It’s impossible to talk about Cyprus as a cultural place whose civilization has an over ten-thousand history without mentioning its mountainous areas. These are the Troodos Mountains and their surroundings, which are situated between Limassol and Nicosia. Civilization, culture, spiritual life have always developed here better than in other regions, because only mountains could hide from numerous conquerors that terrorized the island through all its history.
Cypriot Monasteries: Renowned and Unknown
The most interesting monasteries on the island are hidden in the depth of mountains, and it’s often tough to reach them even by car. Just imagine how many resources, how much effort and energy believers had to spend to reach the places in the ancient times. Despite the multiple conquests of the island attempted by Muslims, persecution of Christians, destruction of icons, many churches and holy abodes in the mountain range were preserved perfectly.
Special bus tours are arranged for numerous pilgrims who come here to bow to ancient Christian holy sites and pay homage to monuments.
There are monasteries in Cyprus that are world-renowned – Kykkos, Stavrovouni, Machairas monasteries. And there are the ones that only a limited number of people know about. These monasteries rarely see tourists, but they are worth visiting if you come to the island to bow to holy places or want to find out more about the Orthodox religious culture and join in it.
We mentioned the “capital branch” of Kykkos Monastery in our post about Nicosia. It’s the most for-profit, popular, and rich monastery in Cyprus. It’s located very conveniently. There’s a good road with all necessary facilities leading to it, so it’s much easier to come here than to many other holy sites.
Kykkos has prosperous alcohol production. Alcoholic beverages are sold right here, in a large monastery shop. You can find the whole range of different drinks here – hard and moderate liquors, consecrated wine, cognac, brandy, vodka, ouzo, zivania (local Cypriot moonshine). Experts say that Kykkos zivania is the best, and you will hardly be able to buy anything like it in ordinary shops. Here you can even buy rare red zivania infused on herbs and honey.
You may be taken aback by such a great amount of alcohol found in a holy Orthodox abode, but don’t forget that nowadays Kykkos is not only a monastery but also a tourist attraction, and Kykkos manages to combine these two roles organically. The main source of income for the monastery community is tourists.
The alcohol supermarket is not the only thing that can startle you. For instance, we noticed fresh morning papers lying by monastic cell doors. Furthermore, we were told that there are TV sets and the Internet in the cells. These curious ultra-modern things seem to be integral elements of Kykkos asceticism.
Admission to the monastery is free. You only need to pay for visiting the museum and, of course, for souvenirs.
There’s a large church on the territory of the abode. It’s bright, gilded, and flamboyant. All the buildings – both residential ones and outbuildings – are well-kept and freshly painted. It’s plain to see that the monastery is well looked after.
If you are searching for spirituality and seclusion typical of monasteries, you will be disappointed by Kykkos. It’s a crowded tourist sight, more of a museum than a monastery. And it’s characteristic only of Kykkos, other Cypriot monasteries are humble and ascetic.
The seekers of spiritual cleansing and belief should visit Stavrovouni Monastery that is not far from Larnaca. It’s located on the top of a big hill facing the sea from one side. To come here, you need to drive on the mountain.
It’s an operational monastery, a really ascetic place. Only men are allowed to enter it, and they have to wear appropriate clothes – for example, it’s not possible to walk in wearing shorts. However, the tourists who weren’t aware of the dress code may be given a pair of trousers.
Despite the ban on visiting the monastery for the fair sex, you shouldn’t change your mind about going there. First of all, women can visit a church that is in front of the gate, second, there’s a magnificent bird’s-eye view of the mountains around the monastery walls. You can savour the view and take a lot of beautiful photos on the background of the monastery.
Ancient Machairas is a monastery sticking to all the testaments of religious seclusion and withdrawal from secular matters. Unlike Kykkos and Starvovouni, it’s difficult to get here. First of all, it’s hard to reach the place – Machairas is situated away from popular tourist routes. A long road meanders to the monastery which is tiresome even for those who don’t suffer from travel sickness. Second, it’s all real here, the actual monastery life flows here, therefore tourists can’t access it anytime they want. The monastery is open for visitors only at a certain time.
According to a legend, the monastery was built on the place where one of the monks had found St. Luke’s icon of the Mother of God. The scenery is extremely picturesque here, and the air is incredibly fresh and clean. It resembles an unassailable fortress rising among the pinewoods and endless mountain spaces. There are a lot of new buildings in the area. The ancient ones were unfortunately not preserved – over almost nine centuries of its existence, the monastery was damaged by fire several times.
Monastery of St. John Lampadistis
The Monastery of St. John Lampadistis is also located in the mountains. It’s relatively small and situated in the village of Kalopanagiotis. It was founded on the place of the very first Cypriot abode dating back to the 1st century AD. There are a lot of ancient icons and frescoes inside the monastery. It’s very quiet and peaceful here. Everything is permeated with a spirit of ancient holy asceticism.
Near the monastery, there’s a newly built museum with unique exhibits – antique icons salvaged by monks after numerous attacks and conquests.
The museum was opened after a real Orthodox treasure was discovered – extremely rare ancient icons were found in the barn of one church. They had been just piled up sloppily in the corner as if they were of no value… It was a way of saving these relics from enemies and haters of Christianity. They made everyone believe that it’s something completely unimportant and uninteresting.
The ploy “worked out” well not only for intruders and enemies of Christianity. The icons were hidden and forgotten. Today, some of them are being restored, while most are exhibited at the museum. The exhibition is arranged in such a way that it’s even possible to touch the ancient artefacts.
Panagia tis Asinou
Apart from monumental monasteries, there are a couple of churches on the island, high in the mountains. For example, Panagia tis Asinou. It was built in the 13th century and used to be a church under a monastery that didn’t survive till our days. Asinou – as well as several other ancient Cypriot churches – is in the list of sites protected by UNESCO. There are very valuable frescoes inside the church. Peace and a mysterious spirit of the ancient times full of belief are present here.
The church is located so cunningly that it remained absolutely intact. At all times, both conquerors and vandals were aware of its existence but weren’t able to find it.
Modern appreciators and devotees of Christian culture are certainly very thankful to those who came up with an idea to construct Asinou so that it would be protected from attacks. Nowadays, it’s easy to come here. There are roads and well-developed infrastructure around it.
Cypriot monasteries and churches are a storage of many centuries of the island’s Orthodox history. Each of them is worthy of individual attention and has its distinct unforgettable atmosphere that you are imbued with the moment you get inside them.
We finish the story of the monasteries, and in the following publications we will continue to describe our travels through Troodos and introduce you to other aspects of the life of this region – the soul and heart of the fairy island Cyprus.
Blossoming island, touristic villages and legendary abandoned hotel with ghosts – Troodos. Part 2
Mountain walks, waterfalls, winter in Troodos and family picnics – Troodos. Part 3