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Cyprus has always been an important trading post between the empires of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and throughout history someone has always wanted to take it off someone else. First the Mycenaeans grabbed it, then the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians and Persians. Alexander the Great took it off them, then Ptolemy snatched it from him. Rome took over in 58 BC and kept the place in relative peace and security until the 7th century, when the Byzantine and Islamic empires started three centuries of bickering over it. In 1191, Richard the Lionheart, on his way to the Crusades, dropped into Cyprus for a spot of conquering, but the Cypriots caused him too much trouble (one of them killed his hawk and he was forced to massacre a few villages in retaliation), so he sold them to the Knights Templar. The Templars sold the island to Guy de Lusignan, whose heirs hung in for three centuries, repressing the culture and orthodox religion but doing wonders for the economy.

The Venetians took over in 1489, but were booted out by the expanding Ottoman Empire in 1571, which kept Cyprus for 300 years before handing over to Britain. In 1925 Cyprus became a Crown colony of the UK, but by then the Cypriots had had just about enough of being a pawn for empire-builders, and agitation for self-determination began. This agitation laid the foundations for today's Greek/Turkish conflict: while many Greek Cypriots wanted to form a union with Greece (a movement known as

In August 1960, Britain granted Cyprus its independence. A Greek, Archbishop Makarios, became president, while a Turk, Kükük, was made vice-president. By 1964 Makarios was moving towards stronger links with Greece, and intercommunal violence was on the rise. The United Nations sent in a peace-keeping force. In 1967 a military junta took over the Greek government and enosis went out the window - even the most fervent Greece-lovers didn't want union with such a repressive regime. Greece didn't give up, though: on 15 July 1974 a CIA-sponsored, Greek-organised coup overthrew Makarios and replaced him with a puppet leader. Turkey responded by invading and Greece quickly pulled out, but the Turks weren't placated and took the northern third of the island, forcing 180,000 Greek Cypriots to flee their homes. In 1983 Turkish Cypriots proclaimed a separate state, naming it the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). No country except for Turkey has recognised this 'state'.

Peace talks have been held sporadically, but Cyprus remains divided. The United Nations has been scaling down its presence in Cyprus, and small-scale border scuffles are on the increase. The Republic's purchase of missiles capable of reaching the Turkish coast has further soured relations between the two sides. However, both Turkey and the Republic are making moves towards full membership of the European Union, and this may force both sides to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.


Cypriots are very proud of their cultural heritage, which stretches back more than 9000 years. However, you'll probably find that Cyprus today is more concerned with the events of the last 20 years than those of a millennium ago. The north of the island is busy re-creating itself in the image of Turkey, changing names to Turkish and embracing the life and culture of its northern neighbour. The Republic is also trying to create an independent identity, and many places in the Republic have recently been renamed as well.

Whatever the present-day situation may be, Cyprus is littered with reminders of the island's history. Relics from every era - Greek temples, Roman mosaics and 15th-century frescoes - influence the artists of today. Many villages specialise in a particular artform, and as you travel around Cyprus you'll see pottery, silver and copperware, basket weaving, tapestry and Lefkara's famous lacework.

Like everything else in Cyprus, religion is split along the Green Line. The northerners are mostly Sunni Muslim, the southerners Greek Orthodox. Food, too, reflects the divide: in the North you'll find mostly Turkish cuisine; in the Republic, Greek. But wherever you are in Cyprus, you'll come across kleftiko (oven-baked lamb) and mezedes (dips, salads and other appetisers). Cyprus is also famous for its fruit, which the government protects with a ban on imported products. You'll find strawberries, stone fruit, melons, prickly pear, citrus and grapes.

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