The Archaeology of Cyprus, April 11, 2019

Kition - Temple of the Great Mother

Cyprus is well known as the birthplace of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, according to Greek mythology. But Aphrodite was proceeded by other great goddesses.

Around 1200 BCE, at the edge of the town of Kition, a sacred enclosure dedicated (we believe) to the Cypriot Great Mother was built. This is rather amazing when you consider that the other great Bronze Age civilizations (like Mycenae, Ugarit, the Hittite Empire) were falling apart around that time.

This temple was a walled, open air space, sort of a garden. And there was an enclosed Holy of Holies at the rear of the space.


Temple 1, the Temple to the Cypriot Great Mother and later the Phoenician goddess, Astarte

Around the temple complex were also workshops for copper working. The metal was extremely important to their economy, so the elites of the temple certainly had their hands in, as it were.

When the Phoenicians took over the island in the 9th century BCE they rebuilt the temple, now dedicated to Astarte, their Goddess of Love, and added a row of wooden columns so that part of the space could be roofed. This burned down after fifty years or so, and they then put in two rows of columns so that there was an open aisle down the middle, leading to the Holy of Holies, with roofed aisles on either side.


The Holy of Holies at the back of the Temple to the Cypriot Great Mother

Over a couple of centuries more temples were added on, but this one, called Temple 1 by the archaeologists, was always the largest. These temples were frequented by sailors, who left offerings of anchors, and even some graffiti of ships scratched on the outside wall of Temple 1.


A ship's anchor left as an offering


Graffiti of ships scratched on the walls. Can you see them, near the top of the block?

Inside one of the other temples was a shrine that had carved bulls horns (similar to the ones in Minoan Crete) in front of an altar.


The carved bull's horns in front of an altar. The temple grounds were also used for copper workings. Might this be to the Ingot God?

When the Greeks took over the island, though, the temples were abandoned.

Pierides Museum

This is a small museum in Kition (modern Larnaka) holding the collection of the Pierides family, but now in the care of the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation. There is an interesting collection of artifacts from all periods, including some rather interesting flat figurines, and a later ceramic man used in fertility rituals, probably. I'll explain him in the photo.


Early figurines in pottery


This is a small, carved river stone figurine of a man, probably. There are also carvings with breasts which would obviously have represented women. This is from the Aceramic Neolithic period.


This naked man is in a stress position, neck muscles tensed, with an erection and a facial expression possibly showing him at the height of orgasm. There is a hole in the top of his head (not visible in photo) where libations could be poured, and then the liquid would come streaming out of his penis. This has to be a ritual fertility figurine of some sort. I bought a small, working reproduction for my collection. Ahem.