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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On a Remarkable Latin Offspring

Saranda Kolones [Arnold Schott - [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]]

I am in Paphos for a couple of days. This town in the south-west of Cyprus has often been on the receiving end of bad press. Those writers who in the past did not simply ignore it seem to have generally had little to say in its favour. The fourteenth century German pilgrim, Ludolph of Suchem wrote: "The oldest city in Cyprus is Paphos, once a very noble and great place, but now it is almost ruined by continual earthquakes."* The following century Pero (Pedro) Tafur, a traveller from Castile, referred to the town's "great unhealthiness",** because of which he was recommended, by the king of Cyprus himself, to reside in the hills, and in 1484 the Franciscan, Fra Francesco Suriano described Paphos as "entirely ruinous".*** More recently, the French archaeologist and art historian, Camille Enlart described Paphos as "...unhealthy, unsafe and practically uninhabited"**** and the author and poet, Lawrence Durrell who resided for a time in the north of the island, described Paphos using these bleak words: “…the whole of Paphos rings with desolation and decay; mean villages squatting out history among their fly-blown coffee-shops, deaf to the pulse of legend.”*****

My experience in the few visits I have made here has been rather different. The town is today reasonably pleasant, certainly not desolate and decayed. Its only crime, one shared by most tourist resorts (for that is what it has become) is its architectural mediocrity. But if much of the modern architecture is unremarkable, in other regards it is reasonably clean and pleasant.

If today's Paphos has become something of a haven for the less affluent tourist, for the student of medieval Cyprus it has its limitations. Paphos is less obviously Lusignan (or Venetian for that matter) than other Cypriot cities. Lusignan Cyprus was a medieval re-emergence of the old domination of Latin over Greek, although the Latin of the Middle Ages was very different from the pagan Roman Latin that had once dominated a pagan Greece. This was a mongrel Latin, a Christian, Gothic, Germanic/Frankish Latin. Paphos, like the rest of Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean had come under this latter Latin rule and had become a part of what we refer to as the Latin East, but here, more perhaps than in any other Cypriot town, this Latin ascendancy is hardly to be seen and appears to be long forgotten, replaced by the no less forceful cultural and religious tensions that have always existed between Greeks and Turks. Unlike Nicosia, Famagusta, and to a lesser extent other Cypriot towns, in Paphos there are no Gothic cathedrals and churches and no Venetian fortifications. The only substantial structure dating to those centuries in the island's history is the much-battered fortress the very name of which is an expression of a Paphosian descent into an Alzheimer-like mist of forgetfulness over its Lusignan past. The origins of this castle had been so completely forgotten that it was for a long time known only by the Greek name - Saranda Kolones, meaning “Forty Columns”, a name derived from the scattered ancient columns among its ruins that created the misconception that this pile of stone was not medieval at all. It was believed to be the remains of a temple dedicated to Aphrodite. In fact, although the columns were indeed Hellenistic, their use here was secondary. They were spolia, ancient relics that the Latin architects of the East typically reemployed in their fortifications. And even when its medieval origins were understood there were still those who assigned it to a Greek-Byzantine past. The archaeologist’s spade has now corrected this, and the source of the castle’s design can no longer be mistaken. Bearing no comparison to anything Byzantine, or indeed to anything else Cypriot, it is today recognised as being very clearly Latin, and very much the child of the most perfect of Latin castles - Belvoir.

* Ludolph of Suchem, Description of the Holy Land and the Way Thither, trans. Aubrey Stewart, London, 1895, reprinted Cambridge, 2013, p. 38. ** Pero Tafur, Excerpta Cypria, trans. Claude Delaval Cobham, Cambridge, 1908, p. 33. *** Fra Francesco Suriano, Excerpta Cypria, p. 48.**** Camille Enlart, Gothic Art and the Renaissance in Cyprus, Paris, 1899, English translation David Hunt, London, 1987. ***** Lawrence Durrell, Bitter Lemons, 1970, p. 171.

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