When in Cyprus, it is tempting to spend the day by the beach and do nothing but enjoy the sunshine and the delicious Mediterranean sea. It is also easy to spend a day immersing into the Greek mythology in Paphos while walking amongst the vestige of the Aphrodite’s Sacred City or the Tombs of the Kings. But to escape the heat and the crowd, a day trip in the Troodos Mountains is highly recommended. There you will find small Christian churches from the Byzantine Empire, which have defied time.
The Troodos Mountains are an exceptional place on their own. Despite the 340 days of sunshine per year of the Cyprus island, there is snow in the mountains and 4 ski slopes are available on the Mount Olympus which peaks at a not so high height of 1,952m (6,404 ft).
But what is most extraordinary is that the Troodos Mountains hide small churches that were built around the 11th and 15th centuries and still display amazingly well preserved frescos. It seems like a miracle that such churches have survived the devastating effect of time and iconoclasm.
In case you wonder, and in just a few words, iconoclasm, which has a broader sense today, is originally the destruction of religious icons and other images or monuments for religious or political motives. Iconoclasm was a way for Christians to end paganism. Beheading statues and removing their hands which held specific symbols was very common to ensure the deities would not be recognized. Muslim societies also avoid the depiction of live beings, prophets or god and iconoclasm was used by other religions to prevent idolatry.
But those churches are pretty small. They are also simple wooden & stone constructions, which look fairly plain at least from the outside. And they are also quite remote, some being hidden in the forest. These 3 characteristics is probably what saved their inside treasures from iconoclasm.
Ten of them are part of the UNESCO World Heritage list as they “provide an overview of Byzantine and post-Byzantine painting in Cyprus and bear testimony to the variety of artistic influences affecting Cyprus over a period of 500 years.”
I would love to say I’ve seen them all but that wasn’t the case. Out of ten, we only saw 3 and visited 2. That’s not a great score. They are not that easy to find, there are lots of conflicting info available ont the net, and we simply realized we wouldn’t have enough time so instead of rushing, we choose to enjoy fully the ones we got to visit.
So which one did we get to see?
Well the first was the monastery of Agios Ioannis Lambadistis. Unfortunately it was closed when we arrived so we just had a look at the outside.
The church of Church of Panagia (Our Lady) tou Moutoulla is situated in a central area of the Troodos mountain range, in the valley of Marathasa. It is located on a hill above the village of Moutoullas.
Click on the image above to get more info
The church was closed when we arrived. We walked around and Mr A. decided to play the bell. This isn’t really appropriate and I was like ‘grrrrrr’ especially since a few minutes later, we saw an old man walking briskly up the hill, to us. Oops!! I thought he might be mad at us for ringing the bell but he was actually coming to great us and was surprisingly caring the key to the church!!
That was very lucky! And I’m not sure I recommend you to ring bells in churches whenever you see one, but this time was fortunate as the inside of this church was marvelous. He gave us plenty of time to look around and pointed out the important fresco naming a few saints along the way. It wasn’t really a guided visit but you could tell that the guy enjoyed keeping this little treasure.
As you can see, the inside of the church is very simple. The L shape building around the main rectangular was added in the 16th century. Considering it goes around the North and West walls, this was probably done to protect the frescos from harsh weather and humidity.
The cemetery located by the side of the hill next to the church has a great view over the valley.
Another couple had arrived so we left them alone to enjoy the peace and quietness of the place and head to Pedoulas to visit the Church of Archangel Michael.
The Church of Archangel Michael belongs to the typical single-aisled, timber-roof type of the Troodos region. And like the previous one, very well preserved frescos could be seen inside.
Click on the sign above to get more info
I think the above painting represents Gabriel as he is the messenger of God and is often depicted with a scroll of some sort as a way to signify that he is delivering a message from God.
Archangel Michael is usually depicted as an angelic warrior, fully armed with helmet, sword, & shield and of course magnificent wings. Archangel Michael is the dragon Slayer! He is know for having fought Satan and banished him from Heaven. Representations of him therefore usually includes a serpent, a dragon or a defeated figure of Santan at his feet.
But not here as he is depicted on his horse. Not sure what the little tiny men painted behind him means?!
The wood carving here does look like a dragon?! don’t you think?
There is a little museum just across the street. don’t miss it!
If you read my post on the Soganli Valley in Turkey and the churches there, you can tell that the ones in Cyprus are way better preserved.
If you haven’t read it, here is your chance! Click here!!
The technical bits:
Those churches are not all easy to find. The UNESCO website gives you the GPS coordinates of each church (here). Very handy to plan your visit and itinerary. The department of Antiquity of Cyprus alose gives a map to help you locate them. Check it out here.
If you find them, they might not be open, but if there is a bell, it might be worth ringing it! who knows 😉
I love churches, and I told you why here.
So tell me, do you like churches as well? What’s the most incredible one you have seen?
Leave a comment, it’s free!