Outside the walls and the Pafos Gate, at the top of Mouseiou and to the left of the Municipal Gardens, is the Cyprus Museum, the single most important attraction in Lefkosia. Here you’ll find a trove of archeological treasures representing the many cultures which have inhabited the island. It’s all slightly old-fashioned and the collection is beginning to outgrow the current building – a new, purpose-built museum building has long been promised, but, courtesy of the world financial crisis, has still not arrived.
The first few rooms take you through objects from earliest (Neolithic) times to the arrival of the Romans. As well as local pottery you can see Mycenaean, Phoenician, and Greek designs, a reflection of Cyprus’s trading position between Europe and the Middle East. Highlights from rooms IV to VI include the hundreds of clay figurines and statues from the Sanctuary at Agia Irini, Egyptian and Assyrian finds, and some stunning Greek and Roman marbles and bronzes. Room XI, not to be missed, has the rich pickings from the Royal Tombs of Salamis, including an impressive, ivory-decorated bed, two thrones, a large bronze cauldron on a tripod and much else. Also from Salamis, in Room XIII, are the sculptures which came from the gymnasium, together with photographs of the excavations from pre-1974 – Salamis is now in north Cyprus.
An absolute must-see is the semicircle of seventh- and sixth-century BC terracotta figures found at Agios Irini in northwest Cyprus. Over two thousand figures portraying warriors, war-chariots, demon-servants and snakes, from life-size down to 10cm or so, are collected in a crescent-shaped display case which reproduces the positions, gathered round an altar, in which they were discovered – tallest at the rear, smallest at the front. Opposite the display is a screen playing an excellent video that traces the long relationship between Cyprus and the Swedish archeologists who carried out most of the excavations on the island, led by Einer Gjerstad. Look out, too, for the superb display and slide show about the Paphos mosaics. A brief summary can’t do justice to the richness and variety of the exhibits on show so it’s best to take your time and focus on a couple of areas.