Cyprus, at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, is situated in the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, 75km south of Turkey, 90km west of Syria and 380km east of the Greek island of Rhodes. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia, with an area of 9.251 sq km (3.572 sq. miles).
Population, Language and Religion
The total population of Cyprus is estimated at 854.300 at the end of 2005 of whom approximately 80% are Greek-Cypriots and 18% Turkish-Cypriots. According to the Constitution of Cyprus the official languages of the Republic are Greek and Turkish. English is widely spoken in Cyprus and regularly used in commerce and government.
While the majority of the Greek-Cypriot community are members of the Autocephalous Greek-Cypriot Orthodox Church of Cyprus, 1% are actually members of the Armenian, Maronite and Latin churches. Under the provisions of the 1960 Constitution these religious minorities chose to be considered members of the Greek Cypriot community. The vast majority of Turkish Cypriots are Muslims.
The capital of Cyprus is Lefkosia (Nicosia) with a population of 224.500. It is situated roughly at the center of the island and is the seat of the government as well as being the main business center. Lefkosia has the unwelcome distinction of being the only divided capital city in the world. Since the Turkish invasion of 1974 its northern part is under occupation and is separated from the south by a United Nations patrolled buffer zone.
The second largest town of the island is the main commercial port of Lemesos (Limassol) in the south of the island, also a popular tourist resort, which has a population of 176.900.
The coastal town of Larnaca in the south-east has a population of 79.000 and is the island’s second commercial port and also an important tourist resort. To the south of the town is situated Larnaca’s International Airport, the larger of the two international airports of the Republic.
Pafos in the south-west with a population of 52.800 is a booming tourist resort and home to the island’s second International Airport.
In the Turkish occupied area, Ammochostos (Famagusta) in the eastern part of the island was the center of the pre-1974 tourist industry. Other main towns, which are also under Turkish occupation, are Morfou in the north-west and Kyrenia in the north.
Cyprus has a Mediterranean climate. The mean daily temperature in July and August ranges between 29°C on the central plain to 22°C on the Troodos mountains, while the average maximum temperature for these months ranges between 36°C and 27°C respectively. Winters are mild. The island, on average, enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine every year, and the rainy season is confined to the period between November and March. Snow occurs rarely in the lowland and on the northern range of Keryneia but falls every winter on ground above 1.000 meters on the Troodos range, usually occurring in December and ending by the middle of April. During the coldest months it lies in considerable depth for several weeks, attracting skiers.
The coast of Cyprus is indented and rocky in the north, with long sandy beaches and numerous coves in the south. The northern coastal plain is covered with olive and carob trees and backed by the steep limestone Pentadaktylos mountain range, rising to a height of 1.024m. In the south the extensive mountain Troodos (1.953 m. above sea level) is covered with pine, dwarf oak, cypress and cedar trees. Seventeen per cent of the island is woodland. Between the two ranges lies the fertile Messaoria plain. Cyprus is almost surrounded by coastal valleys where the soil is alluvial and fertile, suitable for agriculture. Arable land in Cyprus constitutes 46,8% of the total area of the island. Rivers are seasonal and only flow after heavy rain.
The flora of Cyprus is unique and constitutes a truly outstanding botanical heritage. With an estimated 1.800 species of flowering plants, 8% of which are found only on the island, it is a paradise for botanists.
The present-day fauna of Cyprus includes 25 species of mammals, 26 species of amphibians and reptiles, 365 species of birds (though only 115 breed on the island) and a great variety of invertebrates while the coastal waters of the island give shelter to 197 fish species and to various species of crabs, sponges and echinodermata.
The largest wild animal found on the island today is the moufflon (Ovis orientalis ophion), a rare type of mountain goat unique to the island. It is strictly protected and its population has revived from near extinction to about 2.000 animals at present. It is the symbol of the Republic of Cyprus.
Each year Cyprus is used as a stopping off point by millions of migrating birds traveling between Europe and Africa, something that has been observed since Homeric times. The birds are attracted by the island's two salt lakes at Larnaca and Akrotiri.
Other seasonal visitors to the island include the Green and loggerhead turtles (Chelonia mydas and Caretta Caretta), which travel to the island's sandy beaches each year in order to lay their eggs. A successful conservation project was launched in 1978 in order to protect these two species. The programme, which includes a hatchery, is a model one in the Mediterranean.