By legend the birthplace of the ancient Greek goddess of love Aphrodite, Cyprus's modern history has, in contrast, been dominated by enmity between its Greek and Turkish inhabitants.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north in response to a military coup on the island which was backed by the Athens government.
The island was effectively partitioned with the northern third inhabited by Turkish Cypriots and the southern two-thirds by Greek Cypriots.
A "Green Line" - dividing the two parts from Morphou through Nicosia to Famagusta - is patrolled by United Nations troops.
The island's partition has been in place since 1974
In 1983 the Turkish-held area declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkey recognises only the Turkish Cypriot authorities and keeps around 30,000 troops in the north of the island.
The prospect of EU expansion concentrated minds in the search for a settlement. UN-sponsored negotiations continued throughout 2002 and a peace plan was tabled. Soon afterwards the EU invited Cyprus to become a member.
But hopes that the island could join united were dashed when leaders of the Turkish and Greek communities failed to agree to the UN plan by the March 2003 deadline.
In the months that followed travel restrictions were eased, enabling people to cross the border for the first time in nearly 30 years, raising hopes that progress might be on the way.
As EU entry approached, a revised UN reunification plan was put to both communities in twin referendums in April 2004.
The plan was endorsed by Turkish Cypriots, although not by their then leader Rauf Denktash, but overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots. Because both sides had to approve the proposals, the island remained divided as it joined the EU in May. EU laws and benefits apply only to the Greek Cypriot community.
More than two years later, hopes of progress were rekindled at UN-sponsored talks between Cypriot President Tassos Papadopolous and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. The two agreed on a series of confidence-building measures and contacts between the communities.
Turkey has a particular interest in seeing the situation resolved as its own EU aspirations are linked to the island's future.
- Full name: Republic of Cyprus
- Population: 807,000 (combined) (UN, 2004)
- Capital: Nicosia (Lefkosia to Greek Cypriots, Lefkosa to Turkish Cypriots
- Area (combined): 9,251 sq km (3,572 sq miles)
- Major languages: Greek, Turkish
- Major religions: Christianity, Islam
- Life expectancy: 76 years (men), 81 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Cyprus pound = 100 cents; Turkish lira used in north
- Main exports: Clothing, potatoes, cigarettes, pharmaceuticals
- GNI per capita: US $16,510 (World Bank, 2006)
- Internet domain: .cy
- International dialling code: +357
Cypriot president: Tassos Papadopoulos
Tassos Papadopoulos was elected at a key moment for Cyprus
Tassos Papadopoulos won presidential elections just weeks before the spring 2003 UN peace plan deadline.
He defeated his veteran predecessor, Glafcos Clerides, who had been president since 1993 and at the forefront of Cypriot politics for many years before that. Mr Papadopoulos was thought to have picked up votes from those who believed Mr Clerides to have made too many concessions at UN-sponsored talks.
Mr Papadopoulos took over negotiations on whether or not to accept the UN plan, negotiations which ended without agreement.
On the eve of the May 2004 EU entry date, Mr Papadopoulos urged the Greek Cypriot community to vote no in the referendum on the UN's 11th hour revised settlement plan. He insisted that the deal for Greek Cypriots returning to their former homes in the north was not good enough.
Mr Papadopoulos, 69 at the time of his election, leads the centre-right Democratic Party but was supported during the election campaign by the Cypriot left. He is a lawyer by profession with expertise in constitutional affairs. He also has more than 40 years experience in Cypriot politics having first become a minister in his mid-20s.
Turkish Cypriot leader: Mehmet Ali Talat
Mehmet Ali Talat favours reunification
Mehmet Ali Talat of the centre-left Republican Turkish Party won a convincing victory in Turkish Cypriot presidential elections in April 2005.
Unlike his veteran predecessor, Rauf Denktash who retired after leading the Turkish Cypriot community for three decades, he would like to see reunification and membership of the EU for the whole island.
He campaigned strongly in favour of the UN reunification plan which was put to a referendum in 2004 when the Turkish Cypriot community gave it firm backing.
He has urged the EU and UN to revitalise negotiations on the future of Cyprus and end the international isolation of the north.
Mr Talat was born in 1952. He has a degree in electrical engineering from Ankara University and speaks fluent English.
The Cypriot media mirror the island's political division, with the Turkish-controlled zone in the north operating its own press and broadcasters.
State-run services compete for audiences with a large number of private TV and radio stations. In addition, relays of Greek and Turkish stations are available across the island.
Newspapers on both sides of the divide often criticise the authorities.
Cyprus Mail - English-language daily Politis - Greek-language daily Simerini - Greek-language daily Kibris Gazete (northern Cyprus) - Turkish-language
Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC) - public, operates channels RIK 1, RIK 2 Bayrak Radio-TV (northern Cyprus) - operates channels BRT 1, BRT 2 Sigma - private
Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC) - public, operates Radio 1 (in Greek), Radio 2 (in English, Turkish, Armenian), Radio 3 (in Greek) and Love Radio Radio Proto - commercial FM network Astra 92.8 - commercial FM network Bayrak Radio-TV (northern Cyprus) - operates Bayrak Radio 1 (in Turkish), Bayrak International (in English), Bayrak FM and Bayrak Klasik
Cyprus News Agency