LEMESOS (still widely known as “Limassol”) is a teeming multicultural city of just over 184,000 inhabitants, which grew substantially after 1974, when Greek Cypriots flooded in from the north. Since then, it has welcomed migrants from Lebanon, Iraq and other Middle Eastern trouble spots. Russians, too, are very much in evidence – you’ll see Cyrillic script in menus and shop signs across town.
The city centre is remarkably compact. It stretches about 1km from the castle and old harbour to the Municipal Gardens in the west. Near the castle are a cathedral and mosque as well as the cool cafés, bars and restaurants of the Carob Mill complex. Inland is the old Turkish quarter, ideal for aimless wanderings. Along the seafront a 16km pedestrian and cycle path links the old town with sandy beaches further east.
After a lengthy period of remodelling which started in 2007, Lemesos city centre has emerged transformed. Extensive pedestrianization, and development of the palm-fringed seafront, Old Port and marina have changed what was a hot, dusty, traffic-dominated hell into a peaceful, people-friendly place in which to potter about, with lots of shops, cafés, bars and restaurants and enough museum-type attractions to be getting on with.
Once a nondescript fishing village overshadowed by its eminent neighbours Kourion to the west and Amathus to the east, Lemesos became a little more high profile when its competitors were destroyed in seventh-century Saracen raids. However, it was Richard the Lionheart who really put it on the map when he landed to rescue his sister Joan and his fiancée Berengaria from the ruler of Cyprus Isaac Komnenos.
The city received another boost to its fortunes a century later when, with the fall of Acre, the two great Crusader organizations, the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitallers, fell back to Cyprus and made Lemesos their headquarters. When the Templars were purged and outlawed in 1307, the Hospitallers adopted their lands and their influence. Lemesos’s story during the following two centuries was one of prosperity interspersed with earthquakes and attacks from the sea. During the Ottoman occupation from the sixteenth century onwards, it settled back into obscurity, stymied by a swingeing harbour duty designed to concentrate trade in Larnaka. This trend was partially reversed under British rule, with road building and harbour improvements, and in particular by the huge growth in British Empire demand for the region’s wine. By the end of the nineteenth century Lemesos was established as a major port. Its importance has since been enhanced by the Turkish invasion, which not only denied the republic access to the port of Famagusta, but also created an influx of refugees from the north which more than tripled its population.