The richest and most famous monastery in Cyprus is a place every resident and guest of the island must visit, regardless of their relations with religion, church and monasticism.
Kykkos is a noteworthy architectural and historical monument, which in its significance stands on a par with the Venetian walls of Nicosia or the Gothic cathedrals of Famagusta.
At the same time, many legends have developed around the monastery and its history, which often prevent from seeing in Kykkos not a holy place, but an outstanding building of the Ottoman era and an extremely developed and successful organization.
Today, we will look at Kykkos exclusively from an architectural point of view, leaving aside the stories of miracles.
The Kykkos monastery makes a rather strange impression on visitors, even those who are not versed in monastic architecture. This is an impression of incompleteness and complete divergence of expectations and reality. People who have visited orthodoxian monasteries in other countries or even other monasteries in Cyprus can easily find the main difference between all of them and Kykkos.
Below, for comparison, are photographs of the Kykkos Monastery and the Trinity-Sergius Lavra in the Moscow Oblast.
How does a monastery usually work?
Since almost all monasteries performed the functions of fortifications, they needed thick walls and watchtowers, which we can see in most monasteries. Inside them, the pilgrims find themselves in a well-organized territory.
Its dominant feature is always the detached main cathedral. There are often smaller temples nearby, in large monasteries there is even a separate bell tower. In small monasteries, the main temple isn't very impressive in size and usually stands alone. In the monastery wall or on the territory of the monastery, cells are made for monastics, in which they live, cook and eat, sleep, and sell monastery products.
How does Kykkos differ from this standard plan?
It is easy to understand from the photo: it actually has no inner territory, no separate cathedral, nothing that tourists and pilgrims are used to seeing in monasteries. Kykkos looks like an impregnable fortress, these are three massive and monotonous buildings.
The three structural buildings are framed in different colors.
Yes, one of these buildings is the main temple, but at first glance it is completely unclear.
Instead of a spacious monastery territory, there are two narrow courtyards, one looks like the Greek letter Γ, the other is in the shape of an irregular trapezoid. This fact also surprised the 18th century Kiev pilgrim Vasily Grigorovich-Barsky.
The church does not stand in the middle of the monastery, but on the northern side, he wrote in his travel notes.
Moreover, due to the difference in the height of the slope where the monastery stands, the courtyards are located at different levels.
Due to the height difference, it is not clear at first glance how many floors the monastery building really has: countless stairs lead from gallery to gallery, from level to level (in fact, there are 2-4 floors).
The reason why the plan of the monastery is so unusual was either the height difference (the building had to be adapted to the slope), or the climate of these places. Kykkos is located at an altitude of 1200 meters above sea level, in winter it is cold and in summer it can be too hot, so the monks do not really need a courtyard. They can walk along the galleries from the monastery entrance to the temple entrance.
Although it is said everywhere that the monastery was founded in the 11th century by order of the Byzantine emperor Alexy I Komnenos (we will not retell the story of the miraculous healing of the emperor's daughter, since it is absolutely legendary), the current premises of the monastery are buildings from the times of the Ottoman Empire. How did it happen?
The first temple, erected at the end of the 11th century, hardly differed from those churches that we see today in Troodos, the only difference is that it was made not of stone, but of wood.
Initially, the temple was made of wood and was single-nave with a steep gable roof made of flat red tiles, which corresponded to the local tradition, writes Svetlana Pobedimskaya in the book “The Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos of Kykkos” (Nicosia, 2015).
This is how the first temple could look, only remember - it was built of wood.
This first building burned down in a fire in 1365. The fire destroyed all buildings, relics, ancient manuscripts and documents, including the imperial charter (chrysobull) and the first charter of the monastery, written by its founder, the monk Isaiah.
In the same year of 1365, Kykkos was restored by the Cypriot king Peter I Lusignan (a Catholic by religion) and his wife Eleanor of Aragon, but the temple was made wooden again. A fire in 1542 destroyed the second church, and then the abbot of the monastery Simeon rebuilt it in stone. It was this church that Grigorovich-Barsky saw in 1727, who wrote that the monastery “is not a large building, but its structure and location is neat, all built from stone".
The cathedral had one dome, crowned with a cross, and five portals, and inside it was painted with frescoes. There were two-storey monastery buildings nearby. When Grigorovich-Barsky was in Cyprus eight years later, in 1735, the dome was already hidden under wooden scaffolding. According to the official version, “because of snow and freeze,” according to the unofficial version, so as not to irritate the Turkish rulers, who did not allow Christian churches to stand out.
This is how the dome can be hidden under the forests (Temple of the Most Holy Theotokos in Lagoudera)
In 1751 the monastery was again damaged by fire and four years later it was rebuilt. According to the "Orthodox Encyclopedia", "a temple, an abbot's residence and cell buildings, which have several floors, a refectory, a cookery, a bakery and cellars, were built."
Kykkos in an illustration from 1776
The monastery began to take its current form only after the fourth fire, which occurred in 1813.
In 1882, after the end of the Turkish rule in Cyprus, a bell tower was added, which stands out from the whole complex because of its style.
It is known that the Kykkos monastery has its own metochia (something like branches) throughout Cyprus, this is the church of St. Procopius in Nicosia, the monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos in Sintis, the monastery of Agia Moni and so on. But during the Turkish rule, Kykkos opened a number of metochia outside the island, but within the borders of the Ottoman Empire: in İstanbul, Bandırma, Bursa, İzmir, Tripoli, Beirut, Antalya, Serres, Plovdiv, Edirne, Şarköy, on the island of Kos.
It is known from French documents that in 1810 the Kykkos monastery had its own ship, "Our Lady of Kykkos". In 1818 the monastery owned 16 mills in different parts of the island. In the 1820s, the area of cultivated land was 3,872 acres. The monastery owned vineyards, olive, silk and carob plantations, cattle, shops and shops in Nicosia, Larnaca and other settlements, urban areas, which, as a rule, were rented out. Kykkos produced silk, grain, wine, cotton, olive oil, sesame seeds, wool, leather and other goods for sale.
Since the end of the 18th century, the monastery also had "international branches". In 1781, the king of Imereti Solomon I donated to Kykkos the cave monastery Vardzia, 70 kilometers from Borjomi.
Vardzia monastery today
Over time, this Kykkos courtyard acquired the village of Aketi and several shops in the center of Tiflis (Tbilisi).
In 1873, all the possessions of foreign monasteries in the Caucasus were confiscated by the Russian authorities, but 10 years later they were returned to their owners. Shortly before the 1917 revolution, Kykkos sold off its assets in Georgia. What remained was nationalized by the Soviet government.
The monastery is formed by three parallel buildings connected by side buildings. The walls of the buildings are finished with local rough stone. The outer facades of the buildings are dissected by blind arches of equal length.
The internal facades are hidden behind galleries with arcades (in Cypriot, this architectural solution is called "londza").
The central entrance on the south side is decorated with a portal and decorated with mosaics.
The galleries were painted with frescoes of varying degrees of aesthetics and are also decorated with mosaics. The murals made by the Romanian icon painters Morosini brothers in 1989 look very high quality.
Stone portals on galleries look very authentic.
Mini-copies of ships were donated to the monastery by sailors
The Cathedral of the Kykkos Monastery is a three-aisled one-domed basilica. The central altar is consecrated in the name of the Most Holy Theotokos, the right one - in the name of All Saints, the left one - in the name of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, - the "Orthodox Encyclopedia" reports.
Tomb of President Makarios and the Throne of the Virgin
In 1926, a thirteen-year-old youth, Michael Mouskos, entered the Kykkos monastery.
He was a talented student, and the teacher at the village school recommended that he continue his studies. Since his family did not have the means for this, Michael decided to enter a monastery, because Kykkos could help the young talented novice in training and at the same time took all the costs of his studies. In 1938, Michael took monastic vows with the name Makarios. Thus began the ecclesiastical and political career of the first President of Cyprus and Primate of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, Makarios III.
Makarios was so attached to the Kykkos monastery, where his formation took place, that he bequeathed to bury himself here. The grave of the president is located on a hill at the foot of which there is a monastery. This hill is called Throni (throne in Modern Greek). The first thing that everyone who comes up here sees is a huge monument to the president. This monument used to stand in the courtyard of the residence of the Archbishop of Cyprus. Because of its impressive size, the capital's residents even nicknamed it "Big Mac". Since the monument was too dominant for the historical center of Nicosia, it was decided to move it to Kykkos, and a much more modest statue was erected on the territory of the archbishop's residence.
"Big Mac" in the center of Nicosia
Another monument, but on the Throni hill
Makarios III was buried in a small grotto; an honor guard was posted at the grave.
Greek Cypriot people, I want you to know: wherever I am, I am always with you. My soul, my heart, my thoughts are directed to you and with you always, - the words of the president himself are engraved on the tombstone.
At the end of 2018, at the very top of the hill, a church was erected called the "throne of the Virgin".
Outside, it looks like the monuments of Romanesque architecture, but inside, it is decorated with mosaics, icons in the Byzantine style and sculptural figures of angels.
A path leads to the temple, along which icon cases are installed in the classical style with mosaic icons in them.
All this 'wild eclecticism' contrasts with the harmonious beauty of the surrounding nature: a bottomless blue sky, green hills and slender cedars and pines.
If you have not been to Kykkos yet, be sure to visit this place to get acquainted with its secrets.
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Photos: DOM, pixabay.com