Cyprus, independent country and third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily and Sardinia. Cyprus lies in the northeastern part of the Mediterranean, about 65 km (40 mi) south of Turkey and 110 km (65 mi) west of Syria. Nicosia is the capital and largest city.
Steep, narrow mountains line the island’s northern coast, and an extensive mountain system rises in the south. At the center of the island, between the mountains, lies the fertile Mesaoria plain, the site of Nicosia. Wide bays and small inlets indent the rocky coastline, which is broken in places by long, sandy beaches. Summers in Cyprus are hot and dry, and rain is scarce on the island, except during the winter months. Cyprus is vulnerable to drought, and most crops require irrigation.
Cyprus has a long, eventful history that reaches back more than 9,000 years. Rich deposits of copper have been mined on Cyprus since antiquity. The island’s name, Cyprus (Greek Kypros), is a word that means “copper.” Long an important trading post linking Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Cyprus became a key commercial and cultural center of ancient Greece. Legend has it that the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, arose from sea foam near the shores of Paphos. Cyprus was later ruled successively by the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Macedonians, and Romans, and then became a part of the Ottoman Empire. At the start of World War I, the United Kingdom annexed Cyprus and made it a British colony. Cyprus gained its independence on August 6, 1960.
Today, Cyprus is a divided country. More than four-fifths of the island’s inhabitants are of Greek descent and less than one-fifth make up the Turkish-speaking minority. In 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and its troops claimed the northern third of the island. A separate state called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was proclaimed in 1983, but only Turkey has recognized it. United Nations (UN) troops patrol the buffer zone, or “Green Line,” that divides the island.
UN-sponsored talks aimed at reuniting Cyprus repeatedly faltered in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the island’s desire to join the European Union (EU) focused renewed efforts to reach a settlement. In April 2003 Cypriot authorities eased travel restrictions over the buffer zone for the first time in nearly 30 years. As the EU’s entry deadline approached, UN negotiators were unable to find an agreement acceptable to both sides. As a consequence, in May 2004 Cyprus joined the EU as a divided country, with membership extended only to the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus. UN-backed efforts to reunite the island under a federal structure continue.
The total area of Cyprus is 9,251 sq km (3,572 sq mi). At its greatest length, Cyprus measures about 220 km (about 140 mi) from Cape Andreas in the northeast to the far western edge of the island. Its maximum width, from Cape Gáta in the south to Cape Kormakiti in the north, is about 90 km (about 60 mi).
In the far northeast of Cyprus, the island narrows abruptly to form the long, slender Karpas Peninsula, which reaches east toward the coast of Syria. Much of central Cyprus is a flat, treeless plain called the Mesaoria, meaning “between the mountains” in Greek. The plain extends from the east to west coasts.
Mountain ranges line the plain on the north and south. The northern range, known as the Kyrenia Range, is notable for its rocky, unbroken character. The Kyrenia Range follows the coastline, extending into the Karpas Peninsula. Its highest point rises to 1,019 m (3,343 ft). The southern range, called the Troödos Mountains, covers most of the southwestern portion of the island. This range is broken by valleys and many abrupt cliffs. Mount Olympus (Ólimbos) (1,951 m/6,401 ft) the island’s highest peak, rises in this range.
Cyprus has no permanent rivers. A number of watercourses bring runoff from snow in the mountains down to the Mesaoria plain in spring, but they are generally dry for most of the year. The island has a few freshwater lakes and two large saltwater lakes.
Cyprus has a typical Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and a cool, rainy season that extends from October to March. The mean annual temperature is 21°C (69°F). The annual rainfall is modest, averaging less than 50 cm (less than 20 in).
The chief natural resource of Cyprus is its arable land. The mountain soils tend to be peaty on higher flatlands but are shallow and stony on the slopes. Farming provides income for much of the population in the Turkish Cypriot north, although it is far less important in the Greek Cypriot south. The chief mineral resource is copper. Other minerals of significance include asbestos, pyrite, gypsum, and chromite. Copper and other minerals were once a major source of export earnings, but mining has declined considerably in importance.
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