Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia with an area of 9,251 sq. kilometres of which 1,733 are forested. It has a maximum length of 240 kms from east to west and a maximum width of 100 kms from north to south.
It is situated at the north-eastern end of the East Mediterranean basin at a distance of 380 kms north of Egypt, 105 kms west of Syria and 75kms south of Turkey. The Greek mainland is some 800 kms to the west. The nearest Greek islands are Rhodes and Carpathos, 380 kms to the west.
The latitude of Cyprus is 34 33’ – 35 34’ north and its longitude 32 16’ – 34 37’ east.
Notwithstanding its small size, Cyprus has a variety of natural vegetation. This includes forests of hardwood, evergreen and broadleaved trees such as pinus latepensis, cedar, cypressus and oak. According to Eratosthenes (3rd Century BC), a Greek botanist, most of Cyprus, even Messaoria, was heavily forested in antiquity, and considerable remnants of these forests survive on the Troodos and Keryneia (Kyrenia) ranges, and locally at lower altitudes. About 17% of the whole island is being classified as woodland. Where the forest has been destroyed, tall shrub communities of arbutus and rachne, pistacia terebinthus, olea europea, quercus coccifera and styrax officinalis may survive, but such maquis is uncommon. Over most of the island untilled ground bears a grazed covering of garigue, largely composed of low bushes of cistus, genista sphacelata calycotoime villosa, lithospermum hispidulum, phaganalon rupestre and, locally, pistacia lentiscus. Where grazing is excessive this covering is soon reduced, and an impoverished batha remains, consisting principally of thymus capitatus, sarcopoterium spinosum, and a few stunted herbs.
Birds and Animals
Cyprus has been endowed with a rich fauna including a large number of endemic birds, reptiles and animals. Because of its position, Cyprus is also a vital stop-over for thousands of migratory birds which find the island an ideal place for both feeding and refuge. Among the animals the moufflon occupies an outstanding position and is considered as one of the natural treasures of the island. The moufflon belongs to the sheep family but this species is unique in the world. This animal, which is the symbol of the Cyprus Republic and is used on its coins, has long been in danger of extinction, but today is a fully protected species.
Cyprus has an intense Mediterranean climate with the typical seasonal rhythm strongly marked in respect of temperature, rainfall and weather generally. Hot, dry summers from mid-May to mid-September and rainy, rather changeable winters from November to mid-March are separated by short autumn and spring seasons.
In summer the island is mainly under the influence of a shallow trough of low pressure extending from the great continental depression centred over southwest Asia. It is a season of high temperatures with almost cloudless skies.
In winter Cyprus is near the track of fairly frequent small depressions which cross the Mediterranean Sea from west to east between the continental anticyclone of Eurasia and the generally low pressure belt of North Africa. These depressions give periods of disturbed weather usually lasting for a day or so and produce most of the annual precipitation, the average rainfall from December to February being about 60% of the average annual total precipitation for the island as a whole, which is 500 mm.
Precipitation increases from 450 millimetres up the south-western windward slopes to nearly 1.100 millimetres at the top of the Troodos massif. On the leeward slopes amounts decrease steadily northwards and eastwards to between 300 and 400 millimetres in the central plain and the flat south-eastern parts of the island. The narrow ridge of the Kyrenia range, stretching 160kms from west to east along the extreme north of the island produces a relatively small increase in rainfall of around 550 millimetres along its ridge at an elevation of 1.000 metres. Statistical analysis of rainfall in Cyprus reveals a decreasing trend of rainfall amounts in the last 30 years.
Rainfall in the warmer months contributes little or nothing to water resources and agriculture. Autumn and winter rainfall, on which agriculture and water supply generally depend, is somewhat variable from year to year.
The average annual rainfall as a whole over the part of the island under government control, is about 500 millimetres but it was as low as 213 millimetres in 1972/73 and as high as 800 millimetres in 1968/69. Statistical analysis of rainfall in Cyprus reveals a decreasing trend of rainfall amounts in the last decades.
Snow occurs rarely in the lowland and on the Northern Range but falls every winter on ground above 1,000 metres usually occurring by the first week in December and ending by the middle of April. Although snow cover is not continuous, during the coldest months it may lie to considerable depths for several weeks especially on the northern slopes of Troodos.
Temperatures are high in summer and 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 with a mean January temperature of 10 C on the central plain and 3 C on the higher parts of the Troodos mountains and with an average minimum temperature of 5 C and 0 C respectively.
Relative humidity of the air is on average between 60% and 80% in winter and between 40% and 60% in summer with even lower values over inland areas around midday. Fog is infrequent and visibility is generally very good. Sunshine is abundant during the whole year and particularly from April to September when the average duration of bright sunshine exceeds 11 hours per day.
Winds are generally light to moderate and variable in direction. Strong winds may occur sometimes, but gales are infrequent over Cyprus and are mainly confined to exposed coastal areas as well as areas at high elevation.