Limassol, the second biggest town in Cyprus, known in Greek as ‘Lemesos’, lies in the middle of the south coast. With its central location it is an ideal base for tourists wanting to make day trips. The wine festival in September, the carnival in spring, and the range of evening entertainment at Potamos Yermassoyias have given the 146,000 inhabitants a fun-loving reputation. But Limassol has changed since the Turkish invasion, and some detractors have accused the townspeople of profiting from the war. Despite the withdrawal of the Turkish community, some 45,000 refugees have boosted the population dramatically. The port has certainly benefited from the Turkish occupation and has taken over from Famagusta as the main outlet for exports. The political problems in Lebanon also helped Limassol as many members of Beirut’s business community moved here in order to continue trading.
Unbridled growth has done little to improve the town scape. A belt of concrete, known to the locals as ‘The Wall’, separates the town centre from the newly-built promenade. The modern shopping streets have nothing special to offer and, as a consequence of the 1584 earthquake, there are few historic buildings to see. Only the bazaar around the Greek market hall and the Palia Yitonia, the old Turkish quarter near the castle and the mosque, are worth exploring. Most hotels overlook the narrow, sandy beach to the east of the town that extends 15km as far as the ruins of Amathus.
Limassol Castle is the only real historic site in the old town. The present building was constructed at the beginning of the 14th century over the ruins of an earlier Byzantine castle, which itself had a long and varied history. It was here that Richard 1(the Lionheart) married Berengaria of Navarre and that she was subsequently crowned Queen of England by the Bishop of Evreux. From 1291 the castle served as the headquarters for the Knights Templar until this order was disbanded in 1308. King Janus handed the new citadel to the Knights of St John. In 1570, the Turks moved in and used it as a prison.
Opening Times: Monday to Friday 7.30am-5pm, Saturday – 9am to 5pm, Sunday, 10am until 1pm.
The Cyprus Medieval Museum is housed in the vaults where gravestones, weapons, armour and other finds are displayed. The most spectacular exhibits are the three silver plates, discovered among the famous Lambousa treasure in 1902, showing scenes from the youth of King David. Large scale photographs introduce visitors to other medieval castles and churches on the island.
Although the best finds from the Limassol region are kept in the National Museum in Nicosia several exhibits in the Archaeological Museum deserve special attention. These include some expressive terracotta figures kneading bread dough and a plump terracotta woman with a basket. The statue of Bes, an Egyptian-Mesopotamian god of indescribable ugliness was excavated in Amathus in 1978.
When the stands are taken down at the end of the wine festival in Limassol’s Municipal Park, the lions, monkeys and birds in Cyprus’s only zoo become the town’s main attraction. This is the only place where it is possible to get a close up of moufflons, an extremely timid breed of wild sheep rarely seen in a natural setting.
The large wine cellars and the brewery play their part in maintaining Limassol’s reputation for cordiality. Based at the western end of the town on the way to the harbour, some firms provide guided tours and also opportunities to sample their products. For details of the rather irregular opening times, ask in a hotel or at the tourist information office.
A narrow sandy strip in front of the hotels at the eastern end of the town is popular with water sports enthusiasts, but the Lady’s Mile Beach, protected by breakwaters at the western end of town, is better. This beach lies within the confines of the British military base and passports may be requested.