Cyprus is an island nation in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its rich history, pleasant climate, and high standard of living have been a major tourist attraction in recent years, and its location between Europe and the Middle East have made it a confluence of several cultures, both ancient and modern.
Cyprus came under the influence of ancient Greece early in its history. Mythology holds that Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, was born on this island, along with her doomed lover Adonis. Relics of the classical age are scattered all over Cyprus, such as the ruins of Kourion and Salamis. In late antiquity and into the Middle Ages, its strategic location drew numerous conquerors; the Romans, the Arabs, the Byzantine Empire, the Franks, and the Republic of Venice have all occupied Cyprus at one time or another, the last of whom built the Venetian Wall around the capital, Nicosia. The Venetians lost Cyprus to the Ottoman Empire, who in turn lost it to Great Britain, from whom the country gained its independence in 1960.
The modern history of Cyprus has been turbulent. Conflict between the Turkish and Greek ethnic groups led to a Turkish invasion in 1974. Since then, the country has been divided into the Republic of Cyprus in the south, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, separated from one another by the U.N.-administered Green Line. Although resentments run deep among both groups, and a long-term settlement of the situation has yet to be concluded, there is practically no danger of violence; in fact, tensions have eased considerably in recent years, and the two governments have opened several crossing points, most recently along Ledra Street in Nicosia.
The Republic of Cyprus has a strong, diverse economy, with a per capita GDP just above the European Union average. The IMF in 2008 classified it as one of the world’s 32 advanced economies. Many offshore companies are drawn here by the well-developed infrastructure and a highly educated labor pool; 30% of working-age Cypriots have higher education experience, the most of any EU country, and the government is one of the EU’s top three spenders on education. Prosperity in Northern Cyprus has been hampered by the government’s lack of international recognition, and its economy relies heavily on Turkey. Nonetheless, it has experienced spurts of high growth since 2000. Both economies are dominated by thriving tourism industries, which as led to an island-wide real estate boom.
The constitution of the Republic of Cyprus defines Greek and Turkish as the country’s co-official languages; since the partition, however, Greek is spoken almost exclusively in the south, and Turkish in the north. Standard Modern Greek, or Demotic, is the preferred dialect of Southern Cyprus. It is, of course, written in the Greek alphabet, and is understood by almost all other Greek speakers. Cypriot Turkish, or Kibris, differs slightly in pronunciation from Standard Turkish, but these, too, are mutually comprehensible; it is written with a modified form of the Latin script.