“Doin’ the ruins.”
That’s what Dad called the trips he and Mum took around the Mediterranean. And twice I got to along to see firsthand (among many other amazing things) just how far the vast arm of Ancient Rome used to reach – including to a once posh neighborhood on the island of Cyprus. It wasn’t my first time “doin’ the ruins,” but those sun-baked columns and foundations made a lasting impression on me – and make me think about what impressions we’ll be leaving of our time.
When our cruise ship docked at the city of Limassol, we were greeted by a tour guide who warmly welcomed us to the “Island of Love” – birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite! At least I think that’s what our guide meant even though her charming Greek accent made it sound like we’d landed on the “Island of Lava” – which would have been hot in its way, but far less romantic. Anyhow, all confusion was cleared up by our first stop of the day.
After a short bus ride along the sparkling coast, we paused at Aphrodite’s Rock (Petra Tou Romiou) where the goddess of love herself was supposed to have emerged right from the sea foam. One legend about the rock says that if you swim around it three times you’ll find true love. I laughed at the time – but now I’m wondering if it might have been a better bet than online dating…
Our next destination was the southwestern city of Paphos (Pafos) and Paphos Archaeological Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a zip code prized over the centuries by a number of ancient civilizations, including Rome.
If I’d been an Ancient Roman realtor, Paphos is the place I’d have wanted to make my speciality! With the gorgeous ocean views, elite and powerful neighbors and I’m sure good schools or tutors, these villas would have sold themselves! I was awed by the sheer number of excavated foundations and ornate mosaics that are still so clear to see. It was like a big field of floor art!
I’ll bet the status conscious owners couldn’t imagine that centuries later their homes would be identified by the flooring choices they made – they were probably just trying to keep up with the Junii.
The other town we visited on Cyprus was Kourion – another picturesque spot that would have been a realtor’s “location, location, location” dream! After lunching within sight and sound of the inviting Mediterranean waves, the folks and I got a look at some of the area’s imposing ruins, including a villa and theatre where I imagine there were performances that matched the drama of the seascape below.
Sadly, I guess these showplace structures couldn’t escape devastation from earthquakes that proved indifferent to the wealth and status of their builders. But it sure must have been nice there while it lasted – and when in Ancient Rome, I’d have wanted to do as these Romans did!
After “doin’ the ruins” over several trips, I came to see how it would have been hard to be in this neck of the world and not be part of that real estate hungry Empire back in the day (although clearly the Romans could have benefited from some Natural Hazard Disclosure rules). Seems like if you weren’t in Rome, all you had to do was wait a few minutes, like one does for a change in New England weather, and sure enough you would be.
Back in 2000 (a slightly less distant day), I was dazzled by the movie Gladiator and the way it restored those ruins for the screen to all their grit and glory. And was I ever smitten with Russell Crowe’s Roman general Maximus! When he earnestly declared that “Rome is the light,” I totally bought in. On reading up a bit more though, I learned that at the end of that far-reaching arm of Rome’s was a crushingly heavy hand – and for whatever light Rome shed, there were other lights it callously extinguished.
Even so, I just can’t deny the Empire has still cast a spell over me wherever I’ve caught the flickers of its light. During my visit to Cyprus, I spotted a 19th century lighthouse among the Paphos ruins that brought to mind the first piece of Rome I remember seeing – years ago and many miles away.
I’d studied some in college about ancient civilizations and what I used to call “the old stuff” they left behind – but it was quite another thing to grab a backpack one summer and set off on a European tour to see that “stuff” for myself.
I arrived in London and headed right out for a solo pilgrimage to Canterbury and Dover. Maybe the jet lag left me giddy, but it all seemed like some fantastic board game I was getting to play! There I was with a bunch of gold-colored pound pieces and different colored bills that I could plunk down to take in things I thought would only ever be interesting reading for the next exam!
I was at Canterbury Cathedral! And I was at Dover Castle, strolling chalky cliffs, bounding up stone steps and peering through arrow slits straight into the past! I was terribly impressed that this medieval fortress had not only withstood the ravages of its own era but of everything hurled at it and dropped on it by the generations that followed. What a long and tough stretch to have survived! But there was another feature at Dover Castle that catapulted my perception of time and humanity back even further:
The Roman Lighthouse.
Probably built in the 1st century after Rome successfully invaded, the lighthouse (along with a twin that didn’t stand the test of time) would have had a fire burning in its top to guide ships in the harbor below.
It was almost too much for me to grasp that I could be standing beside something of so great an age! And just like when I was a little kid visiting the Alamo, I remember listening hard in the vain hope that the stones could speak to me. I wanted them to tell me whose way they’d lit and everything they’d seen.
Years later, I find myself pondering what will end up “speaking” for my age. What pillars and foundations will we leave behind? What beacons? In another line from Gladiator, Maximus rallies his troops for battle by impressing on them (in Crowe’s husky, gravitas-y voice!) that what they do in life “echoes in eternity.” Thinking of the mosaics of Paphos and the lighthouse at Dover, I wonder whether in ways we can’t possibly know, that really could be true.
And it all makes me wish I had more answers than questions by now about life, love, the environment, politics – flooring…
Then again, Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? Hopefully, I’ve got time to keep listening, learning and trying to sort things out – and whether it’s politics or parquet, for the sake of the generations of citizens (and maybe even tourists) to come, I’ll try to make my choices with care!
A great story, told with insight and humour. I wonder what Australia will leave behind for archaeologists to ponder about in two thousand years time?
The aboriginals here do leave behind and still are doing great works of art including a great number of the most beautiful ‘cave-paintings.’
Thank you so much! And interesting thoughts about the aboriginals – I was very young but I do remember seeing some of the cave art. We also came back with a bark painting and didgeridoo! Yes it would be interesting to know what future generations make of things. Thanks again!
Great post providing much food for thought such as what will our legacy be and how are we spending our years? “…and make me think about what impressions we’ll be leaving of our time.” Sadly, I’m not so sure our legacy and its artifacts will be as positive as those of Cyprus and the English Castles of Old along with the timeless stories, benefits and lessons we’ve reaped from them from so long ago and so far away.
As brutal as the Romans were, theirs was a great civilization and that their empire fell according to their corruption and decadence at the end should be a lesson for us 2 millennia later. Sadly, I don’t think we’ve learned anything from history, especially *that* history and our legacy and the damage we’re doing will be far worse, with far deeper, longer-lasting consequences than any negative aspects of their legacy. What we do in the next 50 years will define us as a race and as a species for the next thousand years, maybe longer.
Something that I found quite compelling were the human figures in the floor tiles, the Cyprian men with their beards and the women with their hair and dress as they were, they could almost speak to you! If they only could!
A great story, Amy, really! And thanks for sharing those great pictures!
Thanks so much! And I appreciate your thoughts on the import of our choices over the next 50 years. It’s a daunting thought to be sure – but getting to look at those Cyprian faces also kind of reminds me that we’re the latest in a long line of generations of people with responsibilities and cares who are just trying to figure things out.
You’re most welcome! This is a topic I find myself thinking about quite often. Looking at those pictures of Cyprus and the timeless images (“selfies”) of the people who lived then, put there by them, perhaps to tell us a story, perhaps an attempt to teach us a lesson, were quite stirring. I realize my comments were quite “heavy” when the pictures and the story were so positive and uplifting; my apologies. The topic and the history is as fascinating as it is timeless, causing one to pause and reflect on our own history in the making and our legacy.
Quite true, we *are* the latest in a long lineage trying to figure things out, but *this* generation has the potential for truly building that grand civilization those same ancient peoples strove so mightily to achieve or sending us back to the Stone Age, quite literally.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the pictures and will be calling my travel agent presently!
Again, thanks for sharing!
My pleasure! And certainly no apologies needed for having cares and concerns about the future!
(Cut m’self off…) I’m still going to hope for the best. Thanks again for the comments!
Me too and you’re most welcome!
Thanks for sharing your sharp pictures and ancient history in a way that held my interest unlike former textbooks and teachers.
Wow, thank YOU!
It’s always a pleasure to travel with you, Amy! I loved your photos of sunny Cyprus – we could definitely use a bit of that weather over here right now! I was also fascinated by that Roman lighthouse… it made me wonder which, if any, of our modern buildings will still be standing in 2000 years’ time!
Thank you! And I always enjoy your travels with the Beasties! And yes, it’s interesting to think what might be around way down the road – in the meantime, I’ll hope for good weather in your neck of the woods!
Thank you 😀 I think we’re long overdue another all-too-brief spell of good weather!
Thank you for stopping by my blog Amy! Your blogs looks exciting & I’m eager to read more:)
Thank you! Really enjoyed your story about the Canadian Rockies!
Many thanks! Appreciate your stopping by!
What gorgeous photographs, and what thoughtful text. I find it very moving to visit the monuments and remains of people who lived centuries or even millennia ago. We too will be dust, but what will we leave behind? Monuments, for sure, but also enduring ideas and values, I hope.
Thank you very much – and I sure share your hope!
This was beautiful and informative!
The one jab at online-dating: masterful! It is curious that you went to Paphos. I had no idea it was that beautiful. Seeing these pictures of the Mediterranean make me want to go!
Thank you very much! Wish I could take credit for seeking out incredible places like Paphos but they were on the cruise agenda – and boy were we pleased!