Larnaca (Larnaka), Cyprus
Larnaca is the third largest city in Cyprus, located in the southeast on Larnaca Bay. Its modern name is thought to be a derivative of the ancient Greek word ‘larnax’, meaning sarcophagus, because of the discovery in the sixteenth century of many ancient tombs. Larnaca was the birthplace of the Greek philosopher Zenon, the founder of stoicism.
Larnaca was originally established as the city kingdom of Kition between the fourteenth and eleventh centuries BC by the Mycenaeans, who brought with them their Greek language, culture and religion. It developed as a major port, exporting copper mined in the Troodos mountains. Having subsequently come under Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian rule, the city prospered into Hellenistic times. Tradition has it that Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ, brought Christianity to Kition and became its first bishop.
The city’s vulnerability to earthquakes, floods and invaders led to a decline in the Middle Ages, although it remained a busy port under Ottoman rule from 1570. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (during which time the toponym of Kition was abandoned and Larnaca adopted), it regained some of its former importance. It attracted foreign dignitaries, and some European states used it as a base for their consulates in preference to inland Nicosia, which was less accessible. During the British administration, Larnaca’s influence waned again. Famagusta became the island’s main seaport and other cities took greater advantage of the post-independence tourist boom. However, following the 1974 Turkish invasion, Larnaca became a focal point of the south’s economic development. With the closure of the international airport at Nicosia, Larnaca’s airfield was developed as the country’s principal international airport. The commercial port was also upgraded for both freight and tourist traffic to compensate for the closure of Famagusta.
Larnaca is well known for its lacework (a major export), silverware and pottery, and also for its elaborate celebrations at the festival of Kataklysmos (Festival of the Flood). There is a yacht marina and luxury hotel and apartment complexes along the 10-km seafront promenade. The island’s oil refineries are located to the north of the city. Larnaca hosts many nationalities, including Lebanese Christians who took refuge during that country’s troubles in the 1980s.
Places of Interest
Larnaca Fort dates originally from the Frankish era and was renovated by the Ottomans in the early 1600s. The Church of Agios Lazaros was built in the ninth century over the tomb of St Lazarus. On the seafront promenade the Bust of Kimon commemorates the Athenian general who besieged Kition in 450 BC to free Cyprus from the Persians. City museums include the Pierides Museum Foundation and the Archaeological, Natural History and Byzantine Museums. The salt lake bordering the airport is the winter home of flamingos and other migratory birds. Near the lake is the Hala Sultan Tekkesi, one of Cyprus’ most important Islamic pilgrimage sites. Further to the southwest is the Church of Panagia Angeloktisti (‘built by the angels’), with mosaics dating from the sixth century. In the hills west of Larnaca, the Stavrovouni Monastery is the oldest in Cyprus.