North Cyprus
Today is Tuesday, 12th December 2017

North Cyprus Kyrenia

Bellapais Abbey Tour

You approach through a promenade of palm trees that give the monastery an exotic ambience. Its elegant exterior depicts a harmonious blending of Gothic styles throughout the stages of its development. The main skeleton of the abbey is formed in a square shape with the church that has a small courtyard in front of it. This is defended by a machicolated gatehouse with drawbridge and occupies the south side of the buildings. Apart from the church, most preserved parts of the abbey are the cloisters in the middle, refectory and a common room with chapter house. Much of the periphery sections including main entrance, storerooms, lodgings and also the kitchen in the north-west corner, are all gone, the stone used elsewhere.

Refectory  

In the northern section of the abbey stands the great refectory with six vaulted bays, lit at the eastern end by a small rose window. There are also bay windows from which there are splendid views across to the sea and the village of Ozanköy, with the olive groves below. In the north wall one can notice a pulpit with a stone spiral staircase, and scripture readings at meal times. Beneath each window is a drain through which the rubbish from tables after meals would be swept away. On the southern side of this impressive room which is approximately 30 m long, 10 m wide and 11 m high, survive a line of high windows which look over the roof of the cloisters. Two doors open onto the cloisters and above the door at the west end are the carved coat of arms of the Lusignan monarchs as Kings of Jerusalem, Kings of Cyprus and the quarters of Jerusalem and Cyprus together. Situated at the doorway to the refectory and used by the monks as a washbasin were the two Roman sarcophagi, most highly recycled from Salamis . It is here where the monks would have washed their hands before meals. The upper sarcophagus was fitted with bungs or spigots, the holes for which can still be observed, and the lower one has a drain hole for the waste water. During the late 1800s, British forces barbarically used the refectory as a shooting range, the bullet holes still visible in the east wall. These days it serves as a performance venue for gathering, events and concerts, among which popular Bellapais Music Festival (link to the text below).

Bellapais Monastery, Kyrenia, North Cyprus

Bellapais Music Festival

Since 1996 the committee have been organising International Bellapais Music Festival that usually takes place every year during May and June in and around Bellapais Abbey. The Festival includes staged classical and modern concerts, recitals and even brass performances within the refectory of the Abbey. Annually it hosts national and foreign artists. Prominent posters advertising the events are on display in and around Kyrenia, and elsewhere. For more inquiries contact 0542 854 6417 or kktcb@north-cyprus.net

Cloisters  

The cloister's courtyard lined with the robust cypresses that were planted by Durrell's Mr Kollis in the 1940s, is the monastery's most poignant section. It is almost complete, apart from the western side where it has fallen down or been pulled apart and now looks out onto a restaurant. The cloisters were built after the main church was completed in the end of the thirteenth century. The brackets at the base of the corbels are enlivened with both human and animal heads, and also very neat foliar carvings. You can spot the night stair which is off the south side of the cloister and was used by monks for their night-time devotions without disturbing the other inhabitants of the monastery. Via these stairs they could reach the cloister roof, monk dormitory and the treasury. Today there is nothing left of the dormitory except the windows in the wall overlooking the cloister beside which is a small embrasure used for monks' belongings, like prayer books, crucifix or rosaries. There is very little to be seen in the treasury. The evidence of it makes the three safes built into the walls and the large hinges that held the doors. Two other staircases can lead you to the cloisters. One of them passes beneath the treasury room and the other from the south-west corner of the cloister roof.

Abbey  Church   

Just south of the cloister is joined the thirteenth-century church, entrance to which is from the courtyard off the village square. It was used by the Greek Orthodox community until its last members were obliged to leave in 1976. Today it is open for visitors. There is an imposing porch with three bays. On the walls to both sides of the doorway are the remains of plaster and frescoes made by Italian artists probably in 15 th century. They depict prophets and the life of Christ, but are badly-preserved. Being of roughly square shape it has a nave, two aisles and transepts. The interior is much as the Greeks left it, with intricately carved pulpit, témblon and bishop's throne still intact in the dim glow of five fairly restrained chandeliers. Nave in the centre leads up steps to the choir and altar, the aisles lead into arcaded transepts. The north transept reaches sacristy and the south one may have had a small altar at the eastern end. Over the entrance, a horse-shoe-shaped wooden yinaikonítis, the rib-vaulted ceiling is rather more substantially supported by four massive columns that became half columns at the transepts with thickly carved capitals. The addition of a women's gallery above the main doorway is the work of the Orthodox community. Iconostasis also added, nowadays divides the choir and altar from the main body of the church. Underneath the church several Lusignan kings are reported to be buried beneath the floor pavement. A stairway outside leads to a rooftop parapet which is the best vantage point for the ruined chapter house to the east of the cloister and leads also to a small treasury.

Chapter house  

From the eastern side of cloister the doors lead to chapter house and also common room. Above them was once the dormitory. Today both rooms are roofless. It was in the chapter house where was the main administration office that functioned for issuing the orders of the day. The shape of the room is square and contains seating round the sides and richly carved brackets which in by gone times supported the ribs for the roof. A central column that disappeared long time ago was in 1990s replaced by a hybridization of a marble column with mismatched capital, which merely detracts from the Gothic carvings round the walls.

Common room  

A neighbouring room to the chapter house was the common room where the monks would be warming up. There is no evidence of fireplace but presumably it was against the wall between this room and the chapter house.

Undercroft or storehouse  

The undercroft of the abbey is actually the large storehouse located underneath the refectory and runs the length of the north wall. Divided into two separate rooms, it is maintained by a row of massive columns, each supporting eight ribs for the roof. Undercroft is accessible through the kitchen area down a staircase. Both the rooms were used to store the food for the abbey community. As the temperature of undercroft was the same throughout the year, the victuals were preserved in good condition. These days the two rooms are used for exhibitions.

Bellapais Monastery, Kyrenia, North Cyprus

Kitchen court  

Less well-preserved, on the west side of the abbey is situated the kitchen court. All the remains here are a few walls and a bit precarious section of wall onto which the more daring can climb for a better view.

Where to eat  

After a tour around the Gothic Bellapais monastery, you can have delicious meal at the restaurants located in the very distance of the abbey. While relaxing in the restaurant and drinking a cool beer under the famous Tree of Idleness, you have best views on abbey and a chance to buy a souvenir. 

Kybele restaurant

Tel.: + 90 392 815 7531

Huzu Agaç (Tree of Idleness) restaurant

Tel.: + 90 392 815 3380

Bellapais Abbey  - Tour page 1 - Tour page 2

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