Kyrenia and Bellapais Abbey - Historical Tours

In this 4VIP Tour around Cyprus, we will visit Kyrenia, a town on the northern coast of Cyprus, noted for its historic harbor, castle and history. Kyrenia is split into two neighborhoods, Kato (Lower) Kyrenia and Pano (Upper) Kyrenia. It is an entrancing city to visit in an excursion into the deeper recesses of Cyprus.

Kyrenia Castle, marking the east end of the old harbor is a spectacular site, going back to Byzantine times and has served the Byzantines, Crusaders, Venetians, Ottomans, and British. Within its walls there is a 12th-century chapel containing reused late Roman capitols, and a shipwreck museum. Huge round towers that the Venetians built in 1540 AD occupy the corners. This castle and royal summer palace, named 'Dieu d'Amour' by Frankish knights, has extravagantly crenellated walls and towers tumbling over the craggy hilltop, evoking a fairy-tale vision of bygone chivalry. 4VIP Tours in Cyprus makes it a point to include this entrancing site in our tour schedules.

Outside the town, on the Kyrenia mountain range, one can see Buffavento and Kantara Castles as well as St. Hilarion Castle, all of which were probably constructed by the Byzantines for safety against Arab raids. The mountaintop castle of St. Hilarion dominates the town of Kyrenia and is visible for many miles along the coast, making it a popular tourist attraction in Cyprus.

A number of eye-catching, even magnetic, sites are located in the mountains of the three ancient castles – Buffavento, Kantara and St. Hilarion, including a lot of churches and monasteries, the most famous of them being the monastery of St. Barnabas, the monastery of the Holy Apostle Andrew and an iconic museum housed in a church once dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

From within, the paths and steps wind up through the three castle sections, one superimposed on the other, and culminating in the royal apartments ingeniously sheltered in their own natural courtyard of rock. This surprising structure was cut into the rock between the 8th and 10th centuries and is at a height of about 1000 meters above sea level. Kings used to reside here in ancient times. Kyrenia was considered as the best resort of Central Europe last century. A stroll down to the famous Kyrenia Harbour is recommended, as a must-do in a tour in Cyprus.

Kyrenia Harbour is a small but charming place, where you will find everything from calming ambience and soothing atmosphere to beautiful views and stunning surroundings. The harbour is particularly enchanting in the evenings, when you can enjoy the gentle breeze and the beautiful views combined with unique charm and a lively atmosphere. The harbour is filled with yachts and boats, and the landscape is somewhat dominated by the fascinating Kyrenia Castle. At Kyrenia harbour, you will find the beautiful sea stretching out ahead of you, and the breathtaking mountains providing a stunning backdrop. This harbour is a major tourist attraction in Cyprus.

We will then head for Belapais's Abbey, to one of the most remarkable samples of the artistic skills of the Eastern Mediterranean. Bellapais Abbey, or "The Abbey of Peace", is the ruin of a monastery built by Canons Regular on the northern side of the small village of Bellapais, now in Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus. In 1570, depredatory Turks destroyed a large part of the abbey. The remains were preserved in the covered gallery around the monastery, basements and the Gothic church of Panayia Asproforussa (Virgin Maria of the white vestments).

The history of Bellapais Abbey is spell-binding. It is the main attraction of the picturesque village of Bellapais, some 13 km south of Kyrenia. It is built on a rock escarpment with a cliff on the north that drops more than 30m straight down and is illuminated at night. The main entrance is on the south side, through a fortified gateway that has replaced a former drawbridge. You approach the abbey through a promenade of palm trees that lend an exotic touch to the European-style ruins.

The site of Bellapais may have been the early residence of the Bishops of Kyrenia, as well as their refuge during the Arab raids of the 7th and 8th centuries. In 1187, Jerusalem fell to the Saracens and the Augustinian canons who had custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre came to Cyprus. Bellapais Abbey was founded for them around 1200 by Aimery de Lusignan. It was consecrated as the Abbey of St. Mary of the Mountain. The Augustians were soon followed by the White Canons or the Norbertines (also known as Premonstratensians), and this was the rule that was adopted from 1206 onwards. Their white habits gave Bellapais one of its names— it is referred to as the ‘White Abbey’ in 15th and 16th century documents.

Thanks to its pious benefactors, Bellapais Abbey grew in size, importance and wealth. The powerful abbots were frequently in dispute with the Archbishop of Nicosia, and the pope had to intervene in disagreements on several occasions.

King Hugh IV lived in the abbey between 1354 and 1358 and added apartments for himself, but in 1373, Bellapais' glittering treasure attracted the attention of the Genoese, who robbed the abbey of everything light enough to carry. After this, the abbey spun into a steep decline. By the mid-16th century, the strict Norbertine rule had been virtually abandoned at Bellapais, with many of the canons taking a wife (or two) and accepting only their own children as novices. The Venetians shortened the long-standing name, Abbaye de la Paix (Abbey of Peace), to De la Paix, which eventually became Bellapais.

After the Turkish conquest in 1570, the buildings were neglected and fell into disrepair, but the abbey church was used as the parish church for the village that grew up around the monastery (presumably populated by descendents of the monks). The grand old abbey impressed foreign visitors: in 1738, English traveler Richard Pococke remarked that he had seen at Bellapais "a most magnificent uninhabited convent... almost entire." But when Captain Kinneir of the East India Company passed by in 1814, he saw cows grazing in the outer court.

The abbey fell further into disrepair over the years, its stone being used to build houses in the village. In 1878, the British Army cemented the floor of the great hall and used it for a military hospital. The ruins were repaired in 1912 by George Jeffery, Curator of the Ancient Monuments of Cyprus.

What to See at Bellapais Abbey

Your 4VIP Tour guide will take you around the palatial Bellapais Abbey. The Gothic abbey church has a flat roof and a quaint belfry above the entrance. Just one bell remains in place. The remains of a 15th- century Italian mural can be seen in the porch.

Inside, the church has a wide nave with two aisles, a square choir and a sacristy. Several Lusignan kings are thought to be entombed beneath the floor. Remaining decorations include an intricately carved pulpit, the bishop's throne, and five restrained chandeliers. The dark, musty interior, with open service books and half-melted candles, seems in mourning. It was used by the Greek Orthodox community until its last members were forced out in 1976.

Arches on three sides of the cloisters remain standing, and Cyprus trees have been planted in the centre. On the north side is a notable lavabo, where the monks performed ablutions. It is made of two Roman sarcophagi, the upper one of which is decorated with swages, lion heads and putti. Water would flow from the upper sarcophagus into the undecorated lower one, then through a channel to the cloister garden. Three stairs from the cloisters provide access to the roof, which provides a nice vantage point. The Treasury was over the north aisle of the church.

Southeast of the cloisters is the square Chapter House, with a single marble column re-erected in 1912. The meaning of the carved corbels is not known; perhaps they represent long-forgotten proverbs. They include a man carrying a double ladder, a man between two maidens, and a man holding a shield under a pear tree. To the north is the roofless Common Room, where the monks worked and studied.

The best preserved of the abbey buildings is the refectory, on the north side of the cloisters. A magnificent room 30m long and 10m wide, the roof is supported by seven columns that look like they're growing out of the side walls. It has six windows on the north wall that provide breathtaking views across the countryside to the sea, and a fine rose window high in the east wall. On the north wall is a projecting pulpit, from which a lector read from the scriptures or the lives of saints during mealtimes.

In the late 1800s, the British Army barbarically used the refectory as a shooting range, leaving bullet holes in the east wall. This impressive room is now used for concerts and lectures and hosts the local music festival in late May to early June. Below the refectory is the undercroft, with decorative ceiling bosses. The cellarium and kitchens were to the west of the refectory, just a stone's throw from the modern tables of the Kybele Restaurant. All said and done, the Abbey is an excellent place to visit in a tour of Cyprus along with Kyrenia.

Note: Please wear convenient footwear. Do please carry your passports along as FOREIGN PASSPORTS ARE OBLIGATORY IN TRNC!

Private car with driver for 3 hours
120 euro

Additional hour
25 euro

Cost based on 2-4 Person

Private minibus with driver for 3 hours
220 euro

Additional hour
35 euro

Cost based on 5-8 Person

Book This Tour Now