Old port opens to divers and tourists as Cyprus reinvents travel

AMATHUS, Cyprus – It is said that the besieging Demetrius, a mighty warrior king and one of the successors of Alexander the Great, built the ancient port of Amathus on the southern coast of Cyprus 2,400 years ago to thwart a possible naval invasion of the Egyptian ruler, Ptolemy Moi, another heir of Alexander.

French archaeologists who initially studied Amathus believe it to be an incomplete military fortification work, the three pillars of which would have hosted the best of the ancient world warships, ready to repel an attacking force.

Located a few meters underwater just 200 feet from the coast near the resort town of Limassol, the port will soon be Cyprus’s new tourist attraction where adventurous travelers can dive above its submerged stone remains.

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Yiannis Violaris of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities dives above the submerged stone remains of a 2,400-year-old port believed to have been built by successors to Alexander the Great near the modern seaside resort of Limassol, Cyprus.

This is a new direction for the Cypriot tourism authorities, who are looking beyond the long-standing ‘sun and surf’ product of the eastern Mediterranean island nation to reach specialist tourism markets.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced tourist arrivals for an island that relies heavily on such income, so Cypriot authorities are taking a fresh look at what the island has to offer visitors, to rekindle interest in those who choose to travel.

The head of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, Yiannis Violaris, said that what makes the port unique in the entire eastern Mediterranean is its state of conservation, combined with its proximity to the coastline.

He says these attributes could attract more people amid a surge in global interest in dive tourism. The fact that Cyprus has achieved the highest marks for cleanest waters among all other countries in the European Union for the second year in a row is also a big bonus.

“Tourists as well as local visitors will have the opportunity to see this impressive old harbor, swim in it and see how it was built, with three moles surrounding it,” Violaris told The Associated Press.

Specialized diving teams are currently cleaning the harbor from vegetation and will mark underwater routes for swimmers to follow during their visit.

Diving tourism is not entirely new to the island. For years, divers have flocked to the wreck of the MS Zenobia, a Swedish-built ferry that sank in about 140 feet of water just over a mile off the coastal town of Larnaca in 1980.

The wreck has been rated as one of the best in the world for divers. But the owner of a dive shop, Michalis Sinpouris, said authorities need to do a lot more to put Cyprus firmly on the world diving map, for example by scuttling larger ships near the coast to create artificial reefs. .

Tourism directly represents around 13% of the Cypriot economy. According to the latest figures available, tourist arrivals between January and February of this year were down 86% compared to the same period in 2019, when Cyprus hit a record high in the number of travelers who chose to spend their holidays. vacation on the island.

Tourism officials were hoping the industry would rebound this month once the UK and Russia – Cyprus’s two main markets – put the island on their “green” list of safe destinations. Now they hope that August will be the month of recovery.

Industry bosses recognize that the sector is not “out of the woods” and urge rethinking how to market the Cypriot tourism product.

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The head of the Hotel Association, Haris Loizides, told an industry conference last week that the country’s tourism “must adapt considerably to survive and continue its essential contribution” to the economy.

He proposed to focus more on the ‘big picture’ of what Cyprus has to offer, such as local culture and cuisine, while reaching niche markets through digital marketing.

“The sustainability of the mass market is called into question,” Loizides said. “I dare say that massive gatherings will gradually become a thing of the past.”

This is a message that the Cypriot Deputy Minister of Tourism has taken to heart, redesigning his logo and opening up to new markets.

The ruins of the ancient city of Amathus can still be seen near Limassol Cyprus.

“I am not losing my courage and optimism because the EU is a big market, so many countries, and they feel that the psychology of travel is only starting to improve in Europe,” said the deputy. -minister of Tourism, Savvas Perdios. The Associated Press.

Perdios said authorities are working to extend the holiday season with the launch of a “game-changing” campaign dubbed “Heartland of Legends” where tourists can visit a village and see locals making famous Halloumi cheese. the island, among other experiences.

Perdios said that despite declining arrivals from the UK and Russia, he is encouraged by the digital interest that potential travelers from non-traditional markets such as France and Germany are showing to visit. in Cyprus.

“We have worked in these markets. … Things won’t happen overnight, so I remain optimistic, ”said Perdios.

Perhaps the besieging Demetrius would have approved.

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