Cyprus, the third-largest island in the Mediterranean, can trace its civilisation back 10,000 years.
The island is a perfect tourist destination - it evokes thoughts of endless sunshine, beautiful sandy beaches and fascinating ancient ruins. In 2001, almost three million tourists visited the southern part of the island and the industry has long driven growth, employing 65% of the population. GDP per capita amounts to E18,500. Although this is only 80% of the EU average, it puts Cyprus at the top of the class for accession countries.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north in response to an Athens-backed military coup. A heavily militarised buffer-zone does nothing to promote the island as a tourism destination abroad. The northern end of the island has fallen far behind - real output growth and per capita income continue to decline and GDP per capita in 2002 was only E4,500.
In April 2003, the ban on crossing the buffer-zone was lifted for both Turkish and Greek Cypriots. In the first eight days, approximately 90,000 Greek Cypriots and 30,000 Turkish Cypriots made the journey.
President Tassos Papadopoulos leads a centre-left coalition government (involving former Communists, Social Democrats, centre-right Democrats and independent personalities). A referendum this week will decide whether the Turkish-controlled zone will also join the EU but Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is against the UN-backed peace plan.
Pop stars Peter Andre and George Michael are both of Cypriate extraction, as is EasyJet entrepreneur Stelios Haji Ioannou.
The goddess of beauty and love, Venus (or Aphrodite as she is sometimes known), hails from the island.