Located on the shores of Akrotiri Bay near the center of the southern underbelly of Cyprus, Limassol, with a population of 101,000 (175,000 metro area), is the island’s 2nd most populous city. Limassol has spread out a lot during its recent history, but it has retained its original medieval core. Its focal point is Limassol Castle, 200 meters from the Marina.
To the west of the city on the Akrotiri Peninsula is the 254 square kilometer (98 sq. mile) British Overseas Territory of Akrotiri. It has both a British Army garrison and an RAF base. It is home to about 8,000 Cypriots and 8,000 British military personnel and their families. (There are 14 such BOTs in the world. They are ruled by the UK, but are not part of it. Gibraltar, the British Virgin Islands and the Falkland Islands are other BOTs.)
During the Byzantine era Limassol was known as Neapolis (New City) because it had been built between two older ancient cities called Amathus and Kourion (or Curium). However, people have been living on the site of Limassol at least since 2,000 BC, based on excavated graves in the area.
Local Cypriot bishops who had attended the Council of Chalcedon in Asia Minor in 451 AD had a role in Limassol’s founding. By the 700’s, Leontios, a bishop of the new city, had become well-known as a biographer of early church saints, and of an anti-Jewish polemical work. By the 10th century Neapolis was known as Limassol. The meaning of this name is uncertain.
Limassol’s history took on international importance during the 3rd Crusade. England’s king, Richard the Lionhearted, stopped in Limassol on his way to the Holy Land on May 1, 1191. Richard's fiancée Berengaria of Castile (a province of Spain), had been sailing in Richard's fleet but on a different ship. A storm separated the fleet, sunk some ships, and forced several ships, including Berengaria's, to take refuge in Limassol.
The Byzantine governor of Cyprus, Isaac Komnenos captured a number of Richard's men and tried to lure Berengaria ashore in order to imprison, then ransom her. His invitation for her to disembark and be his "guest' was refused by her. Her ship had to weigh anchor and sail away to avoid capture.
When Richard's ship got to Limassol he demanded the release of the prisoners. Isaac refused, so Richard disembarked his troops and took Limassol, destroying the older neighboring city to the east, Amathus, in the process. Isaac considered making peace with Richard, then changed his mind, so Richard conquered the entire island within a month, which ended Byzantine rule of Cyprus. Richard then married Berangaria in the Limassol Castle, which, at that time, appears to have been a church. After that he sold the island to the Knights Templar. The next year it was sold to one Guy of Lusignan, a French crusader nobleman whose family ruled Jerusalem from 1186 until he was removed by the Muslims in 1192. He ruled Cyprus for 2 years until his death in 1194.
After that the island passed into the possession of Guy's heirs in the house of Lusignan, and the medieval kingdom of Cyprus was established.
The capture of Cyprus by Richard created a feudal base from which sorties could be sent to the Holy Land, just 300km to the southwest. The next nearly 3 centuries were a time of abundance and growth for Limassol. Merchants moved in, contributing to Limassol's fortunes. The city became a hub for transportation, business, culture, and finance. In 1489 Venice bought Cyprus (and Limassol), but treated the island as a cash cow, collecting taxes but not doing a whole lot else to benefit the island. They did, however, fortify the Limassol Castle.
The Ottoman Turks came in 1570, taking Limassol in July of that year with no opposition. By then, the city had been in somewhat of a decline. The area around the Castle was mixed Turkish and Greek, with Greeks predominating in the area east of the castle, and Turks to the west. The Turks were generally tolerant of the Greek Cypriots, as long as they paid their taxes. They allowed the Greeks to set up a number of schools, something that was forbidden on mainland Greece.
Cyprus became a British colony in 1878, with a British governor running things in Limassol. This man, Colonel George Edgeworth Warren, immediately set to work improving things, leading to a local renaissance. Upgrades included the prohibition of animals in the town center, clean streets, street lighting, road repairs, waterfront improvements with docks (allowing ships to offload goods at the waterfront instead of offshore onto smaller boats), and the planting of hundreds of trees. The British opened a post office, hospital, and telegraph office. The city's first newspapers hit the streets.
The ripple effect of these upgrades led to an improvement in Limassol's cultural and creative arts scene, with the opening of theatres, art galleries, concert venues, sports clubs and schools. In the late 1890's the first hotels opened.
Colonel Warren was an avid collector of ancient artifacts from licensed excavations on Cyprus, which he kept for his personal collection or to be sold at profit. Since Warren was the one who approved the licenses for the excavations in the first place, a trial charging him with conflict of interest took place which led to a change in law concerning the granting of licenses to excavate on Cyprus, but Warren himself suffered no consequences.
Warren had so many artifacts that he was able to trade a number of pottery items ("some of beautiful shape," says Lady Anna Brassey, an English travel writer who was married to a Civil Lord of the Admiralty), for fresh newspapers from England when Lady Brassey's steamship from London made port at Limassol. After he left Cyprus in 1890, Colonel Warren took much of his collection with him to Canada, of which 350 items are now in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
The Modern City
Limassol's port is one of the busiest in the Mediterranean. It's also the largest port in Cyprus. The 1974 partition of Cyprus between the Turkish north and the Cypriot south pushed Limassol into a more prominent trade position. Recent decades have seen a great increase in tourism and tourism-linked activities such as service industries, plus cultural events and higher education. The Cyprus University of Technology is in Limassol.
The city has a well-deserved reputation as a center for culture and the arts, holding a number of different types of culturally-related events year round. Among them are: The Anthestiria (Flower Festival) in May, which has its roots in the ancient Athenian Dionysian festivals celebrating man and nature's rebirth, the Kataklysmos (Festival of the Flood), held at the seashore on Pentecost Sunday and Monday (usually in June), which is a paganistic celebration probably originating in Aphrodite and Adonis worship, Shakespearean Nights (also in June), which stages Shakespeare's plays in the ancient theatre of Kourion (17km west of Limassol), the Ancient Greek Drama Festival (July), also held in the theatre of Citrium, and the Wine Festival (September), with free wine tastings, folk dancing, and musical performances.
The Old Town area around the Castle, and the port, have seen recent upgrades and renovation work which went on for years and were completed in 2014. Limassol's seafront and Marina are very beautiful. There are a lot of nice cafes and restaurants at the Marina, fresh paving stones have been laid in all the pedestrian areas, iron street lamps have been installed, and the arched-windowed, one and two-story buildings lining the waterfront have fresh coats of pastel colors. Fishing boats, yachts, and tourist boats bob at their moorings along the quays.
The Marina is interestingly configured, with a mole that doglegs out into the water about 500 meters, then sweeps to the west for another 500, forming an enclosure resembling a stylized, backwards capital letter "L." within this backwards "L" are a number of docks, a couple of man-made peninsulas jammed with buildings, and an artificial island. A smaller marina for smaller boats lies just to the east, and east of that is a lovely, kilometer-long parkway with a waterside pedestrian walk and a bike path, the surroundings planted with fresh grass, shrubs, and pine, tamarisk, and palm trees.
Two kilometers west of the marina is the large harbor, or "New Port," where ferries and cruise ships from Greece, Crete, Haifa, Ashdod, and Alexandria come. The port's mole is over a kilometer long and the docks have space for up to 10 large ships. Almost all of Cyprus's exports and imports come through this port.
Limassol's Old Town
The Limassol Castle is the focal point of Limassol's Old City. It started out as a Christian basilica around the 4th century. Artifacts have been found under the castle pointing to the possibility that it was Limassol's first cathedral. Guy de Lusignan (see above) built the first castle 2 years after Richard's 1191 marriage. The castle, as Limassol's main fortification, came under attack many times during the following centuries, and suffered damage from time to time from earthquakes, which made it a sort of semi-permanent construction zone.
In 1538, after the Ottoman Turks captured the castle from the Venetians, and the Venetians re-captured it, the Venetians dismantled the Castle to prevent its re-capture by the Turks. After the Ottomans secured Cyprus as a Turkish possession, they built a new castle, using materials from the old one. It is a smallish, squat, cube-like, utilitarian structure with few windows. Part of the castle was used as a prison, which finally closed in 1950.
Other older structures in the Old Town are the Great Mosque of Limassol, the Jetit Mosque, and the Church of St. Napa.
The Old Town area is full of narrow streets, souvenir and crafts shops, cafes and restaurants in 19th century buildings. Limassol has a rich nightlife, especially along the seafront promenade to the west, where a number of night clubs frequented by tourists can be found. Most of the restaurants, bars, and eateries stay open till well past midnight to take advantage of the cooling sea breezes that refresh the city after a hot summer's day. It's pleasant to wander the streets and squares, buy an ice cream or a coffee, and sit and watch the people go by.
Most of the locals go clubbing in the Old Town. Young Cypriots like to start their partying late, as late as 2 AM, and stay out all night.
Museums and Archeological Sites
The Cypriot Folk Art Museum is located in a neoclassical home at 253 Agiou Andreou St., about 700 meters east of the Marina, close to the eastern promenade and park. It has examples of tools and utensils from everyday life in Limassol ranging from a hand loom to home-made furniture, tools, and clothing.
The excellent Limassol Archeological Museum, is located near the Limassol Public Gardens. Artifacts from time periods starting with the Late Stone Age and up to Roman rule are displayed. Included are terra cotta figurines thought to be used in pre-Christian cultic worship, lamps, and well-executed bottles and other glass containers.
The Cyprus Medieval Museum is housed in the Limassol Castle. It has displays and artifacts dating from 400-1870. Some items on display include suits of armor, pottery from the Ottoman era, statues and tombstones and hand-worked metal products.
Kourion, one of the ancient cities flanking Limassol, was a prominent population center dating back to the 12th century, BC. It sits on the shores of Episkopoi Bay, about 15km due west of Limassol. Its large Greco-Roman amphitheatre has been restored and now hosts theatrical and musical events during the warm weather months. Kourion also features a number of Roman-era houses is various states of disrepair, some of which have surviving floor mosaics. There is a 5th century Christian basilica, and a building known as the Nymphaeum, which dates to the 2nd century and was dedicated to water nymphs.
Limossol's beach sand has a high silicon content, which is supposed to be good for the skin.
Lady's Mile Beach is just west (or south, because that's the way the coastline runs), of the New Port, about 5km from the city center, close to the British Overseas Territory of Akrotiri. Inside Akrotiri, about 1.5km inland from Lady's Mile Beach, is the 4km X 2.5km Limassol Salt Lake, which measures only a meter deep. It's Cyprus's largest inland body of water. Its depth allows all kinds of wading birds to use it while stopping over in Cyprus to and from Africa and Europe. Thousands of flamingoes spend the winter there.
As far as the beach goes, Lady's Mile one of Limassol's top attractions. The beach is so long (more than a mile- more like 2 or 3) that it has organized (beach umbrellas, sun beds, etc) and unorganized sections, sandy, pebbly, and mixed sections. There are parts that offer water sports like paddle boats, and plenty of fish taverns where you can get a good meal, have some fresh watermelon for dessert (usually on the house), and spit your seeds into the surf. The slope of the beach is gentle as it enters the water, which makes it ideal for children. Best of all, it's quite close to the city.
Just beyond Lady's Mile Beach is Button Beach, which features sand dunes created by the prevailing winds. Button Beach is popular with locals. About halfway between Button Beach and the south shore of the Limassol Salt Lake is the uniquely named Monastery of St. Nicholas of the Cats. Founded in the 4th century, the monastery is home to dozens of cats, descendants of the originals brought there by St. Helena to hunt local snakes. The cape at the end of the Akrotiri peninsula is known locally as "Cape Cat."
Kourion Beach, 17km west of Limassol, on the Episkopoi Bay shore of the Akrotiri Peninsula, is not far from the ruins of Ancient Kourion. On British Overseas Territory of Akrotiri property, it nevertheless is a popular destination, attracting the services of buses from Limassol. It offers a few large fish taverns. Stay away from the southern end of the beach which has dangerous rip tides. A perfect day would include a visit to the ruins at Kourion followed by a dip in the bay to cool off.
West of Limassol about 16km is Avdimou Beach, which is only accessible by car, taxi, or motor bike. A vast expanse of sand with little shade, this unorganized beach is a favorite of Brits of the RAF from Akrotiri, and their families. The water is shallow, and there is a tavern for meals.
Another 10km further west is the major resort of Pissouri Beach, on the bay of the same name. Pissouri is a well-developed resort which attracts thousands of visitors in high season. The nearly 2km-long beach is most crowded in its center. The resort and its tavernas stay open 12 months a year.
The Limassol Wet 'n Wild Water Park, also called Fasouri Watermania, has body flumes, slides, inner tube rides, a man-made river, and a kids' pool, not far from the Municipal Gardens, a couple kilometers east of the Marina. The Time Elevator is a multi-media 40-minute journey through 10,000 years of Cypriot history featuring moveable seats, wind and water. The Municipal Gardens offer shade, and tropical plants. There's a Dinosaur Park for kids, with life-sized models, and a zoo featuring lions, tigers, monkeys, and the native Cypriot wild sheep known as the mouflon, which has a curved, North American bighorn-style rack.