The archaeological site of Kourion (known also as Curium) is situated on the shores of the southern side of the island of Cyprus. Founded by Achaean colonists from Argos in the Late Bronze age it has been a Greek, Roman and Christian town and remained inhabited until the early Middle Ages.
The city is believed to be named after Kourea, the son of King Kinyras of Cyprus who gave armour to Agamemnon prior to the Greeks departing to Troy and the Trojan War. Kourion was one of the most important kingdoms of ancient Cyprus and is referred to in records of Egypt dating back to the time of Ramses III (1198-1167 BC). Records also exist of the trip by the King of Kourion to pay homage to the Assyrian King Sargon II. In 499 BC Kourion joined the Greeks during the Ionian revolt but changed their allegiance to the Persians resulting in a Greek defeat. For a number of years Cyprus was dominated by Assyria, Egypt and Persia. In 333 BC Alexander the Great defeated Persia and Cyprus became part of his empire resulting in the abolishment of the Kingdom of Kourion and a number of other kingdoms when the island joined the Macedonian State.
The integration of Cyprus under Roman rule around 50 BC was a process without any dramatic changes and brought about significant prosperity and development during Roman times. This resulted in the construction of many buildings which provided the archaeological remains today, including a large Agora (market place) and Forum; public baths with cold, warm and hot spas; a Theatre; a number of houses; and a Christian Basilica dating from the beginning of the 5th century AD. Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas are said to have taken refuge in Kourion after fleeing Paphos.
The Forum was constructed in the late 2nd century or in the early 3rd century AD; with the Porticoes consisting of a colonnade composed of 16 marble Corinthian columns. It was destroyed in the earthquake of the mid-4th century AD and was abandoned for a number of years before being replaced in the early 5th century by early Christian buildings.
The nymphaeum was a sacred place devoted to the nymphs - the daughters of Poseidon. It consisted of a rectangular arched chamber, a small atrium and a number of cisterns related to the irrigation of the city. It contained fountains and baths and a large octagonal swimming pool. Constructed in the 1st century AD it was destroyed in the 7th century during the period of the Arab raids.
The Theatre was constructed around the late 2nd century AD, although serious damage occurred, which required restoration work being undertaken under the emperor Augustus. Further work was undertaken in the reign of Nero around 64 AD. The Theatre took its current design and size, with the capacity of 2000 spectators, in the early 2nd century AD. In Caracalla’s reign (214-217 AD) the first three rows of seats were removed and the theatre was converted to an arena for gladiatorial contests, although it reverted to its original use as a theatre in the latter half of the 3rd century. Chambers under the seating of the Theatre were used as stores and places for the gladiators prior to their contest. The Theatre fell into disuse in the 4th century AD and is currently being restored.
The site contains a number of houses including the House of the Gladiators, named due to the mosaic found within it. Situated close to the nymphaeum and the house of Achilles on the north-western edge of the hill, it is believed to have been constructed in the late half of the 3rd century AD: It was destroyed by earthquakes in the 4th century. Comprising of two porticoes, small chambers, a central open courtyard it has a private baths annexed to its eastern side. The House of Achilles was constructed in the early 4th century AD with its mosaic depicting the meeting of Achilles and Odysseus. The Earthquake-stricken House was constructed in the late 1st or in the early 2nd century. It underwent significant work in the mid-4th century and was demolished by an earthquake, which occurred in 365 AD. The house illustrates life in Kourion at the time it was destroyed by the earthquake with the artefacts that were found there being on display at the local Museum situated in the village of Episkopi close to the site. The house of Eustolios is situated close to the Theatre and consists of more than 30 rooms. Built on the ruins of a previous house which was destroyed by the earthquakes of the late 4th century it remained in use until the 7th century.
The town has suffered significant damage by earthquakes on a number of occasions, resulting in major construction having to be undertaken; but it was the invasion of Cyprus by the Arabs in 647 which led to the destruction of Kourion. The site was first explored in 1873 and excavations started in 1934 and have been going on since then. Today the site offers a glimpse into the layout and life of the town with many ruins being of particular interest.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.