There are all manner of reasons to visit the Ancient Theatre of Kourion. The single most important reason, however, is to eavesdrop on the passage of millennia as you stare out over the Mediterranean.
If you really want to experience this island, then a visit to the Ancient Theatre of Kourion is a must. Built on a hill south of Limassol from where it has stood vigil over the Mediterranean sea for centuries, Kourion’s direct links to the distant past make this a magical, almost mystic, site.
According to the founding myth related by Herodotus, Kourion was founded by Achaeans who came from Argos in the Peloponnese in the 13th century BCE and chose the imposing coastal heights to build the ancient city. In time, the city became one of Cyprus’ most important ancient kingdoms.
Kourion’s theatre was built in the 2nd century BCE, but grew to its current size, seating an audience of 3500, in the 2nd century CE. Some modifications were made in the late 2nd to early 3rd centuries, including the installation of metal bars to allow for the staging of gladiatorial combat, a popular Roman spectacle of the time.
Hellenistic in style, the theatre consists of an orchestra, the auditorium (koilon) where the banks of seats were situated, the dressing room (skene) of which only the foundations remain, the two entrances (parodoi) onto the stage, and the five entrances into the theatre through the rear wall. The auditorium was restored in 1961 by the Department of Antiquities. However, the excavations that brought it to light were conducted by the American archaeological mission of the University of Pennsylvania in 1933. Archaeologists from around the world continue to visit and research the site today, and many argue that there is still much of this outstanding ancient kingdom to uncover.
Today, the Ancient Theatre of Kourion is not just one of Cyprus’ most important sights, it is also a prominent venue for cultural events. The most important artists of Cyprus, Greece and the Mediterranean have performed on its stage. Concerts, theatrical performances, operas and festivals of ancient drama have all been staged here. Against a backdrop of endless blue, art and the magnificence of antiquity meet in a wholly unique atmosphere.
THE PROTECTOR OF THE KOURION
About 2.5km west of the ancient city of Kourion, we find one of the main religious centres of ancient Cyprus. This is the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, where Apollo was worshipped as the ‘God of the Woods’. Apollo was considered the protector of Kourion and was worshipped in the area from the 8th century BCE through to the 4th century CE.
The sanctuary was subject to large-scale extensions and alterations during three different historical periods; the Archaic Sanctuary was constructed during the 7th century, the Ptolemaic Sanctuary during the 3rd century BCE, and the Roman Sanctuary during the 1st century CE. The ruins we see today date from the 1st century CE.
The sanctuary incorporates a palaestra where athletes trained, a colonnade, a treasury, the bath house, the ancient temple, a circular monument, the central courtyard and the Temple of Apollo. It would appear from the remains of the circular monument that the structure was used for processions or dances around the trees in the sacred grove.
HOUSES AND MOSAICS
East of the theatre, you’ll find the ruins of the House of Eustolios, which started life as a private palace and was later turned into a public recreation centre during the Early Christian period. Here, as in the House of Achilles and the House of the Gladiators on the same site, you can admire truly impressive mosaic floors. Also visible are the ruins of the Roman Agora which dates from the early 3rd century CE, and is built on the remains of an older public building dating from the late Hellenistic period. The Agora is flanked by marble colonnades, and there is a small temple to one side, the Nymphaion, dedicated to the Nymphs, the protectors of the waters. There is also an Early Christian basilica on the archaeological site which dates from the 5th century, and has a separate baptistery built onto its northern side.