For nearly five decades, Cyprus had the distinction of being the only nation in the world with a map of the nation on the flag. That changed in 2008 with the introduction of Kosovo’s flag.
The Cypriot flag features a golden image of the island above crossed olive leaves on a white background. The copper-gold color represents Cyprus’ historic export: copper. The Greek and English word for copper originates from “Cyprus metal.” The two crossed olive branches, a traditional image for peace, represent the hope for peace for the island’s Greek and Turkish residents. The white background is another image for peace. The flag was designed by Cypriot Turk Ismet Guney, an art teacher, who won the flag design contest. It was adopted after Cyprus won independence from Britain on Aug. 16, 1960.
Although not officially recognized as a nation, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus adopted a flag on March 7, 1984. Based on Turkey’s flag, this flag features a red crescent and star on a white background, and has narrow horizontal red stripes near the top and bottom. The Turkish Republic exists as the result of a brief 1974 invasion in response to what was viewed as a violation by Greek Cypriots to the 1960 constitution.
In 2004, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed a reunification vote at the time Cyprus joined the European Union. A new flag competition was introduced as part of the Annan Plan. Selected by a committee of Cypriot Greeks and Turks, the United Cyprus Republic flag had three horizontal stripes separated by white bands – a large gold central stripe to represent copper, a narrow blue stripe on top to represent Greece, and a narrow red stripe on the bottom to represent Turkey. The reunification vote failed and the proposed flag was never adopted.
Prior to 1960, Cyprus was represented by variations of the British flag. From 1922 to 1960, most variations had the Union Jack in an upper corner and two red lions on the fly side, sometimes placed in a white disc. The red lions were from the shield of King Richard I, the Lionheart, who conquered Cyprus in 1191 after one of the ships in his fleet wrecked there while en route to the Third Crusades. Other flags from British Cyprus, from 1922 and older, bear the initials C.H.C. for the Cyprus High Commissioner.
In 2006, Cyprus made minor changes to the flag to better standardize it. The proportions of the Cyprus flag were changed from 3:5 to 2:3, the size of the map was increased and the olive branches were moved closer to the map.