A tour of the Paphos Archaeological Park isn’t really complete without a tour of the Tombs of the Kings, an impressive necropolis from the 4th Century BC.
If you haven’t read my post on the Paphos Archaeological Park, you should check it out first and come back. This post on the Tombs of the Kings is like part 2 of the Paphos Archaeological Park.
As weird as it may sound to visit a cemetery from centuries ago, it is actually really interesting and surprisingly mostly relaxing! Come along…
The Tombs of the Kings
The Tombs of the Kings is a necropolis which dates back to the 4th century BC. The tombs are carved out of the rock and are mostly underground. The biggest and most remarkable tomb has a peristyled rectangular atrium surrounded by doric columns. The burial chambers and loculi surround such atrium.
It seems that no king was ever buried in the Tombs of the Kings, only local aristocrats. There were in fact no more kings in Cyprus at this period! The name of the tombs refers to the grandiose architecture.
There are 8 distinctive tombs sites, some smaller and some bigger. See map below:
The Tombs of the Kings architecture
Indeed the architecture of such tombs is grandiose! They show similarities to the Hellenistic tombs found in Alexandria with clear Greek architecture characteristics. I’m far from an expert on this period but the 4th century BC marked the height of Classical Greek civilization, so this is no surprise.
Greek civilisation, like many other ancient civilisation, had very specific funeral rites and death was seen as an important part of life. Performing the correct rituals, to enable the dead to have a successful passage into the afterlife, was essential.
When modest people often had modest single graves, it was common for aristocratic families to have lavish funeral monuments erected, either in private burial grounds or in necropolis.
As stated above and as you can see on the pictures, the tombs are centered around a court, open to the sky. There are either burial chambers around, tombs in the ground or loculi (narrow niches) cut into the walls. The walls were richly decorated with colorful frescoes.
Hellenistic tombs incorporated a funeral building on the surface of the tomb. In Cyprus, it isn’t clear if such buildings existed.
Picture above: Looks like rock-cut klinai but I could be imagining things…
Notice the remains of the mural painting on the picture above
The Tombs of the Kings through the Ages
Centuries have gone by since the construction of the Tombs of the Kings. Like with all ancient sites, as time passes by, the grandeur & purpose fades and disappears.
Since the 4th Century BC, Cyprus suffered many devastating earthquakes and the tombs were unlikely spared.
Looting was as common throughout previous centuries as it is now, maybe even more.
Many antique sites, were used as quarry at following periods.
Many antique sites were repurposed. There are, for example, evidence that the first Christians of Cyprus used the Tombs of the Kings as burial site and squatters occupied the tombs during the Medieval period, making alterations to the original structure.
Despite the effect of time, the Tombs of the Kings remains an impressive example of necropolis and is with the rest of the Paphos Archaeological Park a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Technical bits:
The Tombs of the Kings is part of the Paphos Archaeological Park but has a separate entrance and a separate small entrance fee.
The Department of Antiquity of Cyprus website provides the necessary information on opening hours and dates of conservation works undertaken.
The Tombs of the Kings area is much smaller than the rest of the Paphos Archaeological Park. Yet it is so worth your time.
The usual recommendations?! Wear confortable shoes & a hat, bring sunscreen, be respectful!