Think about the travels you’ve done. Where is the oldest place you’ve visited?
I’m not talking about natural sites. Of course, mountains and canyons were often made millions of years ago. Using time to define the environment becomes almost meaningless.
I’m thinking here about places that humans have created. What is the oldest one you’ve seen.
Perhaps you’ve been to Stonehenge. It is really old, built in 3100 BC. Or maybe the Pyramids of Giza, built around 2600 BC.
I’ve written previously about visiting the Megalithic Temples of Malta which are older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids. Theses enormous stone temples were built in the 4th millennium BC. At the time, I had trouble at the time trying to imagine people building something more than 5000 years ago.
So, if I thought that was hard, I really didn’t know where to start when I visited Choirokoitia in Cyprus. How old is it? Well, it was built in the 7th millennium BC. That is almost 8000 years ago!!
What is Choirokoitia?
Choirokoitia is an ancient town in Cyprus that was abandoned about 8000 years. It’s now an archaeological site with the remains of a collection of mudbrick houses,
How old is Choirokoitia?
Choirokoitia was settled around 7000 BC by farmers who arrived in Cyprus and set up a small agrarian community. It was abandoned around 6000 BC and not uncovered by archaeologists until 1934.
Can you visit Choirokoitia?
It’s possible to visit Choirokoitia, with a trail leading for about two kilometres through the remains of the settlement. However, there are only limited visitor facilities and information signs.
As I walk through Choirokoitia, the circular foundations of the ancient houses around me, I think about how unlikely it is that I would’ve visited somewhere this old before (manmade, that is).
Even aside from the significance of what this community means for the history of the Mediterranean, just to be here is quite special.
I would recommend this tour from Paphos that covers several sights including Choirokoitia.
Choirokoitia is one of the World Heritage Sites in Cyprus and a fascinating look at a slice of history – but there’s not a huge amount of information available when you visit. Which is why I think it’s worth knowing what to expect when you get here.
History of Choirokoitia
So, let’s have a look at what Choirokoitia is. In essence, it is the remains of a small town – well, what a town would have looked like on Cyprus 8000 years ago. It is a collection of foundations of stone huts that would have made up this community.
It’s estimated that about 300 people probably lived in the town.
Each family unit would have more than one hut – the buildings were treated more like rooms than houses – and each one could be up to 10 metres in diameter.
Multiple huts would open onto a central outdoor space used for cooking and socialising, for example.
The rocks that formed the base of these huts are visible today and you can see that they were circular and often had steps or smaller structure inside them (perhaps to create a loft or internal walls). None of them is still standing.
However, as you come into the site, there are some reconstructions of what the buildings would have looked like, to help you picture how it would have been.
The settlement of Choirokoitia was abandoned around 6000 BC, although we don’t know exactly why. It’s possible the residents were forced to leave because of a natural disaster, like a drought or an earthquake.
After that, the site sat empty, hidden, for millennia until it was rediscovered in 1934 by British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon.
After that, the excavations here found all sorts of artefacts about that period of time, including pottery, figurines, and tools.
When you visit Choirokoitia today, these findings help paint a picture of daily life and other things like the residents’ diet, religious beliefs, and social structure.
But the question still remains – who were these people who lived here in Choirokoitia and how did they create something that seems so advanced for the time?
Who lived in Choirokoitia?
It’s thought that the people who built Choirokoitia were descendants of farmers who came from the Middle East in the 9th millennium BC.
They were probably the first humans to inhabit the island of Cyprus and would have brought important agricultural skills with them.
Over time, they would have lost their cultural connections with the homeland and developed into a unique civilisation. It’s also quite possible that they then linked to parts of Europe and transferred some of that information.
Not only were these people impressive in their ability to build homes and create a community, but they were quite sophisticated in other ways too.
Evidence from the archaeological research shows that they had tools made from bone and flint, stone vessels and even simple figurines of deities.
Perhaps these anthropomorphic clay symbols would eventually evolve into the famous goddess from Cyprus, Aphrodite.
The research at Choirokoitia has also uncovered another interesting thing about the people who lived here, something that we would think is a bit strange today.
They buried their dead in the houses.
That’s right. When a family member died, they would dig up the dirt floor in their huts and bury the deceased relative underground.
To us, it seems creepy and possibly unhealthy. But researchers believe that for these ancient people, this custom was an important symbol of family cohesion and keeping loved ones close to you forever – physically and emotionally.
From an archaeological point of view, this is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the eastern Mediterranean.
It is an excellent example of how people lived during this period and has been extremely-well preserved. In fact, there is still much to be excavated, which offers even more potential for discovery.
The Choirokoitia settlement goes up a hill and so I walk up the path, through the ruins, looking at how it all fits together.
Most of the ruins of the houses are quite similar, yet I know that each is unique in its own way, because each has hundreds of years of stories about the different people who lived inside them.
Still, for visitors to Choirokoitia, I think it’s a fairly low-key experience. The facilities are adequate but understated.
Don’t expect a huge visitors centre or flashy exhibitions – the managers have let the site speak for itself, which is why having an understanding of what you’re seeing before you arrive is quite important.
Or, it’s why having a guide is a good idea – this tour from Paphos is a great way to get a lot more out of your visit to Choirokoitia.
Choirokoitia is not a huge area so it doesn’t take too long to explore. If you follow the main circular trail, it’s about two kilometres in length (although you can just walk up some of it and turn around).
The site is also right next to the main highway connecting Nicosia and Larnaca to the beach resorts along the southeastern coastline, which means there’s good access and you may find yourself driving past it anyway.
A few other important things to note for visiting Choirokoitia:
- The site is not wheelchair accessible because of the natural sloping of the hill, but wheelchair users can visit the area of the reconstructed dwellings.
- There’s no shade so I suggest bringing water and sun protection, particularly on hot days.
- If it is a really hot day, I would recommend trying to visit Choirokoitia early in the morning or later in the afternoon (the light will be a bit better then too).
It’s a fascinating site and extremely significant when you consider its age and level of preservation. I’m always amazed to find places like this that I had never heard of before – but that’s half the fun of travel, right?
Where is Choirokoitia?
Choirokoitia is found in Cyprus in the Larnaka region. It’s located about 32km from Larnaka and 48km south of Lefkosia on the Lefkosia (Nicosia) – Lemesos (Limassol) motorway.
You can find it on a map here.
How do you get to Choirokoitia?
By public transport, you can catch the bus that runs regularly between Limassol and Larnaca. Get off at the bus stop called Choirokoitia (it’s in front of the Oasis restaurant). (Timetable here.)
A single ticket is €4 or an all-day pass is €7.
The easiest way to get to Choirokoitia is by car, just drive through B1 or A1 and then to E133. To explore the island, it may be worth renting a car for your stay. (In Cyprus, I recommend Discover Cars.)
When is Choirokoitia open?
Choirokoitia is open throughout the year during the following hours:
September 16 – April 15, daily: 08:30 – 17:00
April 16 – September 15, daily: 08:30 – 19:30
Closed on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter Sunday
What is the Choirokoitia entrance fee?
Entrance to Choirokoitia costs €2.50.
The Department of Antiquities can issue special entry cards for all its museums and ancient monuments:
One-day entry cards: €8.50
Three-day entry cards: €17
Seven-day entry cards: €25
Are there tours to Choirokoitia?
If you prefer a private tour, this full day tour from Limassol covers Choirokoitia and other highlights in the region.
Yes, there are a couple of tours that can take you to Choirokoitia and tell you more about the history. They will also cover some other sights in the region.
There is this tour of Nicosia that leaves from Paphos and includes Choirokoitia; or this tour from Paphos to Choirokitia & Famagusta.
Or from Larnaca, you can take this private tour to Limassol that includes the World Heritage Site.
For more information, see the official website of Choirokoitia.
If you’re looking for food, there’s Sigma Bakeries Choirokoitia – Vasilikis, which offers pastries, sandwiches, and ice cream. Or Rainbow Restaurant is great for vegetarians and offers a traditional Cypriot dinner.