Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean, after Sicily and Sardinia, with an area of 9.251 sq. kms (3.572 sq. miles).
It is situated at the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean, at a distance of 300 km north of Egypt, 90 km west of Syria, and 60 km south of Turkey. The Greek island of Rhodes lies 360 km to the north-west.
Cyprus’ coastal line is indented and rocky in the north with long sandy beaches in the south. The north coastal plain, covered with olive and carob trees, is backed by the steep and narrow Pentadaktylos mountain range of limestone, rising to a height of 1.042 m. In the south, the extensive mountain massif of Troodos, covered with pine, dwarf oak, cypress and cedar, culminates in the peak of Mount Olympus, 1.953 m. above sea level. Between the Troodos and the Pentadaktylos mountain ranges lies the fertile plain of Messaoria. Arable land constitutes 46.8% of the total area of the island. There are no permanently flowing rivers, only torrents which flow down river debts after heavy rain.
The population of the Republic of Cyprus is 952.100 (2012) of whom 681.000 belong to the Greek Cypriot community, (71,5%), 90.100 (9,5%) to the Turkish Cypriot community (estimate) and 181.000 (19,0%) are foreign citizens residing in Cyprus. The language of the Greek Cypriot community is Greek and the community adheres predominantly to the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. The language of the Turkish Cypriot community is Turkish and the members of the community are Sunni Muslims.
The history of Cyprus is one of the oldest recorded in the world and its historical significance is disproportionate to its small size. The first signs of cilivisation date to the ninth millennium B.C. The earliest known foreign settlements on the island were mainly of Phoenicians and Greeks, with Phoenician culture dominating the island’s eastern and southern parts. As a strategic location in the Middle East, it was subsequently occupied by several major powers, including the empires of the Assyrians, Egyptians, and Persians, from whom the island was seized in 333 BC by Alexander the Great and at which point Greek culture began to dominate. Subsequent rule by Ptolemaic Egypt, the Roman Empire, the Byzantines, Arab caliphates for a short period, the French Lusignan dynasty, and the Venetians, was followed by over three centuries of Ottoman control. Cyprus was placed under British administration in 1878 until it was granted independence in 1960.
Cyprus occupies an important role in Greek mythology being the birthplace of Aphrodite and Adonis, and home to King Cinyras, Teucer and Pygmalion.
The island figures prominently in the early history of Christianity, being the first province of Rome to be ruled by a Christian governor in the first century and providing a backdrop for stories in the New Testament.