Kition, now mostly buried under modern Larnaca, was an important ancient city. Originally settled by the Mycenaeans and the Phonicians 3,000 years ago, it was the birthplace of Zeno the philosopher and, according to tradition, its first Christian bishop was Lazarus. Several interesting pre-Greek shrines have been uncovered here.
History of Ancient Kition
The site of the modern town of Larnaca was originally colonized by Mycenaeans in the 13th century BC. During this time the place was known as Kittim in the Bible, and the prophecy of Balaan said that "ships shall come from the coast of Kittim, and they shall afflict Ashur, and shall afflict Eber."
Like many other Mediterranean towns, Kittim had declined by about 1000 BC. Two centuries later, it was re-established by Phoenicians as Kition. It resumed its former role as a port exporting copper and enjoyed a subsequent period of great prosperity.
Persian influence arrived in 450 BC but ended a century later with the Hellenistic takeover of the entire island of Cyprus. This period saw the birth of Kition's most famous son, the Stoic philosopher Zeno.
Christianity arrived early at Kition, traditionally through the preaching of Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead in Jerusalem. According to legend, Pharisees tried to dispose of the miracle by casting Lazarus to sea in a leaky boat, and he sailed safely to Cyprus. He became Kition's first bishop and later its patron saint. His tomb was for a time enshrined in the Church of Ayios Lazaros.
In the 7th century, Kition suffered the same Arab raids as other coastal settlements of Cyprus. It did not recover until the Genoese appropriation of nearby Famagusta led merchants to move here to take advantage of the port. In this era, the settlement was called Salina or Les Salines, after the inland salt lake.
It was with Ottoman rule that the city got its modern name of Larnaca, from larnax, meaning a sarcophagus. By the 18th century, Larnaca was the premier port on Cyprus and the home of numerous foreign consuls. It was only after World War II that Larnaca fell behind Famagusta and Limassol in importance.
What to See at Ancient Kition
Excavations of ancient Kition were begun by the Swedes in the 1920s, but most of the ancient city remains buried under modern Larnaca. The British were surpremely unhelpful to posterity, carting off loads of "rubble" to fill in marshes.
The main site of interest is Area II of the site, where a wooden catwalk provides a view of ongoing excavations. The ruins are of the Phoenician resettlement atop Late Bronze Age foundations. A variety of interesting ancient sacred sites have been uncovered here.
The main visible structures are those of a large shrine that was rededicated to the fertility goddess Astarte by the Phoenicians and four small earlier temples. The large shrine, known as "Temple 1," is 35m x 22m, constructed of ashlar with a rubble infill, and was approached by a monumental entrance.
The four smaller temples are connected to copper smelting workshops suggesting either worship of a copper-related deity or at least a religious interest in copper production. Another shrine, thought to be dedicated to a male seafaring god, contained a pipe for the ritual smoking of opium.
Few Hellenistic or Roman artifacts have been found at Kition, making the site unusual and especially important. It also makes it politically delicate, as Greek Cypriots tend to be less enthusiastic about ruins of Asiatic cultural origins.
Take Kilkis St to the right of the museum and then Leontiou Machaira St to the entrance, which is almost concealed by new houses.
Quick Facts on Ancient Kition
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|Coordinates:||34.920027° N, 33.632959° E|
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- Marc Dubin, The Rough Guide to Cyprus, 5th ed. (2005), 101.
- Bernard McDonagh and Ian Robertson, Blue Guide Cyprus, 4th ed. (1998), 65-66.
Map of Ancient Kition, Larnaca
Below is a location map and aerial view of Ancient Kition. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.