Byzantine Period (330 - 1191)
The Byzantine Period began with the dawn of Christianity on the island of Cyprus. The Edict of Milan as issued by the ruling Roman Emperor Constantine in 313AD awarded freedom to choose religion in Cyprus, propelling the Church to the forefront of Cypriot life as it is today. Conversion to Christianity though was not without struggle. For the first 300 years Paganism remained a substantial force on the island. It was not until the destruction of Paphos and Salamis (in Northern Cyprus) by earthquakes and tsunami waves in 332AD and 342AD that the Orthodox Christian Church became the central religious force in Cyprus.
The oldest relic of the Byzantine era today stands high upon a mountain to the west of Larnaca. The Stavrouvouni Monastery dates back to the earliest part of the Byzantine Period, and was founded by Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. Carved into a rocky promontory some 750 metres above sea level, the monastery is a truly awe-inspiring sight. The monks at Stavrouvouni follow a strict code. Only men are allowed inside the monastery on certain days and at certain times. It is said that a fragment of the Holy Cross left by Saint Helena remains in the monastery to this day.
As a whole, the Byzantine era contributes greatly to the legacy of Cypriot history. There was much wealth on the island during these times, funding the construction of many churches and monasteries besides Stavrouvouni. Even Roman temples were converted into Christian buildings, some of which remain standing today. The Catacombs of Agia Solomoni near Paphos, which are carved into a hillside, are one such place where the Byzantine Period really comes alive for tourists. These 'caves' were used as underground chapels by the early Christians. Byzantine icons and frescoes left by later generations can be explored by torchlight beneath the modern-day street.
Life in Cyprus during the Byzantine Period, unlike under Roman rule, was a lot less stable. The island's geographic position placed it at the forefront of conflict between West (Byzantine Empire) and East (Islam). The Arab Raids from 647AD proved to be an unnerving time for Cypriots. Some fortifications were thrown up around the coastline to help defend the island against the marauding crusaders, but to little effect. Over the ensuing 300 years Cyprus fell into the hands of the Arabs; many Cypriot inhabitants sought refuge up in the hills during this time.
By 965AD the Byzantine Empire returned to the island. They drove out the Arabs, regaining control of Cyprus and re-establishing peace for around 200 years until the time of the Armenian Raids.