Kingdom of Kourion
The city kingdom of Kourion was almost certainly chosen for its favourable location (cliffs on three sides, springs to the north). The cliff on which this safe and strikingly beautiful acropolis stood was apparently scarped by hand.
As Greek cults became more and more widespread throughout the 4th Century, thus the settlers of Kourion became more attached to the worship of Apollo Ilatis (Apollo of the Woods), god of beauty, music, prophecy and protector of trees, flocks and herds. This is corroborated by the excavated remains of the Sanctuary of Apollo (covering an area of more than 15,000 metres). There is evidence that the Sanctuary dedicated to him was continuously used from the late 8th century B.C., to the second half of the 4th century A.D. It is also said that the forest which still surrounds the area was protected by the god and was full of deer. The deer were sacred to Apollo and that “they swam to Cyprus from Cilicia, in Asia Minor, to take refuge at Kourion.”
Most of the uncovered monuments seen today at the ancient site date back to Roman times but perhaps the best-known and most photographed of these is the Roman Theatre. It is difficult to believe that this harmonious edifice, has in the course of time undergone a series of dramatic changes. Architectural and archaeological data indicate that it was originally a small Hellenistic theatre (late 2nd century B.C.), then remodelled under Roman rule (possibly in the reign of the Emperor Nero, 50-75 A.D.). Damaged by an earthquake in 77 A.D., it was later enlarged to its present dimensions and eventually destroyed by the severe earthquakes which ruined the whole town of Kourion in 365 A.D. It was reconstructed to its present form by the Department of Antiquities in 1961.
The remnants of the nearby building known as the “House of Gladiators” (also destroyed by the earthquakes) has a mosaic floor with pictorial compositions found not only in Cyprus but also Greece and the Near East, representing a pair of gladiators in combat, wearing helmets and armed with daggers and shields. Evidently, there would have been gladiatorial contests between the likes of “Hellenikos” and “Margaritis”, the two gladiators depicted on the mosaic artwork.
Thousands of spectators would be cheering, accompanied with music while slaves with whips drive the gladiators on, and the provider of the games indicating with a “Thumbs up” or “down” as to whether the fallen gladiator would live or die. However, these atrocities contrast with the much greater ones later suffered by the early Christians. As Christianity began to be established by the beginning of the 3rd century A.D., newly converted inhabitants of Kourion were persecuted, tortured and killed. A great earthquake then devastated Kourion during 365. In 1873 (the same year that Heinrich Schliemann, digging in the soil of Asia Minor, rediscovered Troy) exploration of the site of Kourion started by an Italian group and the priceless “Treasure of Kourion” was discovered. This was subsequently sold to the Metropolitan Museum of New York and is now on display there.
Serious excavations at Kourion began in 1934 by the American Mission of the Pennsylvania University Museum. This Mission excavated, the Theatre, the House of Eustolios and the Early Christian Basilica.
Excavations continued during 1950s by the University of Missouri, during the 1970s by Kent State University and from 1964 to date by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities.