Yeronisos, Cyprus

Photo: http://www.cyprusisland.net

It looks like a rock from the shore. A very big rock. You’ve spent the last few days staring at it from the golden-sand beaches on the west coast of Cyprus. You became so curious, in fact, that you started asking questions. The answers were better than any of the scenarios you’d already dreamed up.

The island’s name is Yeronisos, which means Holy Island in Cypriot. The nearly six-and-a-half-acre island is indeed made of rocks. Calcareous, to be exact. It’s also uninhabited. In 1982, a hotel was going to be built on the island. But artifacts were found during early site visits. The plans were quickly abandoned. Excavations began shortly thereafter. A large New York University study continues to this day.

It turns out that Yeronisos has been occupied three separate times. During the Chalcolithic period (3800 BC), the island was a fishing post. Then in the Hellenistic period (80-30 BC), an altar was built for Apollo, one of the most beloved Greek gods. It was abandoned after a massive earthquake. Eventually, the Byzantines arrived (6th-7th centuries). They built a Christian basilica, a water reservoir, and animal shelters. This settlement also failed.

It’s the Hellenistic period that you find the most fascinating. Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen, ruled Cyprus, and therefore Yeronisos, at the time. She built—really, she had her slaves build—the altar to thank Apollo for the birth of her son, Caesarion, who would become the last pharaoh of Egypt. Limestone amulets, potsherds inscribed with Egyptian script, a stone lion’s head, coins, and pottery have been unearthed from this period. Yet these historic artifacts came close to being destroyed or covered by more than just rocks.

So now, while you sip a glass of chilled Xynisteri wine on the beach, you’ll be thinking about Cleopatra as you stare at Yeronisos. You almost feel like royalty yourself.

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