Kouklia: a Cypriot village oozing charm, culture and cats.

I’ve written a lot about Cyprus since visiting the island back in April. Although I was only there for a week, I feel like I crammed so much in to those seven days: the beautiful beaches, a visit to the tiny church of Profitis Ilias, oh, and not forgetting all the amazing Cypriot food I ate. That said, I know there’s so much more for me to see and do in Cyprus that I definitely have to go back at some point. Flicking through my Berlitz guidebook, I realise that I didn’t party in Aiya Napa, I didn’t explore Ancient Kourion in Lemesos, and I didn’t wander around the country’s capital, Nicosia, for example.

One place I’ve noticed that isn’t really mentioned in the Cyprus guidebooks or on the blogs I’ve read, is the town (or rather village, as it’s population is just 698 people) of Kouklia. It’s home to the better known Sanctuary of Aphrodite, and I originally went there just to visit that, so wasn’t expecting much else – but when I started to explore Kouklia a little more, I realised I’d found a village that oozed with Cypriot culture, charm and lots of cats…

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Sanctuary of Aphrodite.

The sprawling archaeological site of Palaipafos (translated to ‘old Pafos’ in Greek) is set upon the hillside in Kouklia, boasting amazing panoramic views down to the sea. Palaipafos can be dated back as far as 12th Century BC, and is recognised as one of the most important pilgrimage sites of its time, due to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility. The site and sanctuary are such an important and integral part of the country’s history and culture, that combined they earned Cyprus its first inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list, back in 1980.

Today however, due to a myriad of earthquakes, intentional destruction by Christians, and scavenging for building materials that the site has suffered over the last few centuries, virtually all that remains are the ruins of the majestic temple that once stood there, and the holy ground itself. Because of this, it is probably one of the least visited, and arguably the least known about, historical site in Cyprus.

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The Sanctuary of Aphrodite in Kouklia is the most famous place for the worship of the Ancient Greek goddess. It is believed that the Myceneans, who settled on the island at the beginning of the 12th Century, adopted Aphrodite as their goddess and erected the sanctuary in her honour. According to legend, the local king, Kinyras, was the founder and first High Priest of the sanctuary, though another legend mentions Agapenor – the king of Tegea in Arcadia, Greece – as the founder of the city and the sanctuary.

Though the exact origins of the sanctuary are unclear, the sanctuary remained a place of worship up until the 3rd or 4th centuries AD, when Christianity took over.

If you head over to Kouklia, I definitely think it’s worth the €4.50 ticket to get into the archaeological site. The area is huge, and as well as the main sanctuary ruins, you’ll be able to see a beautiful 12th Century conical stone that represented Aphordite until Roman times. There is also the ruins of a Roman temple, a second smaller sanctuary and the ruins of a Roman house, known as the “House of Leda”. Only the central dining room is preserved of the original building, but this room was covered with an amazing mosaic floor depicting the mythological scene of Leda and the Swan, and dates back to the 2nd Century AD. You can see the mosaic inside the Kouklia museum.

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The entry ticket for the Sanctuary of Aphrodite also gives you access to the on-site Kouklia museum, housed in a Lusignan Manor building. There’s an extensive display of items discovered at the site and in the area, including some extraordinarily delicate white slip pottery dating from the late Bronze Age, as well as many artifacts that portray how the “Cult of the Goddess of Fertility” developed into the “Cult of Aphrodite”.

In a room off the central courtyard, I found a fun, educational 10-minute video playing (in Greek and English) which gives a brief historical overview of the site. I really enjoyed the video, and it meant I didn’t have to stand out in the blazing sun, reading all of the info that’s provided on the boards to understand why the area was so important.

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If you want to continue your Aphrodite day, the famous Aphrodite Rock (believed to be where the goddess was “born”) is also only a short drive from Kouklia, but more on that in another post.

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After spending a few hours wandering around the Aphrodite Sanctuary and its ruins, rather than jumping straight in the car and heading back to Paphos, I decided to have a mooch around the village.

When I’d driven through Kouklia earlier that morning, it seemed tiny and a bit rundown, with minimal signs of life. But with nowhere else to visit or any more plans for the day, I set off on my own impromptu adventure. I suppose that’s the great thing about travelling with no itinerary or any expectations: you’re never in a rush to get somewhere else, and you’re never left disappointed by what you find, because you weren’t looking for anything anyway. This is just one of the many things I’ve learnt while travelling over the last few years.

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Kouklia cemetery.

As I exited the car park and headed down the dusty road, the first thing I came across was a cemetery. It wasn’t hard to miss, as I could see so many vibrant pops of colour poking over the top of the grey stone wall.

It may sound a bit strange, but I have this “thing” for graveyards. I find them really fascinating, full of history and stories. From the Jewish cemetery in Prague to the Merenid tombs in Fez, I’ve spent ages wandering around graveyards around the world, taking photos of beautiful headstones carved with inspiring epitaphs and carefully placed wreaths laid out on the mounds.

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The cemetery in Kouklia did not disappoint – in fact, I’ll go as far as saying it’s the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen. The white marble headstones were so bright and clean, and most of the graves were tended to, with beautiful fresh flowers, ornaments and gifts lovingly given by friends and relatives who dearly miss the deceased who are buried there.

Many of the graves were also decorated with photos of the deceased. I’ve never seen graves like this before, but I found it very human – it made the graves feel so much more than just graves. Lying in the graves are people’s mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, even – sadly – children. Putting the face to a body that lay in a grave made the whole cemetery feel more personal.

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This cemetery was not eerie or spooky, nor full of the stuff of people’s nightmares (unless perhaps you have nightmares about flowers?). It was not dark or dreary, grim or ghoulish. It was a place to celebrate the lives of those that are no longer with the village of Kouklia, rather than mourn their deaths.

I could have spent ages in that cemetery, photographing the palpable displays of love these villagers have for their friends and relatives. The backdrop to the cemetery was simply stunning too – like something painted by John Constable. Just look at all those beautiful pink flowers in the foreground:

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Kouklia village.

Though I didn’t find this out until I was back in the UK, the village of Kouklia has an interesting origin.

It is believed to have been founded in the Byzantine period, and owned by a Byzantine officer, known as “Kouvikoulariou”. The word “kouvouklion” meant deadly chamber in ancient Greek, and was where the Byzantine emperors slept at night. The bodyguards of the emperors were called “kouvikoularioi” and were usually given pieces of land for their services. It is possible that one of these men, kouvikoularios was given this land, which was then named “Kouvouklia”. The village was still called Kouvouklia until the ruling of the Franks, and was later named Kouklia.

Nowadays it’s a peaceful, sleepy little village, with a few tavernas and a small shop at its centre. It was at one of these tavernas that I stopped and spent a couple of hours in the shade, munching on some pitta bread and dips, and sipping an ice cold Keo beer.

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While taking my pit-stop, I noticed a few cats casually strolling passed. Then I spotted a few more: some lay out basking in the sun, while others were seeking shade in the 30c heat. The really daring ones decided to entwine themselves around the table and chair legs, meowing for scraps of food. Of course I gave in to their feline cries, anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge cat fan (I even recently wrote a post about all the cats around the world that I’ve photographed). I can’t help it, I hear hungry cats and just want to feed the all – then take them all home for baths and kitty cuddles.

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Getting to Kouklia.

If you fancy a day out in Kouklia, it’s just a 20 minute drive from Paphos where I stayed at the Kissos Hotel (a hotel I can’t recommend highly enough for the price). You will need to hire a car or get a taxi from Paphos though, as public transport doesn’t stop in Kouklia.

Alternatively, you could hire a villa for your holiday in Cyprus – there are some gorgeous villas situated up in the Aphrodite Hills resort, which boast amazing grounds and beautiful scenery. Getting to Kouklia, the Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Aphrodite’s Rock would be really easy from there. The resort also has tennis courts, spas, horse-riding, cafes, restaurants and shops, so could be the perfect base for your Cyprus holiday.

Or if a villa doesn’t suit you (maybe you’re a solo traveller like me), there’s  always the option of Airbnb. I’ve seen some beautiful apartments in and around Kouklia, all at reasonable prices – and if you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can get £30 off your first booking by clicking here.

*****

Have you ever visited Kouklia? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

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77 thoughts on “Kouklia: a Cypriot village oozing charm, culture and cats.

  1. As always,a beautiful look at a interesting place. I would enjoy visiting Cyrus,Kouklia would be rough because I’m with you…I would want to smuggle all those cats home,some of these fellas look like they need a vet’s attention…..

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  2. What an amazing holiday. I do miss solo travel (I now have two little people in tow but would love to do it again when they’re older!) What a shame that so much of the temples were ruined but what is left looks very much worth a visit!

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  3. I love any place where people treat cats nicely. But this spot under the sun looks really nice.
    I never thought of checking the graveyards when on a holiday, but I must say this one is the same style as in Bulgaria. I guess it’s an Orthodox kind of thing.

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  4. What a peaceful place Kouklia is! I love all the cats just roaming around the streets. The cemetery is indeed very beautiful and situated in a really nice place. It’s like it’s looking towards that beautiful view in the back so that the souls can rest in peace.

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  5. What a beautiful little town! Ive visited Cyprus and really like the island. It was Famagusta that caught my attention because of its interesting history. I liked the capital where the wall splits Greece and Turkey. You can climb and see Famagusta from the Greek side. Next time I visit Cyprus I will be sure to check out the ruins you talk about!

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  6. I have ALWAYS wanted to go to Cyprus, but I have never even left the US. Now that my kids are teens, in a few years I think I will be able to travel more and hope to get there.

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  7. It’s interesting how similar Cyprus is to Greece, but I still get a few vibes from other places such as Malta for example. I’ve never been but I’d love to go, I heard such good things about Cyprus and your article is super interesting!

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  8. Nothing personal, but I wouldnt put pictures of peoples grave..due the respect for the family.
    That said, you really took your time to appreciate this tiny but yet beautiful hidden gem. I am surprise though that this place was not mention in the guide book because after all it is APHRODITE santuary! Common she is the goddes of love and sexuality!

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  9. We’re huge animal lovers at our house and I’m captivated by all of the beautiful kitty cats! I know I’d want to spend all day long just giving them pets. Did you happen, by chance, to read the story of the Hemmingway house in Key West? It was in the news this past week because of Hurricane Irma. There are 55 cats that live there and all have 6 toes. The staff all stayed in the house during the hurricane to keep the kitties safe and (thankfully) everybody made it through!

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  10. I’ve heard a lot of great things about Cyprus, but Kouklia Village sounds new to me.. The place looks interesting, something that should be considered when visiting the country.. I hope you won’t mind, but I’m just a bit bothered with the graves, especially those with pictures on it.. I believe this is something that we should ask permission first from the family before posting, out of respect.. Anyway, that’s just my opinion.. Hoping to visit this place someday..

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  11. I had no idea Cyprus had some cactus haha.

    Would love to visit the Sanctuary of Aphrodite; is it still a worship place? Or an ongoing archeologic place? Or mainly a tourist activity?

    PS: damn you love cats! haha.

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  12. I would love to visit Cyprus. I like that you mentioned wandering off by yourself and if you didn’t see something you weren’t looking for it anyways. It was a pretty little area. The cemetery looked very nice. Not just the flowers but,the respect for the deceased is nice.

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  13. You’re right, I’ve never read about Kouklia even though I’ve read many posts on Cyprus when I was researching going there (it never actually panned out unfortunately). It’s amazing to sometimes just roam around freely and explore hidden gems such as these isn’t it? The cemetery is lovely no doubt, I would’ve loved a stroll there. Cyprus is absolutely gorgeous in every little corner isn’t it ? Hope I get to go soon.

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  14. I have never visited this place Kouklia. I like places like this far from cities. I can see cats are all over the place this reminds me of one place I visited here in my country “raju’s cottage”. The owner there has both so many cats and dogs at his place. Thanks for sharing these pictures from your trip with us.

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  15. Those are some well fed looking cats =P

    I am curious to know how many visitors they get at the ruins in a weekly basis?

    If I have a pretty packed itinerary, I usually try to leave a day to relaxing or wandering. Those days usually lead to the best discoveries =)

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  16. Fantastic post and find! I know very little about Cyprus, but it’s so cool you found this precious village with so much amazing history, symbolism and culture. I loved everything about it being a place devoted to a sort of ‘feminine divine’ aspect. so sad it was destroyed like that. thanks for sharing this.

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  17. I’ve never thought of Cypress as a place to go and travel, I always saw it as just a holiday stop, to party, to relax on the beaches. However in saying that how cool is it when you do visit a place for one particular reason but then end up loving everything around it? I may have to pay Cypress and this village a visit sometime 😀

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  18. I was obsessed with Greek mythology and although Athena is my favourite goddess, Aphrodite comes second. I didn’t know there was such a place called Sanctuary of Aphrodite! It looks super beautiful there!

    I can’t believe you didn’t think the cemetery to be creepy. It gave me goosebumps looking at your pics!

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  19. I would love to visit Cyprus one day. What a pretty little village. My husband and I tend to linger in the small villages longer because it is always so peaceful and quiet. Traveling can be hectic (especially for us because we always have a toddler in tow), so sitting down in a quaint village and enjoying the scenery (and the cats) sounds heavenly.

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  20. It does look like such a beautiful and amazing place to visit. It is sad that all of the people who came in through the years did damage to some of the historical sites that are there. But I am sure I would still love to see it all.

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  21. So many lovely pictures of Kouklia! It’s such a fantastic place. I worked in Paphos ages ago, and been visiting there a few times. Those historical sites are so special, and yes, the food is so good!

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  22. Kouklia is such a gem of a place, I’d love to go and visit the archaeological site, the ruins of the central dining room with that mosaic floor look so beautiful, it amazes me. Also, I really like that they place pictures of the deceased on their graves, it makes them more personal.

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  23. What a beautiful place with so much charm and history! I love it! I have always wanted to go to Cyprus, a family friend moved their years ago but we never got the chance to go visit. I love that the country has such a rich history, I am somewhat of a history nerd! haha

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  24. Kouklia village is really a lovely because of traditional houses along beautiful beaches and furry cats. I always like these kind of peaceful villages along the beaches for relaxing and spending my holidays. Also I would love to try Cypriot food as have never tasted it before.

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  25. I loved Cyprus so much, but we didn’t get chance to do much exploring. There were cats everywhere. even on postcards, and we actually saw one who got on the end of someone’s family photo, waited for the flash and then walked on.

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  26. Nice place, I had never planned or imagine before planning to go there – probably because reviews on other places are more than this place. But thanks to you, I was able to have glimpse of these historic and interesting venue.

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  27. Of all the countries in Southern Europe, I haven’t yet made it to Cyprus! It’s nice to read something other than clubbing there, and Kouklia looks gorgeous! I don’t share your love of graveyard though I do agree about the photos adding a personal touch 🙂

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  28. I’ve never visited before. I have to admit I’ve not heard of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite before. We love visiting ruins so it’s definitely somewhere I want to go now I do know about it. Love all the cat friends you made on your visit too!

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  29. There are very few blog posts written about travel to Cyprus. I am so glad I came across yours. The Sanctuary of Aphrodite is a must-see for me. Thanks for letting me know about these beautiful travel spots in Cyprus. Adding these to my bucket list.

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  30. There’s so much history that I never even knew about this place! I loveeee reading about Greek mythology and think that this would be such a cool trip to take my students on during our unit on The Odyssey. The mosaic floor located in the ruins is stunning.

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  31. Your picture is fabulous, but the one that display the green field and the flowers is stunning! I heard a lot about Cyprus and for European, Cyprus is one of favourite Mediterranean lands. Thank you for giving such a lovely and complete insight of Cyprus most particularly Kouuklia.

    Liked by 1 person

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