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Guides > Churches > Apostolos Andreas Monastery

The easternmost monastery on the island, for hundreds of years it's served as an important resting place for followers of the Orthodox faith on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As an important multi-faith place of pilgrimage, visitors from all over the world to this monastery offer their devotion or pray for healing. It's almost at the end of the Karpaz peninsula, and is a place of reverence by both Turkish and Greek Cypriots. It's thought there's been a monastery here since Byzantine times, and is possibly the location of the surrender of Isaac Commenos to Richard the Lionheart in 1191.

St Andrew, a follower of John the Baptist, was the first man who was called to become a priest, and as such received the title of “O Protoklidos”, which means “the first one to have been called”. One of the stories about him is that on his way to Jerusalem, the boat in which he was sailing ran out of water, As the captain, who was blind in one eye, was wondering how he would find water, St Andrew told him that he would find water in the place where the monastery now stands.

Apostolos Andreas Monastery in North Cyprus

Those who went ashore found water there, as they had been told. The water was brought back to the ship, and as the captain drank the water, sight returned to his eye. He wanted to reward Stndrew by giving him valuable goods but St Andrew would not accept them. Instead, the captain and his crew converted to Christianity. Afterwards, the captain bought a very valuble icon of StAndrew and put it by the well. Thereafter, the site became a place of pilgrimage known as "the Lourdes of Cyprus" and in the 15th century, a small chapel was built close to the shore, where you can still collect the healing water. The church of the main monastery dates to the 18th century, with main buildings 100 years younger.

Although St Andrew is known primarily as a saint who is able to cure health problems related to the eyes, those who have other incurable illnesses or worries believe that they can be cured by praying to him too. Those who have their wishes granted, depending on the nature of their problem, leave a small figure of an eye, ear, hand or child made out of wax or metal next to the religious icons. Amongst the offerings made to StAndrew are money, silver, gold and other jewellery. Those who cannot come to the monastery can make an offering to him by taking a bottle of olive oil and throwing it into the sea at the closest point. It's believed that by taking control of the winds, St Andrew will ensure that sooner or later the bottles will be taken to the priests at the monastery. Mass pilgrimage only dates to the early 20th century. Apparently, in 1895, the son of Maria Georgiou was kidnapped. Seventeen years later, St Andrew appeared to her in a dream, telling her to pray for her son's return at the monastery. Living in Anatolia, she embarked on the crossing on a crowded boat. Telling her story during the journey, one of the passengers, a young Dervish priest, became more and more interested. Asking if her son had any distinguishing marks, and on hearing of a pair of birthmarks, he stripped off his clothes to reveal the same marks, and mother and son were reunited.

On your arrival, you'll see a courtyard, surrounded by cloisters where the pilgrims once stayed. Looking towards the sea, you 'll see the bell tower of the church where you'll find some icons and normally some nuns or a retired priest acting as caretakers. The small chaperl which has been built next to it in the Gothic style is the monastery's oldest building, thought to have been built in the 15th century. The church to the far west of the chapel was built in 1867 by the priest of DIpkarpaz, Babayuannu Ilkonomou. The monastery rooms which are set arounf the church and chapel qwew built attsome poit after1912. Further down the slope, you'll reach the oldest part of the monastery and the holy well.


On two days of the year, the monastery is really busy; August 15th, Assumption Day (when Mary was "assumed" into heaven to be reunited with her soul), and November 30th, which is St Andrew's day. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, Greece, Cyprus and Russia. Although the monastery fell into disrepair in recent years, funding for refurbishment was provided by Church of Cyprus, EVKAF Administration and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The first phase concerned the restoration of the main church, and the building of a new north arcade. On November 30th, St Andrew's day, the completed first phase was handed back to the Church of Cyprus, and a service was held. Phase two will see the chapel and the fountain close to the shore renovated. Phase three will see the restoration of the buildings to the north of the church, and the final phase will involve the completion of external works below the main road, and landscaping.

Guides > Churches >  Ayia Zone Church

Ayia Zone is typical of Orthodox churches built in later medieval times, with Gothic architecture incorporated into otherwise Byzantine forms. In the south east of Famagusta, close to St Nikolas church, it's one of 3 remaining Byzantine churches in the area, the other being St Simeon


A simple cross-shaped church it may well stand on earlier foundations. It's likely this church was abandoned or used for other purposes during the Ottoman reign, as it's maintained itself very well throughout hundreds of years. Ayia Zone is dedicated to the sacred belt of the Virgin Mary. According to tradition, the Holy Belt was made by the Virgin Mary herself out of camel hair,. was about 90cm long, with strings at the end to tie it up. Three days after she died, during her ascension, she gave the belt to the Apostle Thomas. Thomas and the other Apostles opened her grave, but didn't find her body so the belt is seen as proof of her ascension into heaven.


At some point, it must have had a piece of this cloth, a sacred relic of the clothing of Mary. It's currently used as a rehearsal room for a local theatre group and contains fragmentary frescoes of the Archangel Michael.

Ayia Zone Church in North Cyprus

Guides > Churches >  Ayia Philon Church

Dating to the 10thcentury, this  church was dedicated to the saint who converted people of Karpaz to Christianity in the 4thcentury. It was built on top of ruins from Hellenistic and Roman periods and is pretty much all that remains of the Phoenician port of Karpasia.


Founded by King Pygmalion of Cyprus, it was a flourishing trading port between Salamis and Anatolia. It was abandoned in 802 after Arab raiders sacked it and inhabitants moved inland, founding Dipkarpaz. Traces of the old harbour wall can still be seen offshore, but the majority of the village is now under sand dunes west of the church.


The church is named after St Philo, who converted locals to Christianity, and had been ordained by St Epiphanios in the 4th Century. (St Epiphanios' Basilica is at Salamis).


It's a typically domed Byzantine church, with a 3-part apse and a courtyard surrounded by columns. There's a cistern and baptising room, as well as numerous mosaics from the earlier structure.

Ayios Philon Church in North Cyprus

Guides > Churches >  Ayias Trias Basilica

To the North of the small village of Sipahi, this basilica has been dated to the end of the 5thcentury. Destroyed by Arab raiders in the 7th century, it was discovered by accident in 1957 and is famous for its well-preserved mosaics, but they've been left to the elements and their colours are fading. It must have been a grand building in its day, with the richness of the floors suggesting wealth of the surrounding areas in Byzantine times.


Decorated with geometric, leaf and cross motifs, there's also an inscription in front of the main apse which credits a deacon called Heraclos as having “paid for the building of this part of the structure”. There are 3 unusual areas of mosaic. Two show pairs of sandals, one facing in and one facing outward as well as a representation of pomegranates. The site boasts remains of what must have been an impressive solea, a barrier running down the middle of the church, marking out spaces for clergy and other members of the congregation. A cross-shaped baptismal pool can be seen in the baptistery. There's also a number of wheat mills, thought to have been used to grind wheat for bread used in religious ceremonies.


In May 2018, plans were announced for preservation works.

Ayios Trias Basilica in North Cyprus

Guides > Churches >  Bellapais Abbey

Bellapais Abbey, also known as Bellapais Monastery, was founded by the French ruler Aimery, to house Augustinian monks expelled from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre when Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187. Known as the “Abbaye de la Paix”, (Abbey of Peace), most of what remains dates from 1267–84, with the cloisters and refectory added in 1324–59.


In its early years the monastery adopted strict beliefs, but as time went by it became known as a place where monks ate and drank to excess, took wives (sometimes two or three), had children, and would then only accept their own sons into the monastery as novices. Very French you might say. Though it built up considerable wealth, its treasure was plundered by the Genoese in 1373. After the Ottoman Conquest in 1571 the abbey became derelict, and was raided for its dressed building stone, although the church escaped as it was used by the local Greek Orthodox community.

Bellapais Abbey in North Cyprus

Vandalization of the monastery continued under the British, who even used the refectory as a rifle range. Very British you might say.  It's not uncommon for Monasteries and abbeys to be built in spectacular locations and this is no exception. The ruins overlook the sea from a small square filled with trees, lawns, flowerbeds and park benches. When you go in, you’ll see the Kybele Restaurant, which occupies the abbey’s kitchen court, and a set of steps to the abbey’s medieval tower which is far too good a photo-op to miss.Tall Gothic arches standing shoulder to shoulder invite you into the cloisters. This is one of the iconic images of North Cyprus and a must visit place on your holidays. The flat roofed church is the most complete part of the monastery. North of the church are the cloisters, the most atmospheric part of the abbey.  Poplar trees were planted in the quadrangle in 1940, and are now home to a flock of sparrows whose constant chirping just adds to the unique atmosphere of the place.


To the north of the cloisters, accessed via a superb doorway with dog-tooth edges and three Lusignan coats of arms, is the refectory. 30m long, 10m wide and 12m high, it’s covered by a single-span stone vaulted roof, an architectural triumph considering it stands at the edge of a cliff. It's illuminated by natural light that streams through its windows, throwing shadows across the columns. At one end was the Abbot’s high table in front of long tables of the monks. There’s also a pulpit where scriptures would be read to silently eating monks. Outside the refectory is a fountain where monks would wash their hands and if you look carefully you can make out the Roman sarcophagus into which it’s been incorporated. Concerts and musical events take place in the abbey from May to October, mostly in the refectory. It’s also used for weddings during summer months, and it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful and romantic setting.

Lawrence Durrell lived in Bellapais from 1953–56. His house is up from the abbey square, past the Tatlisu market on Aci Limon Sokak (Bitter Lemon Street) and has a ceramic plaque above the door. Across the road is the public water fountain (marked “ER 1953”), which played a prominent part in the tortuous and hilarious process of buying the house, which takes up a whole chapter in his book. Another chapter of the book is devoted to the “Tree of Idleness” that stands opposite the abbey. Durrell was warned never to sit under it because “its shadow incapacitates one for serious work”, a belief that arose from the idle hours spent by many villagers under the tree.  Legend has it that those who sit under the tree will become so lethargic and relaxed they’ll be unwilling to work, and Durrell was struck by how true this legend seemed. It‘s now the centrepiece of a pretty good restaurant.


The Village

Halfway between St Hilarion and Buffavento, 210m above sea level, is the flower-covered village of Bellapais. Full of narrow lanes and steep hills with views of Kyrenia, Bellapais is best known for its medieval abbey, one of the most beautiful in the eastern Mediterranean. The village itself is a step back in time, with quiet lanes and whitewashed houses. The name Bellapais comes from the French ‘belle paix’, meaning ‘beautiful peace’. It's popular because of the abbey, but was also made more famous by English author Lawrence Durrell who lived here in the 1950s ,and included descriptions of the village and its inhabitants in his classic holiday reading book “Bitter Lemons”. To find Bellapais, head east from Kyrenia, turn right at the Bellapais-signposted “peace” roundabout (with its two figures holding olive branches), then take the first main turning left. At the top of the hill, turn left at the roundabout, and continue on to the village where there’s parking. There’s no shortage of restaurants and bars in the village, with many in the square overlooking the abbey. While the abbey is definitely a must see, there’s also ancient crusader paths that criss-cross the mountains where you can follow in the footsteps of Richard the Lionheart.



There’s a good choice of accommodation if you’d like to stay in the village. A stone’s thrown from the Abbey is The Abbey Inn, a small boutique hotel with only ten rooms, small pool and a restaurant. Close by is another small but quality hotel called The Residence. Then there's Bellapais Monastery Village, and further down the road, about half-way to Kyrenia, is Altinkaya Holiday Village. A short walk from the abbey takes you to Bellapais Garden

Guides > Churches >  Ganchvor Monastery

Ganchvor Sourp Asdvadzadzin is the Armenian Apostolic church located within the walled city of Famagusta. The Armenians escaped Mameluke attacks against Ayas of Cilicia and arrived from the southern coast of Turkey, before the French Lusignans arrived. Like other non-Latin or non-Orthodox Christians, they settled in the Syrian quarter of the city, especially populated with Carmelites. The Armenian church was built in 1346  by Armenian refugees from Cilicia in a typical fortress-like Armenian style with Cypriot masonry. and was part of an important monastic and cultural centre, where Saint Nerses Lampronatsi is said to have studied in the 12th century, suggesting it was an important theological institute.


A scriptorium devoted to the writing, copying and illuminating of manuscripts operated here, manuscripts of which survive at the Armenian Saint James’ Monastery in Jerusalem.  After the Ottoman siege, the church became unused from 1571. Records show that until

Ganchvor Monastery in North Cyprus

1862, it featured a small bell-tower. It was preserved by the Department of Antiquities in 1907 and in 1936 it was leased to the Armenian community of Famagusta for a period of 99 years. After repairs between 1937 and 1944, the first liturgy was held on 14 January 1945 by Archimandrite Krikor Bahlavouni, but it was partially burnt by militia in 1957. After being repaired, it was used as a church until 1962. It was taken over by Turkish Cypriots and then in August 1974 by the Turkish military. Even after the partial lifting of movement restrictions by Northern Cyprus in 2003, it was still inaccessible, as it was located within a "military area". It’s now accessible. It's small, with only one aisle and a cylindrical apse. The roof is in the shape of a cruciform, and the apse is covered with a semi-dome. There is some evidence that a second chapel was added to the north east, but this hasn’t survived. Outside the church, crosses have been inscribed on the wall by pilgrims as a declaration of faith. Beyond the southern door, you can also see traces of a medieval sun dial. It adjoins the Carmelite church, which was established at a similar period, as part of a monastic complex dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Guides > Churches > Panagia Chrysopolitissa 

Kyrenia's Oldest Church. 


Dating to the 1500’s it was built as a Latin church and set in narrow back streets behind Kyrenia Harbour, almost opposite the rear entrance to the Folk Art Museum .


The interesting architectural feature is a Gothic doorway on the north side.


The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is also depicted on the wall of the front entrance.


Though now blocked up it doesn't appear to be in its' original state and may well have come from another, and larger, Gothic building.

Chrysopolitissa Church in North Cyprus

Guides > Churches > Panayia Pergamininiotissa

A late Byzantine church, dating from the 11th century in Tatlısu, an unspoilt coastal village 20 km from Esentepe. 

Has a interesting cylindrical apse but the building is square shaped, with the roof in the form of a cross, topped with a drum on which sits a small dome. It may have been built over a much earlier one, as foundations were exposed outside the apse during renovation.

Wall paintings from the 11th and 12th centuries have mainly been removed, although some still remain.

Look carefully and you can see the overgrown ruined foundations of buildings that once surrounded the church, reached via some paths.

Works to prevent deterioration of the building means it is no longer possible to get inside, however it is still worth taking a look at, especially if you plan to tour the Minia Cyprus Museum within the same grounds, another must-see for visitors.

Panayia Pergamininiotissa in North Cyprus

Guides > Churches > Sourp Magar Monastery

Also known as Magaravank, this is an Armenian monastery set in a forested valley in the Alevkaya range. First established in the 11th century as a Coptic (Egyptian Christian) monastery, it came into Armenian hands about the 15th century. The Armenians retained control of its lands under Venetian and Ottoman rule when it was often called the Blue Monastery, on account of the colour of the doors and windows. 530 metres above sea level, also referred to as the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, Sourp Magar had been a religious centre for Armenians for centuries, the quiet surroundings providing a haven for clergymen and laymen alike.

The Armenian community in Nicosia used it as a summer retreat, and it became a stopover for pilgrims headed for Jerusalem. It once housed a collection of manuscripts and other sacred items which were relocated to the Holy See of Cilicia in 1947. Upheavals in the Ottoman empire at the beginning of the 20th century resulted in the

Sourp Magar Monastery in North Cyprus

arrival of thousands of Armenian refugees to the island, and the monastery opened its doors to orphans and those in need. It helped feed the hungry by developing farming on monastery lands which ran to around 3,000 acres. Although the last monks left in the early 20th century, the monastery remained a favourite place for Armenian families and schools to visit, as the grounds were particularly pleasant, especially in hot summer months.


The residential buildings at Sourp Magar are extremely important for the history of architecture in Cyprus, being the best-preserved and most extensive examples of late medieval domestic building on the island, even in its current state. It consists of an irregular rectangle of two-storied residential buildings constructed around a generous precinct, sited on an overall slope. Two small churches or chapels, standing in the north-east part of the central courtyard, stand side-by-side. The largest chapel, with its vault still in place, was built in 1814.


The line of residential buildings facing towards the north and east probably belong to the 15th century judging from the shape and style of the Gothic windows and doors. One window has a chevron design, a characteristic feature of later Gothic building in Cyprus. These buildings were probably put up when the Armenians first took possession of the site. Internally, the buildings are two-storied, with a simple arcade below and a walkway above. The walkway was originally edged by stone posts with wooden lintels. The roofs throughout rested on wooden beams and were covered with curved tiles. Inside the monastery enclosure you can still see the remains of an orchard with a tiny church and pilgrims’ cells lining the east and south perimeter walls. It's well worth a visit to soak up the atmosphere, marvel at the distant views or even picnic in the grounds. Armenians retain great attachment to their ancient establishment and pilgrimages have been made there in recent years. Access to this monastery lies on the road that leads from the Five Finger Mountain to Alevkaya. After driving for about 6.5km, looking down at the valley below, the monastery buildings will be seen nestling among the pine trees.

Guides > Churches > St Andrews Church

One of two Anglican churches in North Cyprus, St Andrew’s was built in 1913 thanks to the generosity of a lay reader Ernest Eldred McDonald and a wealthy Scottish mine owner George Houstoun, and is approaching 110 years of service to the Kyrenia community.


The site of the Church was well chosen. A few yards from Kyrenia Castle and the Harbour, it's near to the centre of the town and much of the congregation is holiday visitors. Well seen from the outside, the church tower itself was constructed 25 years after the main build. Items of interest within the church include the bowl of the font, which is a domestic marble mortar found in 1949 at Lambousa and dated to the 6th century A.D. 


It's part of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf (one of the four dioceses that make up the Episcopal Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East), which includes Cyprus, the Gulf States, Iraq and Yemen, and also a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

St Andrews Church in North Cyprus

Guides > Churches > St Anne Church

The church of St Anne was probably built in the early 14th Century and was part of a monastic complex.


It was erected in what was known as the Syrian quarter and was originally a Latin, Catholic church before it was passed to Maronites later in the century.


Located in the walled city of Famagusta, next to the Martinengo Bastion, it forms part of the “Martinengo Cluster” – a collection of monuments conserved to promote the economic growth and territorial development of those regions.


St Anne was restored by both the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities in 2018. It consists of a single nave with 2 bays, with groin vaults separated by transverse ribs.


The walls are supported by external buttresses, between which are tall windows, a typically Gothic feature. It's believed the original facade supported a belfry.

St Anne Church in North Cyprus

Guides > Churches > St Barnabas Monastery

Head west from Salamis and you’ll come to the Monastery of St Barnabas, once one of the most important Christian sites, now an archaeological and icon museum. Said to have been built as the result of a divinely inspired dream, it consists of the church of St Barnabas and monastery cloisters, which is a colonnade of pillars on three sides of a lush and well-tended garden. An extension. further colonnades and a campanile, though modern, fits in pretty well with the rest of the building. The white domes are the local landmarks.

The buildings

An archaeological museum housed in rooms that overlook the garden, contains Neolithic axe-heads, Bronze Age pottery, Iron Age antiquities and Ottoman artefacts. A stunning collection dating back to the 7th Century BC, they're kept in the monks' old cells and are mostly intact. It also has a small gift shop and restaurant. 

St Barnabas Monastery in North Cyprus

An Icon Museum housed in the church of St Barnabas is a large collection of lit-up icons, depicting mostly well-known religious figures which are in great condition. Some of the Orthodox furnishings remain, including the pulpit, a chair and the iconostasis or screen. Four frescoes to the right of the entrance tell the story of the finding of St Barnabas’s body. What is said to be the tomb of the Barnabas himself is housed in a 1950s-built mausoleum about 100 yards from the monastery, built on the spot where his remains were discovered.


Brief History

St Barnabas is the patron saint of Cyprus. Over the years, Cyprus had rulers with different religious beliefs which have intermingled and the result is an island with mixed religions, churches and mosques. In Roman times most people practised Judaism, including St. Barnabas who came from Salamis. He travelled to the Holy Land to study law, met Paul the apostle and converted to Christianity. He was made the Archbishop of Salamis, returned, founded the Cypriot church and became a preacher. See The Bible Acts 4: 36-37, & Acts 13: 1-5 for reference. He convinced the Roman ruler Sergius Paulus to adopt Christianity, making Cyprus the first country in the world to have a Christian ruler. Together with his cousin Mark the Evangelist and the pivotal St Paul, he travelled extensively in both Cyprus and Asia Minor, spreading the gospel. Barnabas was so successful the Jewish elders in Salamis had him stoned to death around 75 AD. Mark retrieved his body and buried it secretly in a cave to the west of the city. Over time, the location of the cave was forgotten.


400 years later Cypriot Church under Archbishop Anthemios was faced with a takeover bid by Antioch, the patriarch of which claimed the right to rule over the island’s Christians, a claim supported by Byzantine Emperor Zeno. In 478 AD, when all seemed lost, Anthemios was visited in a dream by the spirit of St Barnabas, who told him where his body was buried – beneath a distinctive carob tree on the western edge of Salamis. Anthemios discovered a skeleton along with a copy of The Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew by St Barnabas himself.


Anthemios shot off to Constantinople, donated the book to the Emperor and the Church of Cyprus was triumphantly granted autonomous status. Zeno also paid for a monastery to be built over the saint’s final resting place. In Cyprus, most churches feature an icon of Barnabas holding St Matthew’s gospel, placed in the backrest of the bishop’s chair. St Barnabas is said to be the patron saint of peace making and hailstorms, with St. Barnabas day taking place on June 11th. The monastery crumbled over the years and was replaced in the 18th Century. It was rebuilt with three domes, but lack of foundations and soft soil made one of the domes and an apse collapse. The third dome wasn’t replaced but the walls of the original apse can still be seen.

Guides > Churches > St Francis Church

During the life of St Francis of Assisi, this was the most important structure of the Franciscan order in Cyprus. It was part of a Franciscan monastery in the north of the Royal Palace of Venice, built by priests. Today it can be found close to the Venetian Palace. It consists of a three-sided apse with a small chapel off the south side. Buttressing supported the external walls. It was built in the 14th Century with funding supplied by Henry II who was known for his close ties with the Franciscans. Henry's reign was anything but peaceful. He saw the fall of Acre in 1291, was imprisoned himself from 1306 to 1310, and saw the disbandment of the Knights Templars in 1313.


He funded the building of this church, the fortification of Famagusta, and the start of the rebuilding of St Nicholas Cathedral. The Franciscans were founded in 1209 by Francis of Assisi as part of the Catholic Church. Followers gave up all their possessions and life to live in poverty and they became famous for their love, simplicity and practices.

St Francis Church in North Cyprus

Francis himself was believed to have visited Cyprus during a trip to the Holy Land during the Crusades. The Franciscans are one of the oldest and most important Latin religious groups in Cyprus, and their monasteries in Famagusta have become some of the city's most important religious structures.   The site housed a monastery that occupied a large area within the city and because of its proximity, the Royal Palace once had a private entrance to the monastery and church, through a steeped road. Nobles from Famagusta, Genoa and overseas who contributed to the construction of the church are buried in this area. Archaeologists discovered tombs dating back to 1314-1474 under the church. Structurally, it resembled the Church of Mary with side chapels added. Outside walls are supported by struts, and visitors can see medieval stone workmanship outside the western gate. The monastery, which didn't survive, was believed to be located to the southwest of the church.

Guides > Churches > St George of the Greeks Church

This Nestorian Church, officially known as the Church of St George the Exiler, is in Famagusta. Not to be confused with  St George of the Latins, it is the second largest church in Famagusta, and during the middle ages served as a Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Built in the 12th century around the time St Nicholas Cathedral was initiated, it was financed by East Syrian Nestorian merchants, the Lakhas brothers, who were known for their immense wealth. It's architecture and decorations were reminiscent of Southern French and Italian Gothic churches of the time, and may have been influenced by King Peter I’s visit to Avignon in 1363, although  its' architecture is also reminiscent of the 12th–13th century Crusader architecture in Palestine and Syria.

The Orthodox CathedralWhen the French Catholic Lusignans took rule of the island in 1191, they inherited an island that was predominately eastern Orthodox, and they immediately reduced the power of the church. In doing so, the southeast corner of Famagusta became a compact Greek quarter, and a conglomeration of several churches came about, most still inherent today and within close proximity of one another.

St George Church Greek in North Cyprus

Although there was a perfectly serviceable cathedral church, namely the small Byzantine St Simeon Church, the Orthodox community wanted a place of worship that rivalled its neighbouring counterparts. They built the much greater church with a wide central nave, two side aisles and huge columns that held up the nave vaulting. Gothic elements were also added to the church’s north side to create a hybrid form of architecture that makes this 14th century Byzantine figure somewhat rare amongst Mediterranean churches.


The central nave also featured chapels on both sides, leading to a cross nave, all with rounded apses. St George of the Greeks became the Orthodox cathedral of Famagusta and was dedicated to St Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, who had gained a reputation as a strong defender of orthodoxy. It's believed the saint’s remains were formerly buried at the adjacent St Simeon before his body was taken to Constantinople by Emperor Leo in the 9th century. Unfortunately, the structure was too large, with insufficient buttressing and a roof that was just too heavy, and years of modifications and renovations followed. The pillars throughout the nave were expanded to take more weight, and the roof was inserted with large upturned terracotta pots to spread the load. The church was not in existence long enough to find out if the revised compositions were sustainable. Taking the brunt of the Ottomans, evidence of which is still very evident in the remaining walls, the main of the build stood for a little over a hundred years.

Siege of Famagusta

After the capture of the city, the church was converted into a stable for camels, with worship here only being permitted once a year, during the feast of St George the Exiler. The Ottoman siege in 1571 left its marks on the structure and visitors today can still see cannon ball marks on the top of the church and cannonballs still embedded in the walls. Consequently, little remains of its vaulted roof. It's believed that during this era the apse was used as a shooting gallery, and there is much evidence in the form of bullet holes to be seen. By the 18th century, it was more or less abandoned, with only a handful of residents living near to the desolate churches. Sailors from the nearby port would disembark and come into the city, sometimes sketching drawings of their ships into the plaster of these derelict churches. Some of these etchings can be seen at the western end of the St George Greek church.


In 1905, the British administration handed the church to Greek Cypriots, who used it as their parish. By the 1930’s, many frescoes that were previously observed had disappeared, and between 1937 and 1939, Greek Cypriots undertook excavations and repaired some parts of the build. The church is still nevertheless home to numerous frescoes dated to the 14th and 15th centuries, depicting the life of Christ. Unlike Byzantine Orthodox churches, the frescoes in the Nestorian Church were not part of a unified design, and many were painted in differing periods by various artists. Visitors can still make out the faint outlines of once-rich frescos upon the interior stone walls. The apse on the other hand may have had a unified design, but this is impossible to ascertain given the level of damage. The church walls are made of ashlar and the structure has three naves and three apses. All three naves have entrances to their west.


Originally, the church was built with a single nave and a protruding apse while the other two naves and two minor apses were added at a later date. Some fragments of wall paintings still cling to the walls of the eastern apse, and pieces of pottery jars sit within the ceiling, which were thought to improve the church acoustics. During the pre-Ottoman modifications, collars were added to support the overweight, and visitors will notice the remains of the iron clamps that were used to hold the blocks together. A drawing of the church from the 18th century shows a dome on the church, not unlike the one on the nearby St Nikolas Church, an octagonal drum with the dome sat on top. Even with the extra support added to the pillars, eventually the dome has fallen to inexistence. Along the walls of the church, you can see several arched niches. These alcoves were the tombs of the patrons of the church. The sarcophagus was at ground level, while the brackets you can see would have held a stone slab, probably with an effigy of the deceased carved on it. It's believed these niches were built after the walls, and their construction further weakened the roof support. Excavations on this site have also unearthed coloured glass, most likely from the old church windows. The only church in Famagusta that still has a bell, the Church of St George of the Greeks is one of the best-preserved from medieval times despite the damage incurred and yet another impressive ruin to add to your visit list with much to discover.

Guides > Churches > St George of the Latins Church

Sitting amid a traffic intersection, St George of the Latins is one of Famagusta’s oldest churches. Located in the northern part of the old city, close to Othello’s Tower, the remaining walls with their distinctive lancet windows, are a great example of early Gothic architecture. Though the precise date of its construction is unknown, evidence of a fortified parapet where defenders could protect the church, indicates that St George was built at a time when the Lusignans had not yet completed the city walls, most likely in the last quarter of the 13th century, using materials removed from Salamis. Its design is said to be inspired by Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture, and consecrated in 1248. Despite what remains today is predominantly the northern and eastern walls, the remnants indicate what the edifice may have looked like in its prime.

St George Church Latin North Cyprus

Thin columns built into the walls were usually elaborately carved with religious figures or with coats of arms belonging to benefactors of the church. Areas of the walls between the pillars were structured to be relatively free of weight, one of the main features of Gothic architecture, granting huge windows and substantial sunlight to enter the church. In the south west corner, the first steps of what was a spiral staircase leading up to the roof can be seen, and to the north west, remnants of a guard house with a conical roof, the entrance doorway still unmistakable. Following the line of the roof you can still see some of the protective wall, complete with arrow slots, another reason researchers believe the church was built before the city walls were completed. As was the case with most of the towering buildings, the city walls didn't provide complete protection and the church suffered damage during the Ottoman siege of 1570 – 1571, some of which can still be observed on the eastern wall of the church. The only entrance which survives is to the north, and this is comparatively well preserved. It's surrounded by carvings – a gargoyle in the form of a monk opening his mouth with his hand, most likely used to drain water from the walls, and also of a lion devouring a lamb. Not to be confused with the similarly named St George of the Greeks church which is a few minutes walk away.

Guides > Churches > St Mamas Monastery

Dedicated to the island’s beloved tax-repelling patron saint, the monastery was formerly the site of a pagan temple. St Mamas Monastery in Guzelyurt is the third most important place of worship for the Greek Orthodox in North Cyprus, after the St Barnabas Tomb at Famagusta and the Apostolos Andreas Monastery in Karpaz. Today it also houses several significant icons and artefacts.

Legendary Tales

According to local legend, Mamas was a hermit living in extremely poor circumstances in a cave outside of town. When the authorities tried to tax him, he pleaded poverty and evaded them for some time. Soldiers were sent out to recoup the levy and arrested him at his dwelling. On the way back he escaped by jumping on to the back of a ferocious lion attacking a lamb, and he rode it all the way into town while carrying the injured lamb in his arms. On seeing this sight, the Byzantine authorities were so impressed that they decided to exempt him from paying taxes for the rest of his life and of any punishment.

St Mamas Church Güzelyurt in North Cyprus

Since then, St Mamas has been the Patron Saint of tax avoiders and so famous locally there are over 10 churches on the island dedicated to this Christian Saint. Another tale says Mamas was killed in Anatolia and placed by his family in a stone coffin aided by Jesus Christ. The story continues with the coffin swept away to sea and washed up on the shores of Guzelyurt Bay. Discovered by a local farmer, he harnessed the immensely hefty coffin to two oxen and hauled it as far as the beasts could manage, and when they could go no further, a church was built around it.

The Church

Most of this compound dates from the 18th century but its Iconostasis, the lavish wall of icons and religious paintings separating the nave from the sanctuary, is a gorgeous sample of artful wood carving of the 16th century. The church in the monastery was originally a Byzantine building, built on the site of an Aphrodite temple. It has been reconstructed at various times over the centuries, and most of the buildings today date to the 18th century, when the large central dome was also added. The side portals and columns of the nave survive from an earlier Gothic church built by the Lusignans.


A strange mixture of Gothic and Byzantine styles, it’s more spacious than many other Orthodox churches on the island. It has a central nave, apse, and two side aisles, with the grand dome that rises above the nave at the altar end, pierced by six tall narrow windows. The columns are decorated with foliar carvings, vine leaves and visages carved with clear delineation. Into the Iconostasis are incorporated marble panels that are carved with Venetian coats of arms, and there are two marble pillars on either side of the Holy Door that are evidence of early recycling, probably from an earlier church, though not necessarily on this site. The pulpit was built in 1711, and the oldest icon is dated to around 1745.


There’s no evidence this church was ever in use by members of the Catholic faith and therefore presumably it has always been a place of Orthodox worship. The most beautiful exhibit in the church is the magnificent crystal chandelier that hangs in the centre of the apse and surprises every visitor upon entry through the side entrance as its plain outer façade gives no hint of the splendid interior. Hundreds of droplets glow with all the iridescence of the spectrum when the lamps are lit, and it's flanked by smaller, though equally elegant, examples of the glass-blowers craft. St Mamas is shown as a relief on the outside of the church, as well as on several icons inside. Monastery buildings are to the north and east, and records show them as being built in 1779. Architecturally, the arches on the front of the northern buildings that reflect a traditional style, are quite different to those on the eastern side, which have a resemblance to 18th century Ottoman inns, with stone columns on the ground floor and timber balconies on the second.

Tomb of St Mamas

The marble sarcophagus of the Saint can be found forming part of the north wall of the church, surrounded by richly carved decorations, many in the shape of ear drums, depicting scenes of excruciating martyrdom. It’s said that during Ottoman rule, believing there was treasure hidden in the coffin, they pierced holes into its lid, from which in turn an ointment liquid oozed out. This liquid, which appeared at irregular intervals, was purported to have curative properties. Around the tomb you will see offerings in the shape of ears since St Mamas is not only the Patron Saint of tax avoiders, but also of those suffering ear aches and infections!

Icon Museum

Whilst the Icon collection isn't as extensive as the collection at the St Barnabas Monastery, St Mamas remains without doubt the most beautiful and best kept of all the Orthodox churches that are preserved as Icon Museums on the island, and is the highlight of any visit to Güzelyurt. The magnificent collection of religious Icons is certainly worth seeing, as is the skilled art and craftwork dating back many centuries.

Guides > Churches > St Mary Church

Located in the bastion precinct, this church was one of the city’s larger buildings. In the 13th century, middle eastern Christians fled the Holy Land and although Christian, their beliefs weren't Latin or Orthodox and they tended to congregate in the same area.


In1311, Pope Clement V allowed the Carmelites to settle in Cyprus. Two other mendicant orders, the Franciscan and Dominican, were established 15 years prior and the Augustinians, the last of the mendicant orders, arrived shortly after. The Carmelites originated from the Carmel mountains of Northern Israel and settled in what later became known as the Syrian quarter of the city.


The church was built in the 14th Century as part of a monastic complex dedicated to the Virgin Mary, hence its name. Other churches were built in the town at the same time, as Famagusta was one of the richest cities in Christendom. It was close to where the

St. Mary Church in North Cyprus

Venetians would later build the Martinengo Bastion in the 16th century. It adjoined the Armenian monastery, established at the same time, and was next to other monasteries Located in the bastion precinct, this church was one of the city’s larger buildings. In the 13th century, middle eastern Christians fled the Holy Land and although Christian, their beliefs weren't Latin or Orthodox and they tended to congregate in the same area.


In1311, Pope Clement V allowed the Carmelites to settle in Cyprus. Two other mendicant orders, the Franciscan and Dominican, were established 15 years prior and the Augustinians, the last of the mendicant orders, arrived shortly after. The Carmelites originated from the Carmel mountains of Northern Israel and settled in what later became known as the Syrian quarter of the city.


The church was built in the 14th Century as part of a monastic complex dedicated to the Virgin Mary, hence its name. Other churches were built in the town at the same time, as Famagusta was one of the richest cities in Christendom. It was close to where the

Guides > Churches > St Nikolas Church

This is one of 3 remaining Byzantine churches in Famagusta.


St Nikolas is a small double-aisled church that history has taken its toll on, although some parts still remain and are visible.


The structure had 2 domes, noticeable at the top of the piers. Below the window of the dome, a visible groove indicates something was lowered from here, possibly a chandelier or maybe the church bell.


Three small holes in the wall create a triangular formation and behind these are hollow spaces made of clay pots that have been built in – a technique that lightened load to make it structurally more reliable.


At the same time, these pots were thought to create better acoustics, creating a more heavenly aura. If you try chanting you can judge for yourself..

St Nikolas Church in North Cyprus

Guides > Churches > St Simeon Church

In the early 14th century, the Church of St Simeon in Famagusta was described as the metochion of a Sinai monastery. Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, controlled by the Church of Sinai and part of the Greek Orthodox Church, owned lands in Cyprus.


The Sinai founded the priory of Saint Simeon, which Pope John XXII endowed with privileges in 1334. The term metochion when used with a monastery describes a dependent of the senior monastery, almost like a child that's being given blessing and support, to develop into an autonomous monastery or society. The metochion would perhaps receive clergy from that monastery or other forms of support.


St Simeon is one of 3 churches remaining in Famagusta that were built during Byzantine rule, the others being Ayia Zoni and St Nikolas. An orthodox Bishopric was established early, and the Agios Simeon became the Orthodox Cathedral when citizens of Salamis moved to Famagusta. The cathedral was cruciform in shape and would have supported a dome. There were two aisles, each with a semi-circular apse and altar, situated behind a

St. Simeon Church in North Cyprus

decorated iconostasis. It's reputed that the remains of St Epiphanios, Bishop of Salamis, were once enshrined here although his remains were taken to Constantinople by Emperor Leo in the 9th century. The St George church is also attached to the north wall, dedicated to this Bishop who had gained a reputation as a defender of orthodoxy. The Orthodox community built this newer and grander church alongside the old Simeon which later became abandoned.

Guides > Churches > The Twin Churches

Among the many churches in Famagusta, these two medieval buildings have an exhilarating story. Officially named Templars Church of St John and Hospitallers Church of St John they were built alongside one another within the same century, and together are known as the Twin Churches.


The larger and older of the two is the Templars and together they were the centres of the two orders in Cyprus. Also known as the Knights Templar, they formed one of the three great military orders of knighthood, founded around 1119 to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. They quickly rose to legendary wealth and influence for two centuries. At the head of the order was the Master of the Temple at Jerusalem until 1291. With the gradual loss of their possessions in the Holy Land and the fall of the Latin kingdom, the Templars relocated their headquarters to Cyprus which they had once previously acquired from King Richard I of England in 1192.


The Hospitallers were a Christian organisation founded in Jerusalem in 1080, founded by St John the Almoner of Amathus, son of the Byzantine Governor of Cyprus Epiphanios, and provided care for poor, sick or injured

Twin Churches in North Cyprus

or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land, and soon became the other Christian force in the region. After the first Crusade it became a military order, charged with upkeep and defence of the Holy Land. They soon became the most powerful Christian groups in the area, enjoying similar privileges and prosperity to the Templars, and, like them, sought refuge in Cyprus in 1291 after the fall of Acre, the crusaders’ last Levantine bastion.


After their heyday, the two famous fighting orders of the Crusaders’ period met with very contrasting fates. Following the failed papal attempt to merge them into one, the Hospitallers were able to establish a lasting rule in Rhodos, while the Templars, persecuted by Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V, were dissolved and many of them burned at stake. The Hospitallers became involved in Cypriot politics. After the Templars were dissolved, they took over their Cypriot properties. Nonetheless, they constructed their own church abutting the older church, hence the Twin Churches of Famagusta, a testimony to the two orders’ adventures in Cyprus. A later addition saw a passage built connecting the churches. Above the doorway of the Templars, you can see a small rose window and above the opposite door, the coats of arms of the Knights Hospitallers are still visible. The belfry of this church is a much later addition, dating to the 16th century. Various Byzantine frescoes from the same period can be seen to this day on these walls.


These churches have been since restored and are an historic site for thousands of visitors each year. A hundred metres over from the Twin Churches is the Somineli Ev or Chimney House, a hybrid of exterior Venetian architecture meets interior Ottoman design. The building has been modified since and is used for arts and crafts exhibitions.

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