One of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean, Cyprus has been coveted, conquered and colonised numerous times during its 10,000-year history.
Boasting one of the oldest recorded histories in the world, Cyprus lies at the crossroads of three continents, occupying a key strategic position at the gateways of Europe, Asia and Africa. The island was once rich in supplies of copper and timber, which gave it economic as well as strategic value. In addition, Cyprus was blessed with exquisite natural beauty, a fitting birthplace for the legendary ancient goddess Aphrodite, whom tradition credits with having emerged from the waves near Paphos.
While there may be no evidence to prove this particular romantic tale, the remains of numerous ancient civilisations are littered across the island. The remains of the oldest known settlements date back to the Neolithic period, between 9000 and 6000years ago. Even the name, Cyprus, derives from the ancient Greek word for the precious copper deposits that were already being mined and traded as early as 2500 BC. Copper was one of the most valuable commodities of the ancient world, its discovery and commercial exploitation began sometime between 3900 and 2500 BC, and as trade with the Near East, Egypt and the Aegean developed, it brought wealth and prosperity to the island.
The island’s rich natural resources also attracted the interest of a succession of dominant powers in the region, who did battle for it through the millennia. The first of these are believed to have been the Achaean Greeks who arrived in around 1200 BC introducing their language, religion and customs to the island. Cyprus was subsequently colonised by the Phoenicians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Persians. In the 4th century BC Alexander the Great claimed the island, which remained part of the Greek-Egyptian kingdom until 30 BC, when the Romans arrived and Cyprus became a senatorial province. It was during this period that Saint Paul was said to have visited the island and converted the Roman governor to Christianity.
Cyprus remained a Roman possession until the empire began to disintegrate in 330AD, when it became part of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. In 1191, Cyprus was conquered by the English king, Richard the Lionheart, while he was on his way to take part in the Third Crusade. He later sold the island to the Knights Templar, who themselves sold it on to the Franks or Lusignans, a dynasty which went on to rule Cyprus for almost 300 years. The last of the Lusignans ceded the island to Venice in 1489. Despite building heavy fortifications around the island’s major cities of Famagusta and Nicosia, the Venetians were not able to withstand the invading Ottoman troops who conquered the island in 1571. Cyprus remained under Ottoman rule until the arrival of the British in 1878.
Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but with one of the world’s most complicated constitutions as its foundation with the UK, Greece and Turkey as guarantor powers, the new republic soon encountered difficulties. Inter-communal violence between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, resulted, eventually, in the withdrawal from government of the Turkish Cypriot leadership in 1963. Just over a decade later, in 1974, a right-wing coup sponsored by the military junta then in power in Greece, overthrew the government of Archbishop Makarios. In an alleged attempt to protect the minority Turkish Cypriot community, Turkey invoked its guarantor power and invaded the island from the north. Despite numerous subsequent attempts to resolve the Cyprus problem, the island has been effectively divided ever since, with the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities separated by a UN-manned buffer zone, commonly referred to as the ‘Green Line’.
In 1983 the Turkish Cypriot leadership unilaterally declared independence. The international community refused to recognise the self-styled ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, or ‘TRNC’, as a separate state and the breakaway republic is only recognised by Turkey.
Peace talks have been ongoing for over four decades on the basis of a bizonal, bicommunal federation and although convergences have been made, major points of disagreement include territory and power sharing. The election of Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci in 2015 sparked new hope for a solution after negotiations began with President Nicos Anastasiades who was elected in 2013 and is now on his second term, as both leaders had the common bond of hailing from Limassol.
Several confidence building measures have come into place since, including scrapping visas for crossing the border between the two sides and linking mobile telephony networks.
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, and adopted the euro as its currency in January 2008, while the breakaway state continues to use the lira, though euros are often accepted with transactions.
700BC – 1799AD
Settlement of the island by Neolithic farmers
Phoenician merchants settle in Kition
Cyprus becomes a Roman Province
Saint Paul, St Barnabus, and St Mark introduce Christianity to Cyprus and convert the the Roman governor Sergius Paulus
Cyprus becomes part of the Byzantine Empire
Richard the Lionheart sells Cyprus to the Knights Templar
The Knights Templar sell Cyprus to Guy de Lusignan, the exiled king of Jerusalem
Cyprus becomes part of the Ottoman Empire.
Great depopulation of Cyprus. The plague wipes out over half of the population
1800 – 1959
Greek Cypriots side with Greece in a revolt against Turkish rule
The Ottoman Empire turn over control of Cyprus to the British
Cyprus annexed by Britain and made a crown colony
First serious riots of Greek Cypriots demanding Enosis, the union with Greece. The display of the Greek flag and the Greek National anthem are banned
Archbishop Makarios III is elected as political and spiritual leader
A series of bomb attacks starts a violent campaign for Enosis by EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters)
Britain deports Makarios to the Seychelles in attempt to quell the revolt
Feb 19, An agreement is signed by Britain, Turkey and Greece granting Cyprus its independence
March 1, Archbishop Makarios returns to Cyprus
1960 – 1989
Cyprus gains independence from colonial ruler Britain, which still maintains two sovereign military bases on the island
Archbishop Makarios begins serving as the first post-independence president
Cyprus is accepted into the Council of Europe
Intercommunal fighting breaks out between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
July 15, Greek troops and the Greek Cypriot National Guard stage a military coup, Archbishop-President Makarios flees
July 20, First phase of the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus
July 23, Coup is put down and Makarios returns
August 14, Second phase of the Turkish invasion. Turkey occupies 37% of the island. 200 000 Greek Cypriots are expelled from the north and become refugees
Turks announce a Federate State in the north
August 3, Archbishop Makarios dies
Turkish Cypriots declare their breakaway state, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey.
1990 – 2009
Glafcos Clerides elected as president
The leaders of the two communities of Cyprus, Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash, meet in Nicosia in the first formal negotiation in 4 years.
February 28, Tassos Papadopoulos takes office as the fifth President of Cyprus.
April 16, Cyprus signs a treaty to join the European Union
April 23, Greek Cypriots are allowed to cross the dividing line for the first time since 1974
April 24, Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly reject a UN plan to reunite Cyprus
May 1, Cyprus is one of ten new states to join the EU
January 1, Cyprus adopts the euro
February 24, Demetris Christofias is elected President
April 3, Ledra Street, a main shopping street in Cyprus’ divided capital reopens for the first time in 44 years
May, Resumption of talks between the leaders of the two communities for the solution of the Cyprus problem
April, Right-wing nationalist National Unity Party wins parliamentary elections in northern Cyprus
2010 – Present
January, President Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat resume talks on reunification
April, Turkish Cypriot head of government Dervis Eroglu beats the pro-unity incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat
July, 98 containers of Syria-bound munitions explode in the Mari naval base, killing 13 people in what has been described as the worst peacetime military accident ever recorded in Cyprus
September, Cyprus starts exploratory offshore drilling for oil and gas. Turkey responds by sending an oil research vessel with a military escort into Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone
December, Noble announces discoveries in Block 12, Aphrodite
June, Cyprus appeals to European Union for financial assistance to save banks that have been exposed to Greek economy
January, ENI-Kogas granted Hydrocarbon exploration licences for Blocks 2, 3 and 9,
February, Total granted hydrocarbon exploration licences for Blocks 10, 11
February, Nicos Anastasiades elected President of Cyprus
March, Cyprus takes €10 billion bailout by Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund)
October, Turkey sends seismic vessel Barbaros in Cyprus’ EEZ for exploration along with Turkish warships. President Nicos Anastasiades withdraws from bicommunal peace talks
January, Turkey issues Navtex reserving areas including Cyprus’ EEZ
May, Mustafa Akinci elected as Turkish Cypriot leader. Turkey’s Navtex expires, peace talks resume
June, Aphrodite gas field declared commercial
August, Cyprus’ economy exits recession returning to growth a year earlier than expected
March, Cyprus exits its €10 billionbailout programme spending only €7.25 billion of the amount
April, ENI is granted Block 8 exploration licences, ENI/TOTAL granted Block 6, and Block 10 to a cooperative bid of Exxon and Qatar Petroleum
February, Nicos Anastasiades re-elected as President of Cyprus for second term
February, ENI announces discoveries of gas in ‘Calypso 1’ of Block 6, also claimed by Turkey which consequently blocks ENI’s drill ship
November, Exxon Mobil begins exploratory drillings
June, US Senate approves bill lifting Cyprus arms embargo
July, ENI and Total granted exploration licenses for Block 7 and joint partnerships in five other blocks
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