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Episkopi 01-2017 img06 Kourion.jpg
Kourion Agora
Kourion is located in Cyprus
Shown within Cyprus
Alternate name Curium
Location Episkopi, Limassol District, Cyprus
Episkopi Cantonment, Akrotiri and Dhekelia (UK)
Coordinates 34°39′51″N 32°53′16″E / 34.6642°N 32.8877°E / 34.6642; 32.8877Coordinates: 34°39′51″N 32°53′16″E / 34.6642°N 32.8877°E / 34.6642; 32.8877
Type Settlement
Management Cyprus Department of Antiquities
Ancient kingdoms of Cyprus

Kourion (Greek: Κούριον) or Latin: Curium, was an important ancient city-state on the southwestern coast of Cyprus. The acropolis of Kourion, located 1.3 km southwest of Episkopi and 13 km west of Limassol, is located atop a limestone promontory nearly one hundred metres in height along the coast of Episkopi Bay. The Kourion archaeological area lies within the British Overseas Territory of Akrotiri and Dhekelia and is managed by the Cyprus Department of Antiquity.

Kourion is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Paphos.[1]

Many impressive remains have been excavated and can be seen today.

History of Kourion[edit]

Edge of Kourion plateau with ancient tombs

Early History of the area[edit]

The earliest identified occupation within the Kouris River valley is at the hilltop settlement of Sotira-Teppes, located 9 km northwest of Kourion.[2][3] This settlement dates to the Ceramic Neolithic period (circa 5500 – 4000 BC). Another Ceramic Neolithic hilltop settlement has been excavated at Kandou-Koupovounos on the east bank of the Kouris River. In the Chalcolithic period (3800–2300 BC) settlement shifted to the site of Erimi-Pamboules near the village of Erimi. Erimi-Pamboules was occupied from the conclusion of the Ceramic Neolithic through the Chalcolithic period (3400–2800 BC).

Occupation in the Early Cypriot period (circa 2300–1900 BC) is uninterrupted from the preceding Chalcolithic period, with occupation continuing along the Kouris River Valley and the drainages to the west. Sotira-Kaminoudhia, located to the northwest of Sotira-Teppes, on the lower slope of the hill, was settled. It dates from the Late Chalcolithic to EC (Early Cypriot) I (ca 2400 – 2175 BC). In the ECIII-LC (Late Cypriot) IA (ca. 2400 – 1550 BC) a settlement was established 0.8 km east of Episkopi at Episkopi-Phaneromeni. The Middle Cypriot (1900–1600 BC) is a transitional period in the Kouris River Valley. The settlements established during the MC flourished into urban centres in the Late Cypriot II-III, especially Episkopi-Bamboula.[4]

In the Late Cypriot I-III (1600–1050 BC) the settlements of the Middle Cypriot period developed into a complex urban centre within the Kouris Valley, which provided a corridor in the trade of Troodos copper, controlled through Alassa and Episkopi-Bamboula. In the MCIII-LC IA a settlement was occupied at Episkopi-Phaneromeni. Episkopi-Bamboula, located on a low hill 0.4 km west of the Kouris and east of Episkopi, was an influential urban centre from the LC IA-LCIII.[5][6] The town flourished in the 13th century BC before being abandoned c.1050 BC.[7][8]

Kingdom of Kourion[edit]

The Kingdom of Kourion was established during the Cypro-Geometric period (CG) (1050-750 BC) though the site of the settlement remains unidentified. Without Cypro-Geometric settlement remains, the primary evidence for this period is from burials at the Kaloriziki necropolis, below the bluffs of Kourion. At Kaloriziki, the earliest tombs date to the 11th century B.C. (Late-Cypriot IIIB) with most burials dating to the Cypriot-Geometric II (mid-11th to mid-10th centuries B.C.). These tombs, particularly McFadden's Tomb 40, provide a picture of an increasingly prosperous community in contact with mainland Greece.[9]

Although Cyprus came under Assyrian rule, in the Cypro-Archaic period (750–475 BC) the Kingdom of Kourion was among the most influential of Cyprus. Damasos is recorded (as Damasu of Kuri) as king of Kourion on the prism[10] (672 BC) of Esarhaddon from Nineveh.

Between 569 and ca. 546 BC Cyprus was under Egyptian administration.

In 546 BC Cyrus I of Persia extended Persian authority over the Kingdoms of Cyprus, including the Kingdom of Kourion. During the Ionian Revolt (499–493 BC), Stasanor, king of Kourion, aligned himself with Onesilos, king of Salamis, the leader of a Cypriot alliance against the Persians. In 497 Stasanor betrayed Onesilos in battle against the Persian general Artybius, resulting in a Persian victory over the Cypriot poleis and the consolidation of Persian control of Cyprus.

In the Classical Period (475–333 BC) the earliest occupation of the acropolis was established, though the primary site of settlement is unknown. King Pasikrates of Kourion is recorded as having aided Alexander the Great in the siege of Tyre in 332 BC. Pasikrates ruled as a vassal of Alexander but was deposed in the struggles for succession amongst the diadochi. In 294 BC the Ptolemies consolidated control of Cyprus, and Kourion came under Ptolemaic governance.[11]

Roman History[edit]

In 58 BC the Roman Council of the Plebs (Consilium Plebis) passed the Lex Clodia de Cyprus, annexing Cyprus to the province of Cilicia and bringing it under Roman rule. Between 47 and 31 BC, Cyprus was returned to Ptolemaic rule under Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII, reverting to Roman rule after the defeat of Antony. In 22 BC, Cyprus was separated from the province of Cilicia, being established as a Senatorial province under a proconsul.

Kourion reached the climax of its influence in the Roman and Late Roman periods. The city is mentioned by several ancient authors including: Ptolemy (v. 14. § 2), Stephanus of Byzantium, Hierocles, and Pliny the Elder. It was among the most prominent cities of Cyprus, the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates being a Pan-Cypriot sanctuary alongside the Temple of Zeus Salaminos at Salamis and Aphrodite at Kata Paphos.

During the persecutions of Diocletian, Philoneides, the Bishop of Kourion, was martyred. In 341 AD,the Bishop Zeno was instrumental in the Council of Ephesus in asserting the independence of the Cypriot church.

In the later-4th century (c. 365/70) Kourion was hit by five strong earthquakes within a period of eighty years, as can be seen by the archaeological remains throughout the site, and suffered near total destruction.[12] In the early-5th century Kourion was reconstructed, the reconstruction including the construction of the ecclesiastical complex on the western side of the acropolis. In 649 the Arab raids resulted in the destruction of the acropolis, after which the centre of occupation was relocated to Episkopi, 2.0 km northeast of the acropolis. Episkopi was named for the seat of the Bishop (Episcopus).[11][13][14]

History of excavations[edit]

The site of Kourion was identified in the 1820s by Carlo Vidua. In 1839 and 1849, respectively, Lorenzo Pease and Ludwig Ross identified the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates to the west of the acropolis. In 1874–5, Luigi Palma di Cesnola, then American and Russian consul to the Ottoman government of Cyprus, extensively looted the cemetery of Ayios Ermoyenis and the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates.[15][16] Between 1882 and 1887 several unauthorized private excavations were conducted prior to their illegalization by British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Bulwer in 1887.

In 1895 the British Museum conducted the first quasi-systematic excavations at Kourion as part of the Turner Bequest Excavations.[17][18] P. Dikaios of the Department of Antiquities conducted excavations in the Kaloriziki Cemetery in 1933.

Between 1934 and 1954, G. McFadden, B.H. Hill and J. Daniel conducted systematic excavations at Kourion for the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania. Following the death of G. McFadden in 1953, the project and its publication stalled. The excavations of the Early Christian Basilica on the acropolis were continued by A.H.S. Megaw from 1974–9.[19][20][21]

The Cyprus Department of Antiquities has conducted numerous excavations at Kourion including: M. Loulloupis (1964–74), A. Chritodoulou (1971–74), and D. Christou (1975–1998).[22] Between 1978 and 1984 D. Soren conducted excavations at the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, and on the acropolis between 1984 and 1987. D. Parks directed excavations within the Amathus Gate Cemetery between 1995 and 2000.[23][24] The 'Amathus Gate' cemetery was excavated by D. Parks between 1995 and 2000.[25]

Since 2012 the Kourion Urban Space Project, under the direction of T.W. Davis of the Charles D. Tandy Institute of Archaeology, has excavated on the acropolis.[26]

Archaeological remains[edit]

Kourion's Greco-Roman theatre.

The majority of the archaeological remains within the Kourion Archaeological Area date to the Roman and Late Roman/Early Byzantine periods. The acropolis and all archaeological remains within the area are managed and administered by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities and are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates[edit]

The Temple of Apollo Hylates

The Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, located 1.7 km west of the acropolis, was a Pan-Cypriot sanctuary, third in importance only to the Sanctuaries of Zeus Salaminos and Paphian Aphrodite.

The earliest archaeological evidence indicates that the sanctuary was established in the late-8th century BC, the sanctuary being dedicated to "the God," apparently unassociated with Apollo. In the late 4th and early 3rd century BC, Classical Greek and Hellenistic architecture was introduced and the sanctuary was dedicated to Apollo Hylates. Most of the present remains were constructed in the 1st century and early 2nd century with the construction first of the:

  • Sacred street
  • Circular monument
  • The temple
  • Palaestra
Sanctuary baths

Then under Trajan it was completed with the:

  • Baths
  • South portico.

The temple was abandoned in the late 4th century after an earthquake.

The Theatre[edit]

The theatre of Kourion was excavated by the University Museum Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania between 1935 and 1950. The theatre was constructed into the northern slope of the defile descending to the Amathus Gate, thus utilizing the slope of the hill to partially support the weight of the seating in the cavea. This architectural arrangement in typical throughout theatres of the Eastern Mediterranean. The theatre was initially constructed on a smaller scale in the late-second century BC. The theatre was repaired in the late-first century BC, likely following the earthquake of 15 BC. The theatre's stage was seemingly reconstructed in 64/65 AD by Quintus Iulius Cordus, the proconsul. The theatre received an extensive renovation and enlargement under Trajan in 111 AD, bringing the theatre to its presently preserved extent. Between 214 and 217 AD, the theatre was modified to accommodate gladiatorial games and venationes but it was restored to its original form as a theatre after 250 AD. The theatre was abandoned in the later-fourth century AD, likely the result of successive seismic events, the earthquake of 365/70 perhaps resulting in its abandonment.[19] The enlarged cavea of the Roman phases could have accommodated an audience of as many as 3,500. The stage building (scaenae frons) is preserved only in its foundations, though this would have originally obscured the view of the Mediterranean to the south. The present remains of the theatre have been restored extensively.[27][28] The theatre is one of the venues for the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama.[29]

House of Achilles[edit]

The House of Achilles, located at the northwestern extent of the acropolis, at the southern end of a saddle connecting the acropoline promontory to the hills to the north and west. It was located outside the walls, which has been partially exposed immediately to the south, and near the proposed site of the Paphos Gate.

The House of Achilles was constructed in the early-fourth century AD. The structure is arrayed around a central peristyle courtyard with fragmentarily preserved mosaic pavements in the northeastern portico. The most important mosaic depicts the unveiling of Achilles’ identity by Odysseus in the court of Lycomedes of Skyros when his mother, Thetis, had hidden him there amongst the women so that he might not be sent to war against the Trojans. In another room, a mosaic depicting Thetis bathing Achilles for the first time has been fragmentarily preserved. In yet another room a fragmentary mosaic depicts the Rape of Ganymede. Though it has been tentatively identified as a private-house, it may have functioned as a public reception hall.

House of the Gladiators[edit]

Mosaic of two gladiators, Margarites (left) and Hellenikos (right), late-3rd century AD, House of the Gladiators
mosaic of gladiators being separated by a referee, late-3rd century AD, House of the Gladiators

The so-called House of the Gladiators is located south and east of the House of Achilles. The structure dates to the late-third century AD. The structure has been interpreted as an elite-private residence, or perhaps more probably as a public palaestra. The later identification is supported by the absence of many rooms appropriate for living spaces and that the structure was entered from the east through the attached bath complex. The main wing of the structure is arranged around a central peristyle courtyard, the northern and eastern porticos of which possess preserved mosaic pavements depicting gladiatorial combats. The eastern portico of the atrium contains two panels depicting gladiators in combat, the only such mosaics in Cyprus.[27][28]

The Forum, the Nymphaeum and the Forum Baths[edit]

Nympheum, Kourion
The Baths

The forum of Kourion was constructed in the late-2nd or early-3rd centuries, an constituted the centre of Kourion's public life. The forum consisted of a central pavement with colonnaded porticoes set along its east, north and southern sides. The eastern portico measured 65m in length and 4.5 m wide, with a colonnade facing the courtyard, and a wall forming frontage of shops to the west. The northern portico provided access to a monumnetal nymphaeum and a bath complex thermae constructed around the nymphaeum. The nymphaeum, measuring 45x15m was constructed in the 1st century and renovated during the reign of Trajan (98–117) at which time the baths were constructed around it, along the northern side of the agora.[30]

The Forum Baths, constructed on the east and west of the nymphaeum, and north and northeast of the forum, were constructed in the early-4th century following the final renovation of the nymphaeum. The baths were divided into east and west wings by the nymphaeum. The eastern baths were arranged around a central corridor which opened onto a sudatorium, a caldarium, and a tepidarium to the north. The western baths possessed a series of axially aligned baths along the northwest wall of the nymphaeum.

The forum, the nymphaeum, and the baths destroyed in the earthquakes of the mid-4th century and were subsequently reoccupied. The nymphaeum was reconstructed as a three-aisled basilica, with apses along the south wall. It was temporarily used as a church between c.370 and 410 during the construction of the nearby episcopal precinct. In the early-5th century the western portico was renovated to allow an entrance to the ecclesiastical precinct to the west. The structural elements of the porticoes were extensively reused in the construction of the episcopal precinct.

Classical Greek Pyramidal structure[edit]

Pyramidal structure beneath baths

Beneath the foundations of the baths the base of a large pyramidal structure dating from the late Classical period (350-325 BC) have been discovered consisting of huge stone blocks. These are the earliest remains found in Kourion.

The Stadium[edit]

the stadium

The impressive stadium of Kourion, located 0.5 km west of the acropolis and 1.1 km east of the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, was constructed during the Antonine period (c. 138–180). The stadium was 187m in length with a starting line marked by two circular stone posts, set wide enough to accommodate eight runners. The free-standing curved seating structure enclosed the dromos on its south, west and north sides and measured 217 m long and 17 m wide. In its entirety the stadium measured 229 m in length and 24 m in width. This structure consisted of seven rows of seating supported by a 6m thick ashlar wall. Seating was probably accessed by stairs set at 10m intervals along the exterior of the structure. The dromos was accessed by gaps in the structure in the middle of the north and south sides, and at the centre of its curved western end. This structure provided sufficient seating for approximately 6,000 spectators.[31] The stadium was abandoned in later-half of the 4th century. It remains the only excavated stadium in Cyprus.

The Baths and House of Eustolios[edit]

Mosaic in the Complex of Eustolios at Kourion

The House and Baths of Eustolios, situated on the crest of the southern cliffs immediately above the theatre, was constructed in the late-4th century over the remains of a structure destroyed in the mid-4th century. In the early years of the 5th century, seemingly immediately after the completion of the house, a bathing complex was constructed along the northern side of the house. The household and bath annex on the northern side contains more than thirty rooms. The complex was entered from the west, the visitor passing into a rectangular forecourt. A salutatory inscription in the vestibule beyond the forecourt reads, "Enter for the good luck of the house." Rooms were arranged north and south of this forecourt and the vestibule, including a peristyle courtyard to the south at its eastern extent. The southern peristyle was arranged around a central pool and is the centrepiece of the household, its porticoes adorned with elaborate mosaics. A mosaic inscription in the eastern portico identifies the building as Eustolios, who built the structure to alleviate the suffering of the populace of Kourion, presumably in response to the earthquakes of the mid-to-late 4th century. The inscription identifies Eustolios as a Christian, concluding, “this house is girt by the much venerated signs of Christ.” The accompanying iconography includes figural depictions of fish and birds (grey goose, guinea hen, falcon, partridge and pheasant).

The bathing complex is arranged around a central rectangular hall and included a frigidarium with an antechamber, a tepidarium, and a caldarium. The frigidarium is paved with a figural mosaic depicting a personification of Ktisis (Creation) holding an architect's ruler. The complex remained in use until its destruction in the mid-7th century.[32][33] The household was probably constructed as an private elite-residence, but was converted into a publicly-accessible bathing facility in the early-fifth century.


Though the whole area is very arid today, the city clearly had a good water supply in Roman times as evidenced at least by the Nymphaea and large public and private baths, and also by the many pipes on the site.

Colonel Joseph S. Last showed that two springs fed the city through separate aqueducts from near Sotira (the smaller source) 11 km distant and Souni (the larger source) at 20 km distant which were both carried in terracotta pipes.[34][35]

Episcopal Precinct and Cathedral of Kourion[edit]

The episcopal precinct of Kourion, located along the crest of the cliffs immediately southwest of the forum, was constructed at the beginning of the 5th century and renovated successively in the 6th century CE. This monoapsidal, three-aisled basilica, constructed on an east-west orientation, comprised the seat (cathedra) of the Bishop of Kourion. The aisles were separated from the nave by colonnades of twelve columns set on plinths. The central nave's eastern terminus ended in a semicircular hemidomed apse with a synthronon. The basilica was magnificently appointed according to its importance within the ecclesiastical structure of Cypriot Christianity. The walls were revetted in white marble. The eastern extent of the aisles allowed access to sacristies. The altar was enclosed within a chancel screen, and covered within a four-posted baldachin. The aisles were paved in opus sectile while the nave was paved with polychrome mosaics. The complex included a barthex arrayed along the facade of the basilica and a peristyle atria arrayed both west and north of the narthex. This northern atrium provided access alternately to the episcopal palace to its west or to the baptistery to the east, situated north of the basilica along with a diakoinon and cathechumena. The precinct was destroyed during the Arab raids of the 7th century, after which the seat of the Bishop of Kourion was moved inland where the village of Episkopi was established.

The Northwestern Basilica[edit]

In the late-5th century, a Christian tri-apsidal, three-aisled basilica was constructed on the height northwest of the acropolis on the northern side of the road between the acropolis to the southeast and the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates. In Classical antiquity this site may have been a sanctuary dedicated to Demeter and Kore, as evidenced by a dedicatory inscription found on the site. The basilica was constructed on an easterly orientation. The central nave and aisles were paved with marble slabs. The central apse possessed a synthronon for the clergy, with the chancel set apart from the nave by marble screens and an opus sectile pavement. The basilica was accessed through a colonnaded peristyle courtyard and narthex west of the basilica. This atrium was entered from the north and south. The peristyle courtyard was centred upon a rectangular cistern. Also accessed off the narthex and atrium were two catechumenon, flanking the basilica to the north and south, and a diakoinon to the north. The basilica was abandoned during the Arab raids of the mid-7th century.

The Early Christian Harbor Basilica[edit]

The Early Christian Harbor Basilica

In the early-6th century, an early Christian basilica was constructed at the base of the southwestern bluffs, below the acropolis, near the western extent of the unexcavated harbor area. The church was a tri-apsidal, three-aisled basilica that measured approximately 27.5 m in length and 14 m in width on its exterior. It was oriented with the altar facing southeast. The central nave measured approximately 25 m including the apse, and 5.5 m wide, with the flanking aisles being 2.75 m in width. The colonnades supporting the clerestory ceiling of the nave consisted of six corinthian columns. The eastern ends of the aisles and nave terminated in half-domes adorned with mosaics. The chancel was paved with opus sectile while the nave and aisles were paved in mosaics. A peristyle atrium was arrayed west of the basilica, with a baptistery opening off the northern portico, and access to the basilica complex being controlled through the southern portico. The peristyle courtyard was centered upon a well. A catechumena was arrayed along the southern aisle of the basilica and was accessed from the southeast corner of the atrium. The basilica was abandoned in the mid-7th century, a date likely correlating to the earliest Arab raids on coastal Cypriot cities.


Kourion is a major paragliding site in Cyprus and is flyable on most days of the year. Many pilots from all over Cyprus and visitors to the island use the area as a launching spot.


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 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, William, ed. (1854). "Curium". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. 1. London: John Murray. p. 730. 

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