Έμβλημα της Κυπριακής Δημοκρατίας Τμήμα Αρχαιοτήτων

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The Looting of Cultural heritage in Occupied Cyprus




Bellapais Abbey

    Bellapais Abbey is situated in the village of Bellapais in the occupied Keryneia district. The Abbey is considered to be one of the most important surviving monument of Gothic monastic architecture in the whole of the eastern Mediterranean. The Abbey was built upon a natural rock escarpment with a north edge that has a sheer drop of over 100m, providing excellent protection. An artificial ditch seems to have been created on the south and west side of the Abbey. This ditch surrounded the defensive wall which protected the Abbey precinct. The oldest written sources mention the Abbey as being a house of Augustinian canons, founded by the king of Jerusalem, evidently Aimery de Lusignan who ruled from 1198 until 1205. In its early days the Abbey is mentioned as ‘Episcopia’ or ‘Piscopia’ (Επισκοπή= Episcopate) an indication that the Abbey was perhaps built upon the foundations of the house of the Greek bishop of Keryneia (Episcopi) who possibly fled to the area with the Arab raids (648 – 965). The name ‘Episcopia’ was later replaced by the name ‘Lapais’ a corruption of which gave the Abbey its current name in the 16th century. With the Ottoman conquest of the island in 1570, the Ottomans seized the Abbey and its property but allowed the villagers to use the Abbey’s church.

Bellapais Abbey

    Apart from some minor alterations to the church in order for it to function as orthodox (e.g. a new iconostasis), the building maintains its original form: a square ended chancel, a crossing with transepts and a nave with two bays with aisles. The manner in which the arches’ opening into the aisles are corbelled onto the pillars that carry the nave vaulting is unusual and impressive. The pillar capitals belong to the 13th century and follow the Frankish style. The clerestory rises directly above the main arcades since the aisles have flat terrace roofs, giving a somewhat squatter proportion to the interior than is usual in European Gothic architecture. The windows of the aisles and transept are simple lancet windows with splayed frames. On the chancel’s south wall one can see the traces of a square painted medallion depicting the bust of James the Apostle and dated to the 14th century.

    The Abbey’s cloister is a 14th century building and predates the church. Apart from its west wing the rest of the cloister still survives today. The cloister is decorated with carved corbels depicting plant motifs, human and figures. In the northwest corner there is a marble lavabo with an incorporated carved marble sarcophagus dated to the 2nd century A.D.

    The main entrance to the refectory is situated behind the lavabo and its marble lintel bears the carved arms of Lusignan, Jerusalem and Cyprus’ royal quarterings. The refectory building is a magnificent vaulted chamber with six bays. Remains of benches are visible on the refectory walls and the bench against the east wall is positioned at a higher level probably suggesting that this was where the Abbot’s High Table once stood. The kitchen is situated to the west and a small staircase in the north wall leads to a pulpit from which excerpts from the Scriptures were read out during meals.

    East of the cloister is the dormitory’s undercroft which probably was used as a working space by the Abbey’s community. In this plain barrel vaulted room nearly every stone bears the mark of the mason who cut it. Adjoining the undercroft to the south is the square chapter house. The central marble column and capital that carried the vaulting (now fallen) were probably taken from the ruins of an early Byzantine church. To the south of the cloister a staircase leads to what survives of the dormitory built by Henry IV. The dormitory extended throughout the length of the chapter house and undercroft below. The surviving west wall indicates how spacious and lofty this chamber was.

    To the west of the cloister excavations have revealed the foundations of buildings such as the cellarium, a two-storey building that accommodated domestic activities. To the west of the cellarium was a kitchen-court, while the kitchen buildings were at the extreme north end. Between the kitchen and the refectory there are the remains of a row of latrines and a water channel. Below the kitchen entrance a stone staircase leads down to the crypt which is a vaulted undercroft under the refectory, divided into two spacious rooms where olive oil and other produce were stored.


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