Gothic Cyprus: Bellapais

Nestled on the edge of the Kyrenia Mountains, four miles from the city (town?) of Kyrenia, in the Turkish-occupied North of the Cyprus sits what the pamphlet given to visitors there describes as the best piece of Gothic Architecture in the Near East: the Abbaye de la Belle Paix, in the village of Bellapais which takes its name from the abbey.

Bellapais abbey was founded in the late 1100s when monks were forced to flee the Holy Land following Saladin’s unification of the Islamic forces and ‘reconquest’* of much of the territory, including Jerusalem in 1197. The pamphlet given at the historic site says it was founded by Augustinians; Wikipedia clarifies that they were Premonstratensian. Premonstratensians are an order of canons regular, and, therefore, follow the Rule of St Augustine. These canons came from the Holy Land and founded their abbey in the picturesque Kyrenia Mountains.

Cyprus is the crossroads of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The structure itself is 13th-century and has almost everything you want from Gothic abbeys — a cloister, a chapter house, grotesques (or at least carven figures on architectural elements) and an empty Greek Orthodox Church — original the canons’ chapel.

Rick and I visited on Friday. Here are some of my photos from the trip.

Heading North

Heading North

Bellapais Abbey

Bellapais Abbey

Remains of Bellapais' front gate, now surmounted by Turkish and TRNC flags

Remains of Bellapais’ front gate, now surmounted by Turkish and TRNC flags

Inside the abbey chapel

Inside the abbey chapel

South aisle of abbey chapel, Bellapais

South aisle of abbey chapel, Bellapais

Abbey Chapel, now an abandoned Greek Orthodox Church (converted with the exodus of the monks in 1571, empty since 1974)

Abbey Chapel, now an abandoned Greek Orthodox Church (converted with the exodus of the monks in 1571, empty since 1974)

Bellapais cloisters; most ruined monasteries I've visited have been British, so I imagine cloisters as being for freedom from wet and cold; here, I imagine dry and hot were more the issues.

Bellapais cloisters; most ruined monasteries I’ve visited have been British, so I imagine cloisters as being for freedom from wet and cold; here, I imagine dry and hot were more the issues.

A little monster-dude in the cloisters

A little monster-dude in the upper floor

Roofless dormitory with a bit of the chapter house visible at bottom of photo

Roofless dormitory with a bit of the chapter house visible at bottom of photo

Some fine carving up top

Some fine carving up top

Turning a corner in the cloisters

Turning a corner in the cloisters

All of the supports for the ribbing/roof of the Chapter House were carved; I give you but a few

All of the supports for the ribbing/roof of the Chapter House were carved; I give you but a few.

Pause.

The Chapter House? Unlike words like ‘dormitory’ and ‘refectory’, this one’s not immediately discernable as to what it was. The Chapter House is where all the brothers of an abbey, in this case called ‘canons’, would have met daily. The abbot would have presided over a meeting that began with the reading of a chapter from the Rule of St Augustine (amongst Benedictines, it would have been Benedict’s), and they would have dealt with certain aspects of Abbey business. Hence it’s name.

Resume.

Inside the Chapter House

Inside the Chapter House

In a tight corner in the Chapter House

In a tight corner in the Chapter House

Byzantine pillar in the Chapter House. 'One of these things is not like the others...'

Byzantine pillar in the Chapter House. ‘One of these things is not like the others…’

Rick in the Dormitory; Chapter House in the background

Rick in the Dormitory; Chapter House in the background

Looking up in the dormitory

Looking up in the dormitory

Portal into Refectory; in the centre the crest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the right that of Lusignan, on the left the two impaled (I think that's the word). Recall the first post on Gothic Cyprus and the Lusignans

Portal into Refectory; in the centre the crest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the right that of Lusignan, on the left the two impaled (I think that’s the word). Recall the first post on Gothic Cyprus and the Lusignans

Rick in the refectory's pulpitum where a brother will have read spiritual works whilst they dined

Rick in the refectory’s pulpitum where a brother would have read spiritual works whilst they dined

Me at the cloister

Me at the cloister

A boss in the cloisters. Not quite a Green Man; you have to visit Nicosia for those, it seems

A boss in the cloisters. Not quite a Green Man; you have to visit Nicosia for those, it seems

The view from Bellapais

The view from Bellapais

*Given that he’s not a Fatimid, is it really a reconquest? Because if Saladin’s is a reconquest, then so was that of the Crusaders in 1099. Anyway…

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