The origins of the Cypriot Nea Paphos date back to the Hellenistic period, and its first stone buildings were built in the 4th century BCE. Researchers assume that the founder of the city could have been the king of Paphos – Nikocles, or the Egyptian ruler – Ptolemy I, under whose reign was the territory of Cyprus.
During the Roman period, Paphos was a province. The city lost this function after the earthquake that hit the area in the 4th century CE, then the capital was moved to Salamis. According to the “Acts” in Paphos, St. Paul, which contributed to attracting many pilgrims to these areas. Paphos itself has become a centre of Christian worship, where a number of churches and a basilica were built.
It will be significant for the Polish reader that Paphos was an area where for many years excavations were conducted by the Polish Archaeological Mission. The works were initiated by prof. Kazimierz Michałowski in 1965; then the head of the excavations from 1966 to 2008 was Andrzej Dasewski, who was given the title of honorary citizen of Paphos in gratitude for his services to Paphos.
The oldest object discovered by Polish archaeologists was the so-called Hellenistic House. The building, with its fragmentary decorations, had two columned courtyards and a large reception hall. In the main courtyard, a mosaic dating from the 1st century BCE was discovered, measuring 11.43 x 6.55m, which is the largest mosaic from this period found in Cyprus.
The Hellenistic House was destroyed during the earthquake in 126 CE. Probably this was the reason why part of this building was transformed and expanded in the Roman period into a monumental palace-like villa, intended for the proconsul or the governor of the island. During excavations in the south-eastern part of the house, a mosaic dating from the 3rd century CE was found, depicting the mythical hero Theseus killing the Minotaur in the labyrinth, whose image has been completely destroyed. The struggle is watched by Ariadne and the characters personifying Crete. A complex labyrinth runs around the central part. The building was named the Villa of Theseus after the mosaic.
Theseus’ villa had two functions: public and private. Each of the two parts had a garden decorated with numerous statues of Greco-Roman gods. An unusual representation is the statue of Aphrodite with a sword, which refers to specific Cypriot beliefs dating back to the Bronze Age. Aphrodite with a spear is also depicted in the mosaic.
The south wing of the villa had numerous representative rooms, the walls and floors of which were covered with frescoes and imported marble. Unfortunately, they have been preserved quite fragmentarily, and their height in some places is less than 1.50 meters. The floors of the rooms were covered with rich mosaics from the 5th century CE. The best-preserved depicts Achilles’ bath in the waters of the Styx.
Next to the Villa of Theseus, another building was found called the House of Aion, in which an impressive mosaic of complex iconographic significance was discovered. It comes from the mid-4th century CE and is a unique work of Roman art.
The decoration of the banquet hall referred to the cult of Dionysus and Apollo, connected with philosophical reflection on the individual and his life.
An interesting thing about this building is that the banquet hall (triclinium), which was decorated with this mosaic, was entered directly from the street. The layout of the rooms and the scenes that decorated the walls and floors suggest that it was the seat of a pagan society, whose followers believed that salvation could also be achieved by being a pagan. This reasoning differed from traditional worship.
The exact dating of the mosaic is possible thanks to the discovery of the Licinius coin from 323 CE in its base. The mosaic was partially damaged during the earthquake, but was repaired in the 5th century CE.