On the western shore of Cyprus lies the ancient city of Paphos. Actually, there were two cities called “Paphos” – the Old Paphos, which housed an ancient sanctuary to Aphrodite — and the New Paphos, which became the Roman capital of the province. At the time of Acts, New Paphos was considered the dominant city, while Old Paphos was considered a pagan worship center.
Although separated by about 10 miles, new and old were connected by a sacred road honoring Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure. Old Paphos goes back to at least the 12th century BC, and really started growing with the emergence of the cult of Aphrodite.
According to tradition, the cult was connected to a rock just offshore, known as “Aphrodite’s Rock.” There are a few different versions of the myth, but basically, Aphrodite, meaning something like “risen from the sea foam,” was born from the frothy remains of the Greek god, Uranus, after he was mutilated by his son, Cronus, and tossed into the sea. The rock is allegedly the site where Aphrodite rose from the sea. A cult worship center then grew on the southwest coast of Cyprus for centuries.
By the time the Romans got to Cyprus, the sanctuary to Aphrodite was perhaps the most important site on the island. The Romans referred to Aphrodite as Venus, and history is littered with references to both Venus and Aphrodite being known as the “Lady of Cyprus.” Foundation remains of Aphrodite’s sanctuary have been uncovered and can still be seen on this bluff above the shoreline.
New Paphos was first established in 312 BC. It grew as a port city and commercial center until being destroyed by a massive earthquake in 15 BC. The city was rebuilt with funds sent by the Roman Emperor Augustus, and the city became known as Nea Pafos — New Paphos.
Archaeological excavations at New Paphos reveal that a large Hellenistic city existed here during the 1st century AD. This city functioned as the Roman seat of power for the entire island. New Paphos was destroyed by more earthquakes in the 4th century AD and was essentially abandoned. It was this combination of earthquakes and abandonment that actually resulted in the remarkable preservation of the ruins from the Roman period city.