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The island of Cyprus is actually divided today into the Turkish-Cypriot North (a de facto state, only recognised by Turkey) and the Greek-Cypriot South (the internationally recognised sovereign state). In 2003, after 30 years the borders between the north and south were opened and passage was allowed.
The history of the island dates back many thousand years to the Neolithic Age, and the first settlers may have arrived on the island as far back as 7000 BC. The Greeks arrived around 1400BC, and thus began the original Hellenisation of Cyprus and within a few centuries it is truly a “Greek island.” It had adopted the language, culture and religion of Greece.
The island has been conquered numerous times, by various powers including Assyria, Egypt, Persia and finally the Greeks again under Alexander the Greek. The island remained part of the Hellenic Empire that is founded after Alexander’s death, and it remained so until absorbed into the Roman Empire. It was on the island that St. Paul converted to Christianity, and the island became the first land to be governed by a Christian leader.
The island remained under the control of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. The island remains under Byzantine control under the late 12th century when Richard the Lionheart takes the island during his Crusade to the Holy Lands. Cyprus eventually changed hands, first to the Knights Templar and then to Guy de Lusignan, who used it as his base of operations following the fall of Jerusalem to the Muslims.
The island was then taken by the Venetian Empire, who used it as an Eastern outpost. During this time the island was heavily fortified and walls built around several of the towns. Much of this historic past can still be viewed today. In 1571 the Ottoman Turks conquered the island, and Islam was introduced on Cyprus.
For the next 300 years the area remained under Turkish control, and during this time the Christian Orthodox religion, which had been replaced by Catholicism during the Templar rule, was restored. In 1878 the British began their administration of the island but it remained part of the Ottoman Empire, until 1914 with the outbreak of World War I. At this time the British annexed the island from the Ottoman Empire, who had sided with Germany. Following the war the new Turkish government relinquished control of the island, which then became a British Crown colony.
The island was a base of operations for the British in World War II, but following the conflict the island was the scene of uprisings against colonial rule. Independence is granted in 1960, and in 1974 the Greek militia (EOKA B) attempted a coup d’etat and overthrew the president. This led to Turkish intervention and a division of the island with a Turkish supported North and a Greek supported South. This de facto division remains to this day, however, attempts at reconciliation are being made with a view to reunification and Turkish entry into the EU.