NO 26 The Stepping Stone of the Mediterranean

NO 26

by Natalia Kyriakides

I suppose being the second largest city of an island of just over one million people is not especially something to brag about.

Yet Limassol is making waves in the travel industry. In recent years, the number of tourists had died down within this Cypriot city and had moved to both Paphos to the west, where you can find European families enjoying the pretty harbours and nature reserves, and Agia Napa to the East which has fast become a party capital of the Mediterranean.

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Limassol’s new lease of life is founded not on tacky tourist t-shirts or buckets of cheap alcohol but on international business. A major port city, it is home to the largest port in Cyprus and is a key location for both passenger ships and the shipping industry within the Mediterranean.

Moreover, parts of the city have recently undergone huge regeneration projects such as the beautiful new marina and promenade. This new focus has landed Limassol the number 3 spot on TripAdvisor’s list of up-and-coming destinations in the world – a modern title for an ancient city.

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Cyprus has a rich and vibrant history, with recorded history going as far back as the 8Th century BC. With it’s prime location nestled between Europe to the west and the Middle East to, well, the east, Cyprus has always been a coveted stepping stone between the two continents and so was viewed by many cultures as a prize of the Mediterranean.

Though originally settled by Mycenaean Greeks, during it’s long history the island has been subject to Persian, Egyptian, Roman, Arab and even French and Venetian rule before the Ottoman empire took over in the 16th century. As a result, Cyprus as a whole has an undeniably deep multi-cultural atmosphere and Limassol is no exception.

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Nowadays the demographic of the city has been enriched by refugees, most notably from Lebanon and the near East, foreign military personnel who have been stationed at one of the military bases and even seasonal workers who came searching for adventure or a better quality of life and never quite left.

Most recently, a noticeable change in the city’s ever growing cosmopolitan atmosphere has been down to Russian influence. An influx of Russian tourists, workers and investment has really brought Limassol to the world’s attention.

This change has been obvious in business yet the influence has trickled down into everyday life, changing the very lifestyle of the people of Limassol.

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Gone are the days of leisurely walks along to seafront while choosing a traditional tavern to spend the evening eating and socialising. Likewise, the Irish Karaoke bars once loved by UK tourists have now also vanished into near extinction.

The new generation of the Limassol elite demands a night life that revolves around beachside clubs and bars of all-white furnishings in the heat of summer, VIP bottle service and world renowned DJ’s.

The fact that this little city on this little island makes it so easy to know of almost every-one in it, even if you don’t actually know them personally, makes it all the more ironic that Limassol has it’s own set of adored local celebrities.

Truthfully, Limassol makes it very easy to feel like a big fish, albeit in a pretty small pond. This aspect of life there tends to be the tipping point for most people between loving it and hating it.

Don’t be disheartened. If the glitzy nightlife isn’t your thing (but trust me you should try it at least once, it can be glorious) then there are remnants of the old Limassol which still linger.

It is heart-warming to know that the city is still primarily separated into the villages that have slowly merged to form what is now considered the Limassol District and that village life has barely changed in most of them.

Sure they have grown and new villages have sprung up in order to deal with the expanding boundaries, yet traditional tavernas, local coffee shops where the old men spend their days idling and kebab shops are all staples of the Cypriot village found just a short ride from the centre of town.

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The vast majority of the city’s inhabitants live in such villages and it is this fact that saves Limassol. The same people who spend their summer nights worshipping some DJ or other from haughty VIP tables raised above a cramped dancefloor are the same people that go home at 6 in the morning to roosters calling the daybreak and will likely recover from their hangover while sipping a coffee with family.

Between city life and village life, rustic and modern, laid-back beaches and a cosmopolitan culture, the people of Limassol have perfected a balanced lifestyle which most people only experience for one or two weeks a year. It’s no wonder then that this stepping stone is one that makes many people stick around.