The Kourion complex of archeological sites (including the Sanctuary of Apollo) has what TV property shows would call “the wow factor”. Sitting high on a hill overlooking the deep blue of the Mediterranean, its tumble of ochre columns and walls, its theatre set like a fossilized shell into the hillside, its paved roads and mosaic floors are both spectacular and well-preserved, offering a portal through which we can glimpse life as it was lived two thousand years ago. Settlement in the area goes back to Neolithic times, with the city of Kourion itself being established during the Mycenean and Dorian invasions of Cyprus from about 1200 BC. Nearly all of what you can see today, though, is of Roman origin, revealed by excavations from the 1930s onwards by a series of American teams, and from 1964 by the Cypriot Department of Antiquities.
After passing through the main entrance, visit the pavilion area which houses a relief model of the whole site as well as a small cafeteria and toilets. Immediately in front of the pavilion are two of the gems of the site. The House of Estolios, sitting under its elegant timber protective roof, gives a good idea of the sort of luxury enjoyed by a rich Roman of the fourth or fifth century AD, with its numerous rooms, courtyards, bath complex and intricate mosaic floors of fish, birds, and one of a young woman holding a measuring rod, with the word “Ktisis’ (“Creation’) above it. Inscriptions tell us not only the house-owner’s name, but also the fact that he was a Christian. One inscription, at the entrance, charmingly welcomes the visitor: “Enter to thy good fortune and may thy coming bless this house”. Next to the house sits Kourion’s famous theatre, first erected in the second century BC, but rebuilt by the Romans in the second-century AD. Seating 3500 spectators, it is still used today for cultural events.
A short walk to the northwest lies the Roman Agora (marketplace) and public baths, and beyond them the House of the Gladiators, a third-century AD structure so-called because of its vivid mosaics of gladiatorial combat, and the House of Achilles, a fourth-century AD Roman villa named, again, for a mosaic showing the revealing of Achilles’ true identity by Odysseus in the court of the king Lycomedes at Skyros. These are the highlights of the site, though in amongst them are subsequent remains of early Christian origin.
George H. McFadden
George H. McFadden
Something of a real-life Indiana Jones, George H. McFadden was a graduate of Princeton University (class of 1930) who became the leading light in the excavation of the Kourion archeological site. In charge of a University of Pennsylvania excavation team, he was working on the site off and on for nearly twenty years from 1933, wintering on site and returning to America for the summer. Work stopped when the US entered World War II in 1941 and resumed in 1948. Though some doubts have been cast on the rigour of his methodology, his work certainly drew attention to the importance of the site, and paved the way for further work by the Cypriot Department of Antiquities from 1964. McFadden is still revered in the area, and his death by drowning at the age of 46 in a sailing accident on April 19, 1953 is regarded as a great tragedy. As the framed eulogy in the Museum rather floridly put it, “It was fitting that he should find his end in the Greek and briny sea whence came the goddess of beauty herself to his beloved island – Cyprus”.