A real testament to the island’s religious heritage, Cyprus is home to some truly impressive monasteries that also speak volumes about the country’s rich history and culture. And many of these monasteries are also real architectural feats, beckoning both religious and non-religious visitors from near and far amid the most peaceful and idyllic rural settings. Many function the same way today as they did years ago, while others have been left abandoned, yet still retaining an undisputed captivating charm. My Cyprus Insider takes you on an inspiring journey to some of the most stunning monasteries in the country.
1. Panayia tou Sinti Monastery, Paphos district
With the remains of this gorgeous abandoned monastery and church restored in the 1990s, this designated UNESCO World Heritage Site also received a Europa Nostra award for restoration and conservation in 1997, and deservedly so! Believed to have been built around the 16th century, it is no less magical today, commanding a prime position deep in the Paphos countryside with a practically untouched rural landscape delighting the curious visitor, just outside the village of Pentalia on the west bank of the Xeros river.
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, with close links to Kykkos Monastery, it is thought that monks from Kykkos Monastery were often sent here, while the building itself is now considered one of the most important of the Venetian period on the island.
2. Kykkos Monastery, Troodos
Drive up the winding roads of the green Marathassa Valley, and as the air cools, make your way towards one of the most well-known, lavish, and undeniably impressive monasteries in Cyprus. Dominating a mountain peak about 20 kilometres from Pedoulas, take a minute to enjoy the blissful setting (providing the most peaceful environment for the monks who dedicate themselves to prayer and meditation) before making your way to the entrance. Built at the end of the 11th century by Byzantine Emperor, Alexios Komnenos, the monastery possesses one of three famous icons attributed to Agios Loukas the Evangelist.
If you wish to catch a glimpse of an important collection of Christian exhibitions, the Museum of Kykkos Monastery is bound to impress. Both men and women are allowed to enter the monastery.
3. Stavrovouni Monastery, Larnaca district
Set in the most dramatic landscape that could have easily stepped out of a fairy-tale and perched on the highest peak of Stavrovouni (750 metres above sea level), this impressive Greek Orthodox monastery is actually one of the oldest in the world.
Tradition has it that it was founded in the 4th century by the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, Agia Eleni, who left a fragment of the Holy Cross at the monastery. The monks here follow strict rules much like Mount Athos in Greece. Do keep in mind that women are not permitted to enter the monastery, while men visiting must be appropriately dressed.
4. Timios Stavros (Holy Cross) Monastery, Omodos village
Standing proud in the middle of Omodos village and at the epicentre of the wine growing district of the island, is the stately and impressive Timios Stavros Monastery. One could go as far as saying that the village was built around this landmark, which is said to date all the way back to A.D.337 before the arrival of Saint Helena in Cyprus (later renovated in 1850). While the monastery’s peaceful sunlit courtyard and ornate Church of The Holy Cross are impressive in their own right, it is the alleged relic of the Holy Rope that tied Jesus Christ’s hands to the cross that elevates this monastery to near pilgrimage status.
Photo credit: Dinos Michail
Once you’ve soaked up the pious atmosphere in the church itself and admired the golden ancient icons, take some time to stroll through the surrounding outbuildings which house various museums including the Museum of Byzantine icons and the Museum of Folkloric Art. The monastery is open to men and women.
Photo credit: Philip Wilcocks
5. Machairas Monastery, Nicosia district
About a half an hour drive from Nicosia, the journey towards Machairas (past Pera Orinis and Kapedes) makes for a welcome escape from the urban hub. The imposing Machairas Monastery – situated at an altitude of 870 metres on the slopes of Mount Kionia in a picturesque spot of the Machairas Mountains – is a rather impressive site, cocooned by greenery and pine trees, with monks here busying themselves with a whole variety of agricultural activities.
The three nave church of the monastery was built between 1892 and 1900, while its wood carved iconostasis was made in 1919 -1921 by Georgios Kyriakou from the village of Chrysida. The bell tower is 19 metres high and dates back to 1900, while this religious building houses the reputedly miraculous icon of Panagia of Machairas, attributed to Agios Loukas the Evangelist. The monastery is open to both men and women.
Photo credit: Kirill Makarov
6. Saint Neophytos Monastery, Paphos district
Some 10 kilometres outside Paphos (near the sleepy village of Tala) is the so called ‘cave monastery’ founded by Saint Neophytos drawing visitors from near and far, set within a rock face and surrounded by lovely gardens. Sources indicate that Saint Neophytos arrived in this hilly part of Paphos in 1159, setting up base in this cave and using it as a religious retreat until his death at the age of 85.
His life as a hermit attracted many religious people to the area, and while living here, Saint Neophytos carved the tomb, cell, and oratory of his ‘Enkleistra’ (hermitage) in this cliffside. Boasting fine Byzantine frescoes bound to delight any art enthusiast, have a good look around the hermitage and you’ll also spot the saint’s rock-table and stone platform on which he slept.
The main church of the monastery was built approximately 200 years after the death of Saint Neophytos and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Step inside and you’ll get to ogle at great Byzantine icons, and do be sure to pop into the monastery museum, housing both ancient and Byzantine exhibits. The monastery is open to both men and women.
7. Ayia Napa Monastery, Ayia Napa centre
Amid the hustle and bustle of Ayia Napa centre, this place dedicated to ‘Our Lady of the Forest’ forms a haven of peace and tranquillity. Located in a prime position in town within the central Seferi square, it’s not somewhere you would really expect to find a Venetian monastery that defies the hands of time so gloriously, retaining its Gothic charms and dating back to the 15th century when the area was completely uninhabited.
Offering a haven of tranquillity in this lively resort, enjoy a stroll round the lovely courtyard and fountain and do keep a lookout for the sycamore tree near the south gate, said to be over 600 years old. Ayia Napa Monastery is open to both men and women, while practising Orthodox women often head to the monastery to pray for help if experiencing infertility of difficulties during pregnancy.