Gothic architecture in Cyprus

Кипрская готика
28 May 2021 George Vidiakin

In order to admire the Gothic buildings, we usually travel to Western Europe. France, England, Germany and Austria are famous for this architecture style.

But, Gothic architecture survived not only in these countries. Gothic can be found on the island of Cyprus as well.

Paris Sainte-Chapelle

Despite the fact that not so many buildings in this style have survived to our time, and those that have survived may not seem very impressive, the Gothic style of Cyprus is still a unique example of medieval art. Gothic elements can be easily discerned on buildings all over the island, and even where you would not expect to find any historical monument at all.

Today we will tell you about the most popular Cypriot buildings in this amazing style.

How did Gothic come to Cyprus?

It is believed that the Gothic era in European architecture begins in the second quarter of the 12th century, when Suger (or Sugerius), the abbot of the Monastery of Saint-Denis, rebuilt the main temple of his monastery in an unprecedented style.

Basilique-cathédrale de Saint-Denis (source)

The Basilica of Saint-Denis, of course, bears little resemblance to the Gothic cathedrals of later times, which are rich in small details, but it looks more like the Gothic of Cyprus.

So, the Gothic style began to gain popularity from the middle of the XII century, and already at the beginning of the XIII century it came to Cyprus in the form of a project for the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Nicosia.

Computer model of St. Sofia in Nicosia (source)

As you may know, Cyprus became in 1192 the possession of the house of the Lusignans, a noble family from Poitiers, who took an active part in the Crusades. Guy de Lusignan became first the king of Jerusalem (in 1186), and after the loss of the "holy city", he became the king of Cyprus. Of course, the new rulers brought their ideas to the island, including the popular architectural trend of their homeland - the Gothic style. It is not surprising, therefore, that researchers find parallels between the temples in the Loire Valley, where the Lusignan family came from, and the cathedral of St. Sofia in Nicosia.

Gothic castles and palaces

If castles are important for the European Gothic, in Cyprus it is much more difficult to study the defensive structures. During the reign of the Franks, a lot of castles were built on our island such as Kolossi, Kantara, Buffavento, St. Hilarion, and Forty Columns in Paphos. But all of them are characterized by architectural minimalism, there are practically no Gothic elements in the decoration.

It is really difficult to talk about the style of castles in Cyprus, as ornaments, vaulted windows and other Gothic decorations are unacceptable for buildings which are primarily intended to demonstrate strength. Therefore, castles are usually much simpler than churches, writes researcher Nicola Coldstream in her article "Gothic Architecture in the Kingdom of Lusignan."

Unfortunately, the royal palaces in Nicosia and Famagusta, which were probably also made in the Gothic style, either have not survived at all to our time (in Nicosia), or partially survived (in Famagusta), so we cannot know exactly what they looked like.

Ruins of the Royal Palace (Palazzo del Provveditore) in Famagusta (source)

The conclusion about their appearance can be drawn partly from a small villa of the XIII century in the village of Kuklia. The villa was built by the Franks (the locals call this place chiflik), the Gothic vaults with ribbed ribs are perfectly preserved here, and the original plan of construction has come down to our time practically without changes.

However, the comparison of the royal palace and the castle in Kuklia is not completely correct, because the first was intended for the royal family, and the second was for the rulers who controlled the production of sugar in these areas. However, the construction equipment was definitely identical. Castles, like temples, were built in Cyprus from cream-colored hewn stone (usually limestone).

Entrance to the villa in Kouklia

Gothic churches

A completely different matter is religious architecture, which has perfectly preserved many features of the Gothic style. The earliest examples of Cypriot Gothic are the Cathedral of St. Sofia (present-day Selimiye Mosque) and Bellapais Abbey, they both were founded in the early years of the 13th century.

Let's take a look at a few striking examples of Cypriot Gothic architecture.

Church of St. Sofia (Selimiye Mosque)

Tourists are usually disappointed with the appearance of the temple, considering it expressionless or unfinished. This impression of the incompleteness of the structure arises from the fact that the Cypriot Gothic churches for the most part have a flat roof, in contrast to the European Gothic, where the roof is gable.

The Cathedral of St. Sophia (or Sainte-Sophie in French) began to be built in 1209, the main work was completed by 1228, but for another 100 years some details were rebuilt. The temple was consecrated only in 1326. Then the coronation of the kings of Cyprus took place in St. Sophie. Since 1570, the temple has been turned into a mosque.

The main prototypes are the temples in the city of Laon in northern France.

From the prototypes, Sainte-Sophie borrowed the amazing ribbed vault and flying buttresses (the latter are stone semi-arches for supporting walls). Scientists suggest that the architect Sainte-Sophie, most likely, came from the north of France or worked there for some time, later he came to the Holy Land, and then to Cyprus.

Sectional view of the cathedral with main details (source)

On the other hand, it is likely that Sainte-Sophie has been influenced by the Latin architecture of Jerusalem. The portal capitals look like the capitals in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which, by the way, was a Christian temple during the time of the Crusaders. The shape of the windows is similar to the window openings in the Upper Room (a Catholic church on the site where Christ spent his last supper with the disciples).

Sainte-Sophie influenced Orthodox church building on the island, in particular the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, located directly opposite (in the time of Ottoman rule, the temple was converted into a covered market [Bedesten in Turkish]). The orthodox church gables repeat the Gothic ones.

Bedesten, the former church of St. Nicholas (source)

Bellapais Abbey

The construction of the monastery in honor of the "wonderful world" (French la belle paix became Greek bellapais) began at the beginning of the 13th century, but, as usual, different parts of the monastery were completed at different times.

Bellapais Abbey (source)

Therefore leaf-shaped capitals and keystones are made with similar details in St. George of the Latins in Famagusta (about it below). The peculiarity of Bellapais Abbey is that it is the only Gothic building in Cyprus that has elements of the so-called Flamboyant. The style of Flamboyant Gothic began to be used in Europe from the middle of the XIV century, and quickly came to Cyprus.

Church of St. Nicholas in Famagusta (Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque)

The church was built at the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century and demonstrates the sharp change in style that has taken place in the architecture of Cyprus. You can easily see its difference from the church of Sainte-Sophie in Nicosia. The cathedral of St. Nicholas does not have a transept, there are three apses in the eastern wall (obviously, the influence of Orthodox architecture), and above the roof level there are two towers that may seem unfinished, but in fact they were intended to be exactly the same. An arcade was built inside the cathedral, resting on columns with laconic capitals. The windows are decorated with an impressive elegant tracery.

All this testifies to the fact that the cathedral in Famagusta was influenced by the so-called Rayonnant - a style that appeared in France in the middle of the 13th century.

This style got its name from the typical ornament in the form of sunbeams. The predecessors of the church of St. Nicholas in Famagusta are Amiens and Reims cathedrals.

Reims cathedral

The Cathedral in Famagusta had a strong influence on the architecture of Cyprus at that time. In particular, the Orthodox Church of St. George of the Greeks (third quarter of the XIV century). While it is evident that it was much more minimalist, the surviving eastern wall is very reminiscent of the eastern wall of the Catholic Cathedral of St. Nicholas.

Comparison of two churches (cutaway): the Cathedral of St. Nicholas of the Latins and the Church of St. George of the Greeks (from the book Byzantine and Medieval Cyprus)

The second temple of Famagusta, influenced by the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, or even built by the same architect in the first half of the 13th century, was the Catholic Church of St. George of the Latins (yes, there were two churches of of St. George in the city within a five-minute walk, one was Orthodox and the other was Catholic). Some of the elements in the temple are completely identical to those in the cathedral of St. Nicholas.

Remains of the church of St. George of the Latins

Church of st. Catherine in Nicosia (Haydar Pasha Mosque)

Church of St. Catherine (source)

The church of the nunnery of St. Catherine, built in the 14th century, was for some time the second largest temple in Nicosia. Huge buttresses support its thick walls with high windows, and gargoyles watch the city from the roof. The southern portal is decorated with stone carvings, the coat of arms of the Lusignans is depicted on top.

Notre Dame de Tyre

The preserved decoration of the Notre Dame de Tyre (photo by SigmaLive)

The temple is also known as the Armenian Church, or even Church of the Virgin of Tartus (from the city of Tartus in Syria).

Built in its present form in the 14th century, the temple was the center of the Benedictine convent. It was transferred by Sultan Selim II to the Armenian community in 1571, becoming the center of the Armenian metropolis in Cyprus. In 2014, restoration was carried out here.

Augustinian Church of Saint Mary (Ömeriye Mosque)

The Gothic entrance to the territory of the mosque retains its former splendor in spite of everything happened

Between the bastions of Constanta and Podokatoro there is a large mosque called Ömeriye or, as the Greek Cypriots say, Emerkes.

It received its name in honor of the companion of the Prophet Muhammad, the second righteous caliph Umar, the conqueror of Syria and Persia. According to legend, he traveled to Egypt through Nicosia and spent the night on the way in the narthex of a certain temple. This temple, turned by the Turks into a mosque, 'was the Church of Saint Mary'. According to the traveler Felix Faber, the monastery was located in the midst of sugarcane plantations; inside the church was kept the great shrine of the Franks and all the crusaders - the relics of the holy knight John de Montfort, who at that time was very revered in Cyprus.

Apse of the temple

The Church of the Virgin Mary dates from the first half of the 14th century. A three-part apse has been preserved on the eastern side, and a narthex with a portal equipped with three arches on the western side. Buttresses support the thick walls of the temple, and light enters through seven tall windows.

The Holy Church of Panagia Stazousa in Pyrga

At 3.5 km from the village of Pyrga (Larnaca region), there is a small and little-known Holy Church of Panagia Stazousa in Pyrga, built in the 14th century as the main temple of the Cistercian order monastery (today it is one of the metochions of the Kykkos monastery). The apse of the temple outside has an angular four-sided shape. The church is divided inside into two rooms, covered with frame cross vaults with pronounced ribs. Outside, you can admire the preserved lancet windows.

Panagia Stazousa in Pyrga

In the center of the same village of Pyrga, there is the so-called "royal chapel" of St. Catherine, built by order of King Janus in 1421. The king and his wife Charlotte of Bourbon are depicted kneeling before the Crucifixion in a fresco painted on the east wall. Nearby there is an image of the Entombment of Christ, it depicts the brother of King Janus, the Catholic bishop of Nicosia, Hugues. The painting also contains the coats of arms of various noble houses of Cyprus, and graffiti (scrawled inscriptions left by pilgrims) on the walls of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Royal Chapel in Pyrga

Virgin Mary Orthodox Church in Kato Polemidia and St. Nicholas of the Cats Convent

These two Limassol temples have retained only some of the Gothic elements. In particular, the "cat's monastery" has a gallery around the temple which is decorated with a Gothic arcade. And the church in Polemidia, which was originally part of the Carmelite monastery, has preserved the Gothic pointed arches.

Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Polemidia (source)

Church of st. Anna and the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Famagusta

The Maronite Church of St. Anna was probably built in the second half of the 14th century. It is a single-nave basilica with Gothic vaults. The ribs of the vaults meet in the center above the altar, where their intersection is crowned by an elaborately carved keystone in the form of a flower. Inside the temple, instead of castle stones, the arches are crowned with a strange composition in the shape of the letter L. At the northeastern buttress, a staircase to the roof has been preserved. Previously, it was possible to get over a movable bridge from the roof to the roofs of neighboring buildings, which have not survived to this day.

Church of St. Anna (photo from Politis)

The church of St. Peter and Paul in Famagusta was erected in the 14th century. After the capture of the island by the Turks, a mosque was built here, but by the middle of the 19th century its minaret collapsed and the building began to be used for household needs.

The former temple and former mosque in Famagusta is now privately owned (source)

Cyprus Gothic is another proof that during the times of the Franks and then the Venetians, Cyprus was inextricably linked with Europe, being part of Western European civilization. Just like today, the main architectural trends came here very quickly. Although today the medieval layer of the island's history is hidden by later layers, it is very informative to discover this wealth.

If you are looking for interesting housing options in Cyprus, then visit the DOM Real Estate. Here you will find residential and commercial properties for every taste and budget.

Read more:

  • Venetian Nicosia, the ideal Renaissance city (link)
  • Caravanserais in Cyprus (link)
  • How sugar made Medieval Cyprus the commercial center of the Eastern Mediterranean (link)
  • Top 10 oldest buildings in the world (link)
  • Your own cottage on the Moon (link)
  • Top 10 abandoned buildings in Europe (link)
Source: DOM LiVE
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