Friday’s Fact About: Paphos Mosaics

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Taken from MyCyprusInsider
If history were to ever jump to life, it would undoubtedly make an epic leap in Paphos. The entire town is so exceptional, that extraordinary archaeological sites beckon the masses in a fashion that only a colourful theme park would elsewhere. And one of the most special sites for you to ogle at – the Paphos Mosaics – all comes down to an accidental discovery made by a Cypriot farmer in 1962 that was to forever change the nature of his hometown.

Whilst working his plough, the farmer unearthed fragments of a mosaic that represented only the tip of a much larger iceberg. Subsequent excavations revealed a vast area containing some of the most spectacular examples of Roman mosaic work ever discovered; without a doubt the finest in all of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Achilles as a child from the 4th century Roman mosaic of  the first bath of Archilles at the Villa of Theseus, Paphos, Cyprus

You can find the Roman Moscaics within the Paphos Archaeological Park, down by the small harbour in Kato Paphos very close to the ancient fort. Having purchased your ticket and collected the free explanatory map, the first area you come across is called the House of Theseus. This villa is obviously named after Theseus, who can be seen brandishing a war club against a now vanished (and vanquished) Minotaur in one of many slightly faded depictions.

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Also in this precinct is ‘The First Bath of Achilles’, another important mosaic, dating from the 5th century, marking quite a late addition by comparison to most of the Paphos treasures. Young Achilles is shown with his nursemaid, parents and the three Fates in a scene thought to prefigure later Christian iconography.

The museum authorities have constructed a web of boardwalks that criss-cross the floor plan of this large former dwelling with viewing points and information panels, drawing attention to the more significant works of art.

Close by, the covered House of Aion (excavated in 1983) takes its name from the God Aion of whom only a head remains to be seen. There are better representations of Apollo, Cassiopeia, Hermes, Dionysos and various sea creatures, some realistic, others quite fantastic. The sea monsters are being ridden away by several Nereids (sea nymphs) who seem to have taken offence to losing a beauty contest to the alluring Cassiopeia. The House of Aion dates back to the middle of the 4th Century AD and displays some quite sophisticated examples of the mosaic artist’s craft.

A little beyond the remains of these two villas are the houses of Orpheus (famed for his musical skill with the lyre) and of the Four Seasons. As well as a large image of Orpheus, the former has a beautiful panel showing Hercules struggling barehanded with the lion of Nemea. And although the latter area takes its name from the seasons of the year, only autumn has managed to survive the ravages of time during the intervening centuries. However, there are some stylized hunting scenes to enjoy, including a goat shown in the full-frontal posture usually reserved for depictions of humans. Such a colourful collection of edible beasts suggests that this may well have been the banqueting hall of the sumptuous villa that once stood on the same spot.

The biggest and best of the villas is the House of Dionysos, which naturally also contains the best of the mosaic work. It’s a little further from the other areas (still no more than 50 metres or so), but easy to find thanks to the cavernous warehouse-like structure that protects the tesserae from the weather.

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Visitors walk on raised platforms around the inside walls of this hangar and are able to look down onto the mosaics. The House of Dionysos (thought to be 3rd century AD) is the oldest on display in Paphos and showcases exquisite representations of Dionysos, and an even older one of the sea monster Scylla and then Apollo chasing after Daphne (shame on him!). Several panels show the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, with a whole menagerie of real and imagined creatures arrayed around the main protagonists. Alongside this, is a panel showing King Ikarios (reputedly the world’s first vintner) and a related image known as ‘The First Wine-Drinkers’ for reasons that seem too obvious to state.

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However, the star attraction, possibly of the whole complex, is the Triumph of Dionysos, showing the Roman god riding in a chariot pulled by she-leopards with mythical satyrs and other beasts arranged on either side. Whether or not you are up to speed with all the myths and legends unfolding before your eyes, there is no denying the skill and imagination of the artisans who produced these decorative works of art over a millennium and a half ago!

Whilst taking in the splendour of the Paphos Archaeological Park it’s also worth having a look at the Roman odeion, a small amphitheatre restored in the 1970s, and Saranda Kolones, a former Byzantine fort, now in ruins.

VISITOR INFORMATION:

Location: click for Googlemap Link
Tel: +357 26306217

Open daily:

  • Winter hours (16th September – 15th April): 8.30 – 17.00
  • Summer hours (16th April – 15th September): 8.30 – 19.30

Entrance: €4.50(Paid at the entrance of the Archaeological Park and includes all sites within the Park)

 

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