Paphos, Cyprus


Paphos (Greek, of uncertain derivation, "boiling or hot") was a port city on the western end of Cyprus some 90 miles from Salamis. It was named for the son of the mythological Cypriot sculptor, Pygmalion, who  carved a woman out of ivory. According to 1st century BC poet Ovid, his statue was so realistic that he fell in love with it. He offered the statue gifts and prayed to Aphrodite (Venus), who took pity on him and brought the statue to life. They married and had a son, Paphos.

In the years following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, his successors struggled for dominance. The Ptolemies of Alexandria, Egypt achieved dominant maritime power in the eastern Mediterranean and took control of Cyprus to secure their trade routes. They made Paphos the capital of the island and it remained so until the later part of the fourth century ADalmost 700 years.

satellite view of cyprus

Paphos was the name of two ancient cities. Old Paphos (Greek: Palea Paphos), the older city was located at modern Kouklia. It was probably founded in the Mycenaean period, about 1184 BC (the time of the biblical patriarchs), by Greek colonists. Excavations have revealed ruins dating from 3000 BC. By Roman times it was superseded by New Paphos (Nea Paphos), 10 miles to the northwest. (This is the "Paphos" mentioned in Acts).

Below, harbor at Paphos, Cyprus

harbor at Paphos, Cyprus

Old Paphos was famous for its shrine to Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love and fertility.

According to tradition, Aphrodite was born from the waves off the coast of Cyprus. The soft breezes of the Zephers then carried her ashore on a shell. She emerged from the sea foam at Aphrodite's Rock (below), spawning a wave of cult worship from neighboring countries that lasted several centuries

Aphrodite's rock off the west coast of Cyprus

Below, view of the Mediterranean Sea from the Tomb of the Kings, dating from 300 BC. The name is misleading, There is no evidence of any royalty buried here. Rather it was the final resting place of some 100 Ptolemaic aristocrats who lived and died in Paphos. It was dubbed "Tombs of the Kings," and the name stuck.

Tombs of the Kings

Tombs of the Kings

Unexcavated theater (below)

Unexcavated theater

Surviving structures from the Roman period include large private dwellings, the "House of Dionysus," "House of Theseus," "House of Orpheus" and "House of Aion," with splendid mosaic floors portraying scenes from Greek mythology, attesting to the splendor of Paphos at the time of the visit of Paul and Barnabas.

Below, mosaic in the "House of Dionysus," located near the Paphos harbor.

House of Dionysus

The "House of Aion," opposite the "House of Dionysos," has five partially damaged mosaics including, below, a scene of Apollo punishing a man who challenged him to a musical duel and lost.

House of Aion mosaic

Below, "House of Orpheus."

House of Orpheus

Below, mosaic in "House of Orpheus"

House of Orpheus mosaic

Below, Mosaic from the "House of Theseus," named after its principal mosaic showing Theseus killing the Minotaur. The house probably belonged to a Roman governor.

Mosaic from the "House of Theseus

Also noteworthy is the civic center with an odeum, below, (small covered theater for musical performances), built in the 2nd century AD. It was made entirely of well-hewn limestone blocks and could accommodate 1,200 spectators.

odeum, below, (small covered theater for musical performances

Below, Asklepion (ancient healing center dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine).

Paphos Aesclepion

Below, Ayia Kyriaki Church, built in the 13th century, over the ruins of the largest Byzantine basilica on the island. In the foreground is the so-called St. Paul's Pillar, where according to tradition Saint Paul was flogged before the Roman governor Sergius Paulus was converted to Christianity.

Ayia Kyriaki Church,


Paul preaches the Gospel in Paphos

At Paphos the missionary trio met with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, the governor of the island, who Acts describes as an intelligent man. Intrigued by the arrival of the itinerant preachers, he "sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God." Like most heads of state, opportunists hung out at his headquarters and one of them was a Jewish prophet and sorcerer named Elymas*, also called Bar-Jesus. Fearing that he would lose his influence if his employer were converted to Christianity, he tried to stop Saul. But Saul snapped back in some of the strongest language recorded in Acts:

"You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun" (Acts 13:10-11).

Struck with blindness, Elymas was led away. Saul's action so impressed Sergius Paulus that "he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord."

Beginning at 13:9, the Acts narrative uses the name Paul instead of Saul.

"Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit..." (Acts 13:9)

From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga..." (Acts 13:13)

This similar sounding name was more familiar to Greeks and Romans who would now be the focus of the gospel message. It has been suggested that Saul adopted his Roman name because for the first time he testified about his Christian beliefs before a high Roman official and realized that Saul the Jew was a less powerful force in the world than Paul the Roman citizen. At Paphos his power was validated.

*Elymas - A Semitic name meaning "sorcerer" or "magician" or "wise man" (probably a self-assumed designation).

From Paphos, Paul, Barnabas and Mark booked passage on another ship heading northwesterly, about 170 miles, for the southern coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey).


Continue to Perge in Pamphylia