About 90 million years ago, Cyprus was part of the bottom of a deep ocean, called the Tethys. Tectonic movements at that time caused the African plate to collide with the Eurasian plate, eventually giving rise to the island. The Turkish Cypriot state made a unilateral declaration of independence in 1983 and adopted the name Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Cyprus lies about 40 miles (65 km) south of Turkey, 60 miles (100 km) west of Syria and 480 miles (770 km) southeast of mainland Greece.
The rugged island of Cyprus resembles a saucepan, with the handle extending northeast from the main part. The protracted conflict between the Greek Cypriot majority and the Turkish Cypriot minority and the invasion of the island by Turkish troops in 1974 produced an actual, but internationally unrecognised, partition of the island and led to the establishment in 1975 of a de facto Turkish Cypriot state in the northern third of the country. The main soil types on the island are the imperfect, gravelly lithosols found in the Troodos and Kyrenia mountains and the agriculturally productive vertisols found in the Mesaoria plain and along the southeast coast. The summit of the range, Mount Olympus (also called Mount Troodos), reaches a height of 1,951 metres and is the highest point on the island.
In 1960 Cyprus gained independence from Britain (it had been a crown colony since 192 as the Republic of Cyprus). Cyprus, in Greek Kípros, in Turkish Kıbrıs, is an island in the eastern Mediterranean known since ancient times for its mineral wealth, its superb wines and produce, and its natural beauty. Snakes were widespread in ancient times, giving the island the name Ophiussa, "the abode of snakes"; now they are relatively rare. Today, Cyprus is a popular tourist destination for European visitors, favoured by honeymooners (as befits the legendary home of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love), birdwatchers attracted by the island's diversity of migratory species and other holidaymakers.
Cyprus, "a golden green leaf cast into the sea and a land of "wild climate and volcanoes", in the words of the Greek Cypriot poet Leonidas Malenis, comprises high mountains, fertile valleys and wide beaches. Settled for more than 10 millennia, Cyprus lies at a cultural, linguistic and historical crossroads between Europe and Asia.