Cyprus is packed with things to see and do. So during our nine day trip on the island we kept pretty busy with day trips in Cyprus. The historical sights of Cyprus are phenomenal but so are the monasteries, churches and diverse landscape. My first post about Cyprus covers the historic and natural sights, this post is all about the churches, monasteries and landscape. These are really what took me by surprise. I had anticipated the history knocking my socks off but not the painted churches, the mountains or the monasteries.
While in Cyprus I think it is pretty mandatory to rent a car, unless you plan to just veg on the beach at a resort and walk to restaurants close by-but man would you miss out! Driving around Cyprus wasn’t the easiest. Our navigation often got very confused, as did we. So while there were a few tense moments (you know those when one of you is driving and the other giving directions along with the GPS and you still get turned around), it is worth it to have the freedom to get around and see the whole island.
Cyprus is interesting because while it is one nation, an EU nation, the northern section of the island has been claimed by Turkey. It has not been a friendly takeover. The EU and most of the rest of the world do not recognize the land as Turkey’s, certainly the Cyprus government does not either. Unfortunately this means it is difficult to see any of the sights on the northern part of the island (our car rental company said we were absolutely forbidden to take our car into the Turkish territory). Therefore, our visit was contained to the southern portion of the island.
The mountains in Cyprus range from dry, desert looking mountains (think California) to tree covered mountains (think West Virginia), there are also sections where the mountains are packed with gorgeous evergreens, creating a lush green carpet across the peaks and valleys. We loved traveling through the mountains taking in the gorgeous views and small villages. We were even waved down by a restaurant owner one day to come in and try her homemade lemonade and relax in her spectacular view of the mountains and valleys below.
Aside from our nature tours these are the sights we took in during our visit:
The Painted Churches
Cyprus has over 60 painted churches of importance from the Byzantine era. We chose to see the ones in Troodos region. In the Troodos area there are 10 UNESCO protected Byzantine era churches and monasteries. Each one is important for the murals which cover the churches interiors. Each church still serves as a place of worship or other religious practices.
Aside from all of the important historical, architectural and artistic contributions what I found were these incredibly humbling buildings created with obvious care and dedication. They were usually very small, simple in their construction, and aside from the incredible murals on the walls they bore no decoration. The paintings, generally done by monks, were obviously created with nothing but love and dedication. They show the various artistic and religious influences of the times which make the experiences all the more genuine.
Driving to the Trooditissa Monastery was breathtaking. The journey from Paphos took us through lush green mountains, a few quaint little towns and a couple of pretty tight turns. As with all monasteries in Cyprus Trooditissa is located on the top of a mountain. There are fantastic views from the monastery and the drive there and back.
The monastery itself was built in the 1700’s. We were not allowed to enter but were allowed to walk around the grounds a bit, and then visit the incredible church. Even though the church is small it really packs a punch. The entire interior is covered in gold, paintings and ornamentation. We were all wowed by it (since it was our first Greek Orthodox Church we didn’t know it is pretty customary for them to be filled with gold and ornamentation with incredible chandeliers). Inside the church is a priceless silver-leaf icon of the Virgin Mary from Asia. People who are having difficulty getting pregnant come to the church to pray before the icon and it is said they are able to conceive afterwards.
In one of the little towns there is a little chocolate shop run by a Sri Lankan woman. We can all highly recommend stopping and taking a few pieces home with you!
This monastery is in the Troodos region so visiting some of the painted churches as well makes a great day trip. The painted churches do close by 4:00 so plan accordingly.
The Holy Monastery Of Stavrovouni
The views from the top of the mountain where the Holy Monastery of Stabrovouni is located are absolutely incredible! Troodos’ landscape is more desert than the pine forests of Troodos which is a great contrast. At a look out point from the monastery we were able to see across the island to the town of Larnaca and on to the sea. It was stunning!
Women are not allowed to enter the Holy Monastery of Stavrovouni since it is a working monastery. If you still want to head up there, which I recommend just for the views alone then make sure not to go during the mid-day as they close completely for lunch and prayer.
From the outside the monastery is quite impressive, standing like a fortress overlooking the island. Brown stones make up the building facade, creating a majestic contrast against the black rock and desert landscape. Next to the monastery is a small chapel and more incredible views.
From here we headed down to the Kalavasos-Tenta settlement. You can read more about it in this post.
This is definitely the most famous and most crowded monastery in Cyprus. The original building burned down, and there have been several fires throughout time. The current building was erected in the 1970’s. Incredible murals, mosaics and architectural details fill the monastery buildings.
The church itself is jaw dropping. As we found in other churches it is filled with paintings, gold ornamentation and chandeliers. I found the mosaics and murals to be more interesting. Each one is unique and expressive of the beliefs of the monks.
Three icons attributed to Apostle Luke are held in the monasteries collection. Emperor Komnenos had taken his daughter to the hermit Isaiah who was able to heal her. In exchange for healing the Emperor’s daughter he asked for the icon and was reluctantly given it by the Emperor, along with funds to build the monastery to house the icon, in the second century. Other treasures worth seeing in the museum, include one of the oldest books I have ever seen, and I have seen ALOT of old books.
Kykkos monastery produces Zivania spirit and other liquors which they sell on the property.
After we saw the monastery we headed further up the mountain to a newly erected Tomb of Makarios. The building was really impressive and the views were amazing! Driving through Troodos to visit the monastery was absolutely beautiful. It is fully of windy roads with some hairpin turns which makes the trip a fun adventure.
While I am not a religious person I really enjoyed the churches and monasteries of Cyprus for their historic, architectural and artistic beauty. Visiting each one took us through the beautiful landscape of the island which we would not have seen otherwise. This made it worth every minute, and every hairpin turn.