About 6km from Kyrenia, driving inland, the village of Bellapais occupies a sloping natural terrace overlooking the sea. The village came to fame thanks to Lawrence Durrell’s book ‘Bitter Lemons’, where he describes life in Cyprus based on the three years he spent on the island in the 1950s.
The key attraction of the village is the Bellapais Abbey, which is spectacularly built on a rocky hill that is illuminated by night.
You approach through a promenade of palm trees that give a rather exotic touch to the otherwise Gothic ambiance.
Except for the western arcade, where the vaulting has gone missing, the 14th century cloister is almost intact and decorated with carvings of human and monster heads on the corbels. South of the arcade, the 13th century church used by the Greek Orthodox community is open to visitors.
The interior of the church is almost as the Greek Cypriots left it before fleeing during the Turkish invasion of 1973. The carved pulpit, the “templon”, and the bishop’s throne are all hardly visible in the dim glow of five chandeliers. It is believed that several Lusignans kings were buried beneath the floor.
A stairway outside leads to a rooftop fortification that offered the best vantage point for the ruined chapterhouse to the east of the cloister and also leads to a small treasury, atop the church’s north aisle and the upper-storey dormitory of which only one wall survives.
On the north side of the cloister, a Roman sarcophagus once served the monks as a washbasin before they had their meals in the splendid refectory. Here, six bay windows offer a spectacular view of the sea which is 30 metre below, at the end of the cliff on which Bellapais Abbey was built.
• History meets 13th century Gothic beauty at this spectacular abbey
• Bellapais inspired Lawrence Durrell to write this in his famous book ‘Bitter Lemons’: “Bellapaix, even in ruins, was a testimony to those who had tried, however imperfectly, to grasp and retain their grip on the inner substance of the imagination, which resides in thought, in contemplation, in peace.”
Look Out For:
• The abbey has not been in the control of the Republic of Cyprus since the Turkish invasion of 1974. Please read the related section in our Visitor Guide about visiting Turkish-occupied areas on the island.
• If you have a car, note that parking can be difficult. There is a small parking lot about 70 m past the abbey building down to the left by a large carob tree.