Where visitors may trace history from the Stone Age to the present

By , the Monitor's Middle East correspondent.

Island of Aphrodite, Ptolemy, Paul, Cato, Richard Coeur de Lion -- for the 20 th-century visitor, Cyprus holds no less attraction, and quite a bit more convenience.

The Mediterranean beaches are superb. There are mountain resorts in the rugged, verdant Troodos range. Cities are small, relatively unindustrialized, but cosmopolitan. And there is enough archaeology, history, and folklore on the 3,572-square-mile island to satisfy the interests of the most curious scholar of Mediterranean cultures.

One can find 8,000 years of remains: neolithic villages, Mycenian temples, an excellent Greco-Roman amphitheater, Byzantine churches and abbeys, old Venetian cities, crusader castles, Ottoman houses and mosques, and wide British public lawns. All are near --sometimes overlapping -- each other and can be seen in Western-style comfort and convenience.

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Cyprus, moreover, is a natural jumping-off point for tours of Egypt, Israel, and the rest of the Levantine world. During the island's Lusigan period in the 14th century, the Westphalian priest Ludolf visited the island and was moved to observe: "Cyprus is the furthest of Christian lands, so that all ships and wares , be they what they may, come they from what part of the sea they will, must needs come first to Cyprus, and in no wise can they pass it by, and pilgrims from every country journeying to lands over the sea must touch at Cyprus."

Today, "pilgrims" and any others can use the modern uncongested airport at Larnaca (another is to be built at Paphos), or ferry over from Greece or Syria, to be housed in first-rate hotels of all price ranges (but generally between $25 and $65 a night for a three- to five-star). Quality standards are high. Cypriot "meze" is tasty. The streets are safe all hours.

As Cyprus Tourism Organization director Antonis Andronikou maintains, "Cypriots are genuinely friendly. The tourist is not seen as an object of exploitation but as a friend." Indeed, several visitors note that Cypriots seem to relish contact with foreigners -- if only to practice English or discuss politics.

The people are no less friendly on the Turkish side of the island. Tourists may cross the "green line" into the Turkish sector fairly easily. No notice is necessary to visit Turkish-controlled Nicosia on a day trip, but one must apply and wait 48 hours to go elsewhere in the north. Because the Turkish airport and seaports are not recognized as points of entry, one must make arrangements to visit the north only after arriving in the republic.

Accommodations there are comfortable, though not as plentiful and well maintained as in the republic. But the countryside in the Kyrenia-range is beautiful. The city of Kyrenia is a quaint port against a backdrop of steep green mountains where sits Bellapais Abbey, familiar to readers of Lawrence Durrell's "Bitter Lemons." To the north, across the Mediterranean, one can see the Taurus range of Anatolia peeking over the horizon. Famagusta has a fine old walled Venetian city (believed to be the setting for Shakespeare's "Othello") and nearby are the ruins of ancient Salamis.

Despite the loss of these tourist attractions and most of the island's better accommodations as a result of the 1974 Turkish intervention, the Cypriot tourist industry has made a strong recovery, with the encouragement and backing of the government. The south has a plethora of beauties and attractions, which in 1980 drew 354,000 visitors, exceeding annual projections and far outstripping the high of 264,000 who arrived in 1973, the last year the island was united.

Forty percent of those tourists to the south, says Andronikou, are returnees, making Cyprus No. 1 in the world in follow-up calls. Equally as important, traditional tourist markets that frequented the island prior to 1974 are still strong, and new markets have been opened.

Among the latter: Very old neighbors such as Egypt and Jordan lately have been providing visitors; once disinterested countries such as Finland, Switzerland, Austria, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia now are sending tourists. Meanwhile, historically strong markets in Britain, Greece, West Germany, Sweden, France, and the United States have moved ahead. (US visitors, Phillipides notes, generally are overseas workers assigned to the Middle East who come to Cyprus for rest.)

"The philosophy underlying our tourism policy," a recent government study notes, "is that tourism should complement our national life and should not destroy its good qualities. The balance and qualities of life are of great importance to us since among other things they constitute good selling points. This is important not only for our country but also for the tourist, who we want to leave this island a healthier and more relaxed person with the happiest of memories."

The report goes on to advocate tourism development "to ensure the balanced disbursement of accommodation in all the government-controlled tourist areas" in an effort to "prevent by all means the dilapidation of our ecological and archaeological heritage and to protect our natural resources and cultural values."

CTO estimates that by 1985 Cyprus will be able to host half a million "long stay" visitors. This trend could be affected, however, CTO notes, by external factors beyond the island's control, such as inflation, unemployment, slow growth, and high oil prices in the countries of tourist origin.

"The year 1981 will certainly be a hard year for world tourism in general," says CTO, "and Cyprus cannot escape the repercussions of world economic developments. In spite of these difficulties, concentrated efforts will be exerted to ensure an upward increase in our tourist traffic."

The care and nurturing given to tourism seems to ensure that Aphrodite's island will develop without losing its links with its colorful past.

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