The island of Cyprus has a long and fascinating history. Wells discovered by archaeologists in the west of Cyprus are among the oldest in the world and date the first human habitation of the island to the early Stone Age. From those earliest of times, the island rapidly gained importance due to its strategic position in the Mediterranean - both in terms of trade and military significance.


During the Bronze Age, Cyprus was first part of the Hittite Empire. Originally it was believed that the island was settled by the Mycenians around 1200BC, due to large discoveries of ancient pottery. However, this has been disputed in academic circles and it is currently held that this was due to trade, rather than invasion, as by this time there was significant trade between Cyprus and many other powerful states, including Crete and Egypt. In the wake of the Trojan war, many forces were at play and substantial settlements started to appear, such as Salamis, Paphos and Soli. The island became a formal Roman province around 50BC.


After the division of the Roman Empire, Cyprus came under Byzantine rule, though the island is believed to have been converted to Christianity by the apostle Paul. Cyprus was invaded by the Arabs around 700AD but a unique agreement was reached, under which the island was jointly ruled by the Arabs and Byzantines. This lasted until around 1000AD, when the Byzantine Empire regained strength and took full control. In the 12th century, the island was targeted by the Crusaders, during which time the crusader castles, such as Saint Hilarion Castle, were built. Richard the Lionheart was married in Cyprus and his army ruled the island until it was sold by him to the Knights Templar. Shortly after, Cyprus was occupied by the Lusignans, who established the Kingdom of Cyprus and made Latin the official language. The Latin church was established around 1200AD, resulting in persecutions of the Orthodox Cypriot Church. Marionites also settled here during the crusades and some Marionite villages remain in Northern Cyprus today.


In the Middle Ages, Roman Catholics held the reigns of power. There was great wealth from trading and Cyprus became the centre for trade between Europe and Africa and Asia. Although there was much conflict, the island became more and more dominated by Genoese merchants during the 14th century. As a result, Cyprus sided with the Avignon Papacy in the Great Schism, hoping that the French would be able to force out the Italians. But the remaining rulers gradually lost their independence until 1489, when the island was sold to the Venetians.


Later, the Ottoman Empire became rulers of Cyprus and during this period, the current mixed population of Turkish and Greek inhabitants came about. Ottoman rule lasted until 1878, when the Russo-Turkish War effectively ended Ottoman control. Under the Cyprus Convention, Cyprus came under the control of the United Kingdom, though many Greek Cypriots sought 'enosis' - the union of Cyprus and Greece. At the start of World War 1, Cyprus was annexed by the British, becoming a Crown Colony. The island enjoyed increased free speech, allowing the Greek Cypriots to more formally seek enosis. However, this did not happen and the island formally gained independence in 1960, becoming the Republic of Cyprus.


At the time the Republic was formed, Turkish Cypriots comprised around 20% of the island's population and the constitution guaranteed safeguards for participation in politics and government, including a Turkish Cypriot as Vice President. But some articles of the constitution were never implemented by the President at the time, Archbishop Makarios. Greek Cypriots tried again to enforce enosis and the internal struggles turned into conflict. Following further uprisings, the Turkish army came to Cyprus in 1974 and the island separated into two parts, the Turkish Cypriots occupying the northern third of the island, and the Greek Cypriots the south. The border between the states became all but impassible and remained under United Nations control. The south retained the title of The Republic of Cyprus and the north became the TRNC: the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.


In recent years, political and economic factors have seen the political situation become far more relaxed. South Cyprus became a member state of the EU and adopted the Euro in 2008. The TRNC is not a member of the EU and has retained the YTL (New Turkish Lira) as its currency. The border between the north and south now has a number of formal crossing points and people from both nations freely cross for both work and pleasure. Visitors to Cyprus can freely cross the border, which has had a positive and significant effect on tourism to the north.

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