The Cyprus landscape displays a great variety of styles. The coast has large open bays and precipitous cliffs and rocks. There are sandy beaches and shingle beaches. The precipitous mountains are mainly tree-covered to their peaks. The rest of the island is fertile hilly country.
Environmental Study Centre, Kritou Terra
The Environmental Study Centre (ESC) in the village of Kritou Terra was established as a centre for practical environmental education by the Cyprus Conservation Foundation - a charity dedicated to raising environmental awareness in Cyprus. It is housed in the old village primary school and every year it welcomes thousands of children from primary and secondary schools - and occasionally from universities - in Cyprus and elsewhere in the region to learn about the environment. There can be no better classroom than the countryside itself to learn about nature and the landscape - and by teaching the next generation about the environment, the ESC is working towards a brighter environment future for Cyprus.
The vast majority (about 75%) of the students visiting the ESC are from the state schools sector, with smaller numbers of students coming from the private schools of Cyprus and from Middle Eastern countries such as Bahrain, Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. The fact that most schools return year after year to the ESC seems to be a reflection of the quality of experience (educational and otherwise) that the visitors enjoy in Kritou Terra. In fact the work of ESC has been recognized with two national awards. The most recent was in 2003, for Environmental Education, and was awarded by the Green Party of Cyprus.
In addition to its main work with school and university students, the ESC sometimes opens its doors to adult and family visitors for educational weekends. These take place in May/June and September/October and offer a perfect opportunity to learn about the ecology and landscape of the Akamas peninsula (on day one) and the villages and landscape of the Laona plateau (on day two). You can do the whole weekend or just one day - if you are doing both days, there is overnight accommodation available in Kritou Terra village. The first day starts in the ESC with information on the areas that you will see during the day. The rest of the day is spent exploring some of the key natural habitats of the Akamas by vehicle or on foot. On day two you get a glimpse into the fast disappearing world of the traditional village. You will visit a number of villages, seeing traditional crafts such as rug and blanket weaving as well as the Herb Garden at Pano Akopurdaleia. In just one weekend, you can learn about and experience the ecological, scenic and cultural richness of rural Cyprus.
Cyprus is one of the few places on earth where the geological processes have played such an important role in the development of its natural environment.
The birth of the island was the result of a series of unique and complicated geological events which made Cyprus an international geological show case. Cyprus was, some 90 million years ago, part of the bottom of a deep ocean, called "Tethys " . Tectonic movements at that time resulted in the collision of the African with the Eurasian plate ultimately giving birth to Cyprus. Troodos and the Pentadactylos range first rose above the surface of the sea about 20 million years ago.
The tip of the Troodos mountain range is in fact a slice of a 90 million year old ocean crust, an ophiolite which formed 8.000 metres below sea level. This was later thrust, through complex geological processes, to almost 2.000 metres above sea level. About 20 million years ago, two small islands, rose above the sea. They were the forerunners of the Troodos and the Pentadactylos ranges, which reached their present height about 1-2 million years ago. At about this time the Mesaoria plain was also partly formed joining the two islands. The central part consists of basic and ultra basic plutonic rocks (gabbros, peridotites, dunites and serpentinized harzburgites. The impressive topography that resulted has acted favorably on climate, creating a variety of microclimates and increasing considerably the annual precipitation from 300 mm in the plains to 500 mm in the pillow lava areas and to more than 1.000 mm on the top of Troodos.
The highly tectonised and fractured conditions of the Troodos mass, a consequence of its uplift, facilitated deep weathering of the rocks, leading to the development of a smooth, mature topography, mantled with a thick cover of a diversity soils. These soils combined with a variety of microclimates produced extensive and renewable forests and a great diversity in the flora. The soil cover of the central area is highly alkaline and provides for very special habitats for certain plants species. The soils on the slopes, lower down, cover sheeted diabase and are neutral. These form habitats for a greater variety of plants. The weathering of the sedimentary rocks (chalks, marls, etc.) in the foothills that fringe Troodos, gave rise to alkaline, calcium rich, soils. This is where most of the island's vineyards, carob and olive groves have flourished through the centuries.
The impressive topography of the Troodos mountain range has affected, directly or indirectly, every aspect of life and has rendered Cyprus a very attractive and pleasant place to live. The higher reaches of the Troodos range are covered with snow for several months every year. Cyprus is unique in the sense that one can ski on Troodos and in less than an hour's drive have a swim in a much warmer coastal environment. In the cooler regions of Troodos, with their higher rainfall, cherries and plums can be grown - practically within sight of banana plantations on the coast. The large amount of rain that falls on Troodos either drains through fractures, to come out as springs at lower altitudes, or flows in streams to the lowlands where it recharges local aquifers. This transfer of water from Troodos to the lowlands has supported agriculture in these lowland areas.
However, what made Cyprus well known to the rest of the world in ancient and modern times is its exceptional mineral wealth and particularly its copper resources. These are found in the rocks forming the Troodos Aphrodite complex. Asbestos, chromate, ochre, sienna and terra Verde were also mined. Galleries several kilometres long penetrate deep into these mountains while ancient, and more recent, copper mines litter the periphery of this range of mountains.
The island's once extensive forests were used intensively throughout antiquity. The smelting process for the extraction of copper - which the island was famous for - the ceramics "industry," shipbuilding for the fleets of the various conquerors or raiders of the island and the everyday energy needs of its inhabitants, had their toll on the island's forests. It has been estimated that for the extraction of copper alone, 16 times the standing crop of the forests that existed then in Cyprus was needed. This means that lumbered forest areas naturally regenerated many times over to cope with this need alone