on the point of tumbling down.....all the other churches in ruins and not a single house in the whole city in good repair." He also speaks of "a great farm not far from Limassol, which belongs to a certain Don Frederico Cornaro, a patrician of Venice, called Episcopia, where they make so much sugar that, in my judgement, it sufficeth for all the world. Indeed it is said to be the best that goes to Venice and the quantity sold is always increasing."

In 1539, when Cyprus was still under Venetian rule, the Ottomans landed at Limassol. The town was razed to its foundations, the castle nearly destroyed and hundreds of people were slain. A humiliating peace treaty kept hostilities to a minimum for thirty years. But in July 1570, the Ottomans landed a force in Limassol. They sacked the town of Limassol and that of Akrotiri and moved on to Larnaca. By 1571, the whole island was under Ottoman rule. After the Ottomans took Cyprus, they requested the Porte to send an architect for the restoration of all the fortifications on the island, so the Limassol castle was restored for defence purposes, but the town was not to recover for a long time.

Sugar, cotton, carob cultivation and wine production and exports continued to be the main occupation of the Limassol inhabitants under the Ottomans. Travellers of this period speak of the "pitiful little town with signs of previous grandeur" but are impressed by the great hospitality and civility of its people as well as their industriousness and their commercial aptness, being "remarkably subtle in what concerns their profit" (the Archbishop of Sinai Constantius).

During the episodes of 1821, Limassol had its death toll in the pre-emptive measures taken by the Turkish Pasha against any support by the Greek Cypriots towards the Greek revolution: the Bishop and other clergymen and many laymen of Limassol were beheaded. It is after this dreadful period that the American missionary, Lorenzo Warriner Pease came to Cyprus with the purpose of promoting education in Cyprus and notes that in 1835 Limassol had a population of about 1500 Greeks, 100 Turks, four churches, two mosques and one school of about 25 students. But Limassol was on the route to development.

In 1862, the antiquarian and architect Edmond Duthoit visited Limassol. Impressed by the colossal vases at Amathus he wrote: "If I manage to take them up to sea, it will be my chef d'oeuvre. I shall start studying seriously this to discover a way and the machinery to transport them. This will make a wonderful effect at the Louvre." Indeed, it took sixteen days to move one of the vases from the acropolis. By October 1865 it sailed to Toulon, then Le Havre and along the Seine to Paris where it arrived in June 1866. It can still be admired in the Louvre.

The small fort in Limassol saw the lowering of the Turkish flag and the hoisting of the British flag during the ceremony of the cession of Cyprus to Britain in 1878. The small fort, an octagonal Lusignan building on the seashore, was soon demolished by the British; the first Court House was built on the same site and later the storerooms of the Customs House. During the British rule the Castle was used as a prison until 1940. Later it was restored and used as a District Office.

The newspapers of the time reported that the Limassolians appeared to be more independent and less respectful to the newcomers than elsewhere. Nevertheless, the town was experiencing rapid progress and many improvements were made during the tenure of the first Commissioner of Limassol, Colonel Warren, such as the first slaughter house, a famous market place and a new pier was opened.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the number of British visitors to Cyprus had increased and their descriptions of the town give detailed and valuable information. Gladys Peto refers to it as a modern town with a large new Greek church, the Commissioner's office, the post office, the law courts, the Ottoman bank and the Turkish bazaar, where the minarets of the mosque rise above the little crowded streets. The British community lived in the eastern end of the town, near the public gardens. There was an imposing British hospital, a small English church, a golf course, two rival hockey teams, a tennis court and an unofficial publication, The Cyprus Gazette.

Agnes Michaelides gives a vivid description of the town with all the novelties of the early twentieth century such as electricity and electric lighting in the streets, the new hotels Britannia and Olympus, the first cars and the paved roads and the telephones established in 1914. Limassol was a leading cultural centre, well-known for its innovative spirit and the movement of ideas marked the history of the town in the twentieth century.

The national bard of Cyprus, Vassilis Michaelides (1847-19171) lived and died in Limassol. His poetry is steeped in the plain life and serene atmosphere of Cyprus, but he grasped deeply the national feelings and aspirations, expressing them with purity, power and art. His epic poem "The Ninth of July 1821" is like an effusive volcano of patriotism expressed in the unaffected, rich and expressive Cypriot dialect.

Pedestrian street along the Limassol beachPedestrian street along the Limassol beach Limassol seafront The medieval castle of Limassol

Percy Arnold, a journalist of the Cyprus Post claimed that the Limassolians were more spontaneous, friendly and internationally minded than the rest of the Cypriots. The Quartier Latin of Limassol harboured many prominent figures of the town's intellectuals: Antonis Indianos, the painter and writer Nicos Nicolaides, the Fasouliotis brothers, Klitos, George and Panos and many others.

Percy Arnold was indeed correct in estimating the Limassolians as merry and pleasure loving people, who love life and know how to live it. The Carnival tradition has lingered on since 1898 and the Wine Festival has been associated with the town since 1961.

The 1930s were years of rapid development. New premises were built for the Town Hall, the KEO Cyprus Wines and Spirits Co., landmark hotels and beautiful neoclassical buildings like the house of Antonis Pilavakis and George Kirzis sprung up.

After 1974, Limassol became a home to thousands of refugees from the Turkish occupied north of the island. Despite uncontrolled re-building that ignored history and the town's direct links with the sea, Limassol remains the island's foremost wine-producing town, with its many wineries, the town of entertainment with its Wine Festival and Carnival, its luxury seafront hotels and small picturesque tavernas.

Today the town is growing and transforming itself faster than ever before. It has a unique visual diversity from the spectacular seafront, 23 km. of uninterrupted walkway right on the beach, the largest in Europe, to grandiose traditional buildings, archaeological sites, Byzantine monuments, a Sculpture Park, popular neighbourhoods and the beauty of the surrounding countryside. But, above all, it is a town which in spite of the never ending changes in fortunes, has not lost its soul.


Limassol During Venetian Rule - Nasa Patapiou

Historian-Researcher at the Cyprus Research Centre

As we understand from the sources, published and archival, Limassol had the aspect of a town in decline. One meets the same picture in the travelogues of the time. It is clear that the town of Limassol did not recover even during the period of Venetian rule from the disasters it had suffered in previous centuries, such as the attacks by the

Genoese in 1330 and the Mamelukes in 1426 and the earthquake in 1439. Thus in the same period, the picture of Limassol as documented is one of a neglected and run-down settlement which, although referred to as a town, had the appearance of a village. The town seems to have lost its urban status completely before the beginning of Venetian rule. Sources from the years 1540 and 1550 estimate that the population of Limassol was about 500-600, while the census for Cyprus in the year 1565 gives the figure of 800. Let us look at the events which contributed to the decline of the town during this same period and particularly at the dreadful earthquake of 1491.

The Catastrophic Earthquake of 1491

An important date in the history of both the town of Limassol and the island is April 24th 1491, the day on which one of the most catastrophic earthquakes ever to hit Cyprus occurred. Travellers and chroniclers as well as some Venetian documents and notes in Cypriot manuscripts refer to this devastating earthquake. At the beginning of a manuscript the priest of Kofinou, Athanasios Foris, records the destruction which the earthquake caused in Cyprus. With regard to Limassol, he writes that the dome of Katholiki Church, which was dedicated to the lifegiving Cross, was destroyed. It appears that this church was not rebuilt after it was destroyed by the earthquake. Moreover the present-day Katholiki Church in Limassol, which is modern, is dedicated to the Virgin. An epitaph of the 13th century confirms that in mediaeval times there was a Franciscan monastery on the site of the present-day Panayia tis Katholokis.

Another church was built on this site in the 16th century. Furthermore, another document, which comes from the State Archive of Milan and refers to the destruction caused by the great earthquake, states that in Limassol the tower and fort were destroyed, the castle by the sea and all the churches and houses in the town. The traveller Dietrich von Schachten from Hesse arrived in Cyprus in the summer of 1491 and in his travelogue writes about the earthquake and refers to Limassol, which he happened to visit twice, on his way to the Holy Land and again on his way back, when he was in fact forced to remain on the island for nearly a month. When he first came to Limassol in July 1491 he wrote as follows: "Limassol was once a beautiful town but now resembles a village. It has, however, a strong fort by the sea, a section of which the earthquake destroyed. Also, as a result of the same earthquake, because the ground split open, many churches and houses were destroyed, including the residence of the bishop." The same information is given by other travelers including the priest Pietro Casola, the German nobleman Alexander von Zweibrucken and others. The former writes about the houses of Limassol: "The inhabitants of the town do not spend much money on roofing their houses because they use green branches or reeds." The latter writes that the town does not have houses but only small huts where some poor people live. The above bears witness rather to the destruction caused by the earthquake to the houses and the churches, as the sources state.

The Ottoman Attack in 1539

After the catastrophic earthquake of 1491, Limassol was attacked by the Ottomans during the Venetian-Turkish War of 1537-1540 and suffered a great deal of damage. The attack took place on 14thMay 1539. According to the report of the Venetian Captain of Famagusta, Andrea Dandolo, eight warships (fuste) put into Aliki (Larnaka), plundered it and then headed to Limassol where they captured the castle of the town and set fire to it. Travellers continue throughout the period of Venetian rule to call Limassol a village and to note that it was once a fine town. However the town castle is mentioned as almost destroyed also in a source of 1531, as the Venetian Lieutenant of Cyprus, Francisco Bragadin, states in his report on Cyprus of the same year. It is very likely that repairs were later carried out by the Venetians i.e. before the Ottoman attack in 1539, when the castle suffered fresh damage. Leonardo Donà, who was the son of the Venetian Lieutenant and who later became Doge, mentions the ruined castle of Limassol. He had lived on the island for two years during his father's service on the island in 1556-1558. He visited Limassol, which he calls New Limassol (Limisso Nuova) and describes inter alia its castle which was partly in ruins since the war.

Mention of the destruction of Limassol castle by the Ottomans in 1539 is also made by the English traveller Johne Locke in his travelogue, when he visited the town in 1552. This town, he writes, is in ruins and has nothing notable to show apart from its castle. However even this, he continues, gives a picture of decline since a part of it is in ruins because it was destroyed ten or twelve years earlier by the Turks. Limassol also had to endure at regular intervals infestations of locusts, as did the rest of the island. The same traveller describes a relevant experience. A huge impression was made on Johne Locke when he wanted to visit the market in the town and saw there for the first time a swarm of locusts infesting the place. He goes on to describe how the villagers in the Limassol area were trying to get rid of the locusts which were destroying their crops.

Le Saige, a silk merchant from Douai, arrived in Limassol in 1518. He also calls Limassol a village and adds that it is on the coast but seems not to have a harbour. He then writes that Limassol has a strong castle and was once a large fortified town. Le Saige did not even like the wine of Limassol which the other travellers extol. He notes that it tasted of the tar which the producers used to put on the earthenware jars in which they stored the wine.

Demands of the Communities of Nicosia and Famagusta Relating to Limassol

We have collected quite a lot of information about Limassol from the demands made by both the Community of Nicosia and the Community of Famagusta to the Venetian authorities. A historical piece of information about Limassol in a Venetian document of 1491, shows that the decline of the town had already occurred before the great earthquake, which of course made the whole situation even worse. In 1491, among other demands submitted to the Most Serene Republic by the Community of Famagusta through the ambassador Ioannis Andreoutsis, the Most Serene Republic was asked to intercede with the Holy See to join the Latin Bishopric of Limassol with that of Famagusta because it was in great penury and the town of Limassol had become a village and did not justify the existence of a Latin bishop. Another historical piece of information, which also comes from a Venetian source of 1507, informs us that the ancient monastery of St John de Montfort, which was in Nicosia and had an annual income of 200 ducats, had been granted by King James to the bishop of Limassol, Antonio de Cucanea, and then to his heirs who were interested solely in appropriating its income and had left it to fall into decline and become derelict.

In 1521 one of the demands submitted by the ambassadors of the Community of Nicosia to the Most Serene Republic concerned the Paroikoi, who were constantly abandoning the island. This was causing loss to both the Public Purse and the feudal lords precisely because the relevant measures and the penalties which had been enacted were not being implemented. In particular, the two large and powerful villages in the Limassol area, namely Episkopi of the Cornaro family and Kolossi of the Grand Commandery, were offering refuge to the fugitive Paroikoi. For that reason the Community was asking the Republic of Venice to stop the above villages offering asylum to the Paroikoi so that the tendency to desert would be checked. Another demand by the same embassy also concerned Limassol. The Community requested that the town be appointed again, together with Paphos, as a place for the distribution of salt to the villagers. Formerly all villagers aged 15 and above had paid a bezant to have the right to take an equivalent amount of fine salt which was made available milled in Limassol or Paphos to facilitate them. Because during one period and then subsequently the practice of delivering salt in these towns stopped, the villagers of these districts were compelled to travel a distance of 60 to 80 miles to Aliki (Larnaka). The College decided that the Venetian administration should send the requisite amount of salt by sea to Limassol and Paphos to serve the inhabitants.

During the Venetian period, as stated in 1559 in a demand of the Community of Nicosia to Venice, the Archbishop and the Latin bishops used to pay two teachers of Letters and Theology to teach their subordinates and other people. Because this practice had stopped, many people were abandoning the churches and had begun to go abroad to study. The above-mentioned demand requested the Most Serene Republic to issue an order to the Venetian administration to intervene to make available every year a sum from the income of the Archbishop and bishops of Limassol and Paphos for the salary of one or two teachers.

The Lake of Limassol

The Venetian sources also refer to the salt lake of Limassol, which they always call a lake because of its singularity and its communication with the sea. Moreover it is also referred to as a lake in the sources from the period of Frankish rule and specifically as Limassol Lake. It is interesting, too, to note that the exploitation of Limassol Lake was a very important source of wealth, as evidenced also in the will of the Cypriot magnate Ioannis Podocataro, who was the owner of the lake during the 15th century.

The Lake, or Salt Lake of Limassol, was a royal possession during Frankish rule but afterwards passed into the ownership of Ioannis Podocataro because of the services he provided to the Frankish King of Cyprus Janus. As stated in a document of 1468, the cost of precious fabrics which Podocataro himself had supplied to King James II had been paid to a Venetian merchant out of money coming from the leasing out of Limassol Lake and the collection of tax for the salt.

Limassol Lake was famous as a place for fish. According to the regulations in force, at least during Frankish rule as evidenced in a source, permission to fish in a specific area of the lake required the payment of a tax, the gabella as it was called. As the learned figure of Venetian-ruled Cyprus, Florio Bustron, informs us, Limassol Lake was full of fish, particular very tasty sea bream which were famous all over Cyprus. The lake as a salt lake was at the same time a source of income from salt as well, although the salt was considered inferior in quality to that of the salt lakes (saline) of Larnaka. The annual income from the salt lake of Limassol during the years of Venetian rule in Cyprus amounted to 2,000 ducats. Leonardo Donà had visited the salt lake in 1557. As he informs us in his manuscript, it had been leased at that time by the Cornaro family.

The area of the lake, both in the past and today, was an important wetland and a wonderful place for hunting. Furthermore, in both Frankish and Venetian times, hunting hawks (falcons) congregated in the area of Akrotiri, Limassol, and it was from here that the Frankish kings and later the Venetian governors of Cyprus acquired falcons and then trained them for hunting.

Orthodox Bishops of Limassol-Lefkara during Venetian Rule

The Venetian documents we located gave us new facts about the ecclesiastical history of Cyprus during Venetian rule. The hitherto unknown names of the Orthodox bishops of Lefkara-Limassol came to light. We note that during the period of Frankish and also Venetian rule, after the subjugation of the Orthodox by the Latins and the reduction of the number of Orthodox bishops from fourteen to four, the bishops of Limassol were called bishops of Lefkara-Limassol. The precise title was Bishop of Amathus, Nemessos and Kourion, commonly of Lefkara. The bishop, that is to say, whose seat was in Lefkara, had spiritual authority over the Greeks who lived within the boundaries of the former Cypriot sees of Amathus, Nea Polis or Neapolis Nemessou, and Kourion. An interesting and rare piece of information about Limassol and one of its Orthodox bishops is mentioned in 1533 in the diaries of the important Venetian chronicler Marino Sanuto. According to a letter of the then Venetian Lieutenant, and later Doge, Marco Antonio Trevisan, after the death of the Orthodox bishops (vescovi greci) of Paphos and Limassol, elections had to be held to fill the vacant sees. Thus Nicolas Mortato was elected bishop of Paphos and Petros Generin, senior priest of Ayia Odigitria, bishop of Limassol. The interest of this historical information, however, lies in the fact that Limassol in the specific source is called Bericaria, which is evidence that the memory of the arrival of the King of England at Limassol during the Third Crusade and the celebration of his marriage to Berengaria in 1192 was very strong, with the result that in such a Venetian text the town of Limassol is called Berengaria. We do not know if there is another source either older or later in which Limassol is called by the name Berengaria and perhaps it is here that the interest lies.

An unpublished document of the year 1546, which we have, refers to the confirmation of the election of the priest Ioannis Smerlinos as bishop of Lefkara-Limassol. It is evident that he was the successor to Bishop Petros Generin. Another Venetian document of 1548 mentions the successor to Ioannis Smerlinos, Stefanos Flangis. The latter was the falconer of the last Frankish king of Cyprus, James II and according to Stefanos Lusignan was very old. Our research of the archives also informed us of the name of the last Orthodox bishop of Lefkara- Limassol during Venetian rule. It was the priest of the church of Ayia Odigitria in Nicosia, Ioannis de Sur, who had been elected on September 8th, 1567.

Coast Guards of the Light Cavalry in the Limassol Area

From the middle of the 15th century, within the framework of her military needs, the Most Serene Republic had been hiring mercenary soldiers known as stradioti (from the Greek word stratiotis) to form light cavalry. From the period of Venetian protection of Cyprus, i.e. from 1473, light cavalry had already been sent from the Venetian colonies to the island for its better defence. The light cavalry (the stradioti) was chiefly composed of Hellenised Albanians. These cavalrymen were mainly recruited from Greek areas which were Venetian possessions. The stradioti were brave warriors, impetuous and fearsome in battle, complete masters of horsemanship, impervious to hardship, abstemious and loyal to those they served. Later on, after Monemvasia and Nafplion fell to the Turks in 1540, many were settled in Cyprus with their families by the Venetians. At that time they were granted land in the area of Pomos and Tilliria, as well as a village in the area of Famagusta, which no longer exists today but is referred to in the Venetian documents and in the oral tradition of the area of the village of Avgorou. Limassol, and also the surrounding area, as Domenigo Trevisan, the Venetian Captain of Famagusta testifies in his report, had a strong coastguard of stradioti in 1560. We are informed by the same source that in Limassol itself the person responsible for guarding it with 50 cavalrymen was the commander (capitano) Demetrios Manesis, a member of a leading family of stradioti originating from Nafplion. Also on the coast of Limassol, Andreas Rondakis served as commander with 30 cavalrymen and at Vasilopotamos, with 19 cavalrymen, was his relative Contos Rondakis, who fell in 1571 near Famagusta in an ambush against the Turks. Other members of the same family fought in defence or lost their lives in that unequal war between the defenders of Cyprus and the hordes of Lala Mustafa in 1570-1571.

Furthermore, in neighbouring Avdemou, the commander Andreas Kourtesis guarded the coast with 27 cavalrymen. Kourtesis was still in Cyprus in 1570 and thus as captain undertook with others the defence of Nicosia. The French cleric Denis Possot commented on the skill of the stradioti at jousting when he visited the island in 1532. At Ayios Ioannis' fair in Limassol, he writes, at one tournament he saw the most skilful jousters and the best-trained horses and an Albanian stradioto won the prize.

Administration and Plans for the Fortification of the Limassol Area

The Venetian administration showed particular concern over the fortifications of Cyprus and spent large amounts on the repair of the fortifications of Famagusta and Kyrenia and built a new fortification in the capital based on the system of bastions. In contrast, less attention was paid to the two towers which guarded the harbour of Paphos and to the castles of Pentadaktylos. In 1540, however, the Venetian Senate sent Alvise da Ponte to Cyprus to investigate the Limassol area and to prepare a report on the possibility of a castle being built there. In 1558, after a demand of the Community of Nicosia to the Venetian authorities, maintaining that in times of emergency Famagusta would not be capable of defending everyone, a plan was prepared for the construction of a large castle on the south coast of Cyprus. Then the eminent military engineer Ioannis Ieronymos Sammicheli, in accordance with a plan designed by Venetian experts, planned to build in Limassol a fortification with twelve bastions and a perimeter of 3 miles, at an expected cost of 100,000 ducats. The work was not carried out in the end and Sammicheli himself died the following year from marsh fever at Famagusta. In the State Archive of Venice his report is preserved in which he refers to the difficulties he would come across in the carrying out of such a work.

During the years of Venetian rule, Famagusta was under the administration of a Venetian Captain because of its importance. Venetian administrators were also sent to Kyrenia and Paphos, where there were castles, as well as to the Salt Lakes because of their great economic importance. All the other districts had Cypriot administrators. Limassol, though in decline, still had some importance because it had a small harbour which served local and sometimes international shipping, a half ruined castle and perhaps a glorious past, so that an administrator, who also had military authority and had the title of capitano, was appointed there from among the nobles of Nicosia. It is worth noting that in 1505 the administrator of Limassol was Nikolaos Sinklitikos, a member of the prosperous Sinklitikos family of Cyprus. Nikolaos Sinklitikos was a feudal lord and merchant, chiefly of cotton which he channelled onto the markets of Venice. Also in Venetian documents of the year 1559, Cesare Ficardo is mentioned as the capitano of Limassol.

The Ottoman Attack on Limassol in 1570

Cyprus lived under the permanent threat of the Ottomans whose power was continuously increasing as Venetian possessions gradually came one by one into their hands and after the conquest in 1518 by the Ottomans of Egypt, to which Cyprus had been paying tribute since 1426 and the Venetians continued to pay, such threats became more frequent. In 1570 the Sultan Selim II sent an embassy to Venice to demand that Cyprus be handed over to him, threatening in the event of a refusal to declare war on the Most Serene Republic to seize the island. The well-known war of Cyprus ensued, lasting from 1570 to 1571 until the capture of Famagusta, when Cyprus passed into the power of the Turks and became a province of the eastern part of the Ottoman state. The first attacks by the Turks were against Limassol. The Turkish fleet put in first at Lara in the Paphos district and then at Cape Gata at Limassol. They first looted and then burnt down the Monastery of St Nicholas of the Cats and then proceeded to Limassol, causing destruction first to the town and then to three neighbouring villages. The captain of the Light Cavalry, Petros Rondakis, hastened with his stradioti to face the enemy. Before escaping and continuing on their way to Aliki, the Turks were attacked by Rondakis and his stradioti, who managed to kill quite a number of Turks. They took others prisoner and sent them to the capital. At same time they sent a report to the Venetian administration about what had happened. The well-known "Lament of Cyprus", which is attributed to Solomon Rodinos, the father of Neophytos Rodinos, from Potamiou tis Lemesou, preserved the above incident. As he says about the Ottoman fleet when it attacked Limassol: It set sail and turned towards Limassol, to take it And Rondakis charges and rushes into battle...


From "Cyprus Today" October – December 2009

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