Three Types of Ayia Napa: City, Church and Monastery

Три Айя-Напы: город, церковь и монастырь
29 October 2021 George Vidiakin

Ayia Napa, a popular resort, the sister city of Ivanovo and the village of Metallostroy in the Leningrad region. This is a real pearl among the Cypriot cities.

If there is a centuries-old history behind Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos, which attracts not only lovers of beach and sea holidays, but also fans of history or architecture, then Ayia Napa remained a seedy fishing village until the 1980s.

It owes its rapid development solely to the fact that in 1974 the Republic of Cyprus lost Famagusta, one of the most popular tourist resorts. Greek Cypriots urgently needed to find a new place for hotels, where the sand is white and the sea is transparent blue, and Ayia Napa and Protaras became such a place.

Fans of noisy parties, clubs, dance floors and unrestrained fun go to Ayia Napa.

However, this city, which has the fame of the most active resort on the island, can also boast of a historical heritage that few people know about. Today we will talk about its most famous historical monument - the Monastery of Our Lady, and also find out why there is a temple in Limassol, which is called the same as the city, what is interesting about it and where did this name come from.

Sacred Grove

It is not difficult to guess that the name Ayia Napa consists of two parts: "Ayia" and "Napa". The first part means "holy" and, by the way, is present in many Cypriot toponyms. Things are more interesting with the second part, the word "napa". This is an ancient word, it is found even in Homer (in the form of "nape"), and means "wooded valley, hollow".

The poet Pindar in the "Pythian songs" features "Apollonian oak forests" (in the Greek text – "napa"). It's not just some "natural attraction" like Homer's. "Apollon's Oak grove" is a sacred forest belonging to the god Apollo.

From the fact that the name of the Cypriot city has the words "napa" (forest), we can conclude that there should be a lot of trees in these parts.

In ancient times, it was so, the south-eastern coast of the island was wooded, but today there is only 875 hectares of forest left, they mainly cover the territory of Cape Greco. Pine trees, juniper, cypresses, carob trees, olives grow here. It is not known whether this forest was dedicated to any of the Greek gods in ancient times and whether it was considered sacred.

It is only known that these regions were called Ayia Napa ("sacred forest") back in the Middle Ages, which may indicate some kind of prehistory stretching from antiquity. In this forest, an icon of the Virgin was allegedly found, which was nicknamed "The Virgin of the Sacred Forest" (in Greek, Panagia Ayia Napa).


A monastery was built on the place where this icon was found. The exact date of its foundation is unknown. For the first time the monastery was mentioned in a document of 1366, then in a document of 1373 in connection with the shipwreck off the southeastern coast of Cyprus of five Genoese ships that were carrying booty captured on the island. This is followed by a long silence of historical sources until the XVI century, when the monastery of Ayia Napa appears on Venetian maps. It is not completely clear to whom this monastery originally belonged, Orthodox or Catholics.

The village, like everything I have seen in Cyprus, is almost completely destroyed because of the well-known tyranny of the Turks and because of a terrible disease that plagued the island a few years before, taking the lives of most of the population. The church, built probably out of fear of pirates, stands inside a square fortress. To get inside, you need to climb several steps, and to go down to the cave where the icon was found, you need to go down the same number of steps. There is one priest in the church who performs the divine Liturgy," writes the traveler Petro della Valle, who visited Cyprus at the beginning of the XVII century.

There was apparently a hotel at the temple, because della Valle mentions the guests, men and women who had a great time there.

Even if we wanted to, we could not have prevented the locals in any way, since the rooms of the monastery are full of people, men and women, Greeks and Turks who arrived there before us. They played, sang, danced and had fun," the man says.

After all, the particularly cheerful atmosphere of Ayia Napa was felt even then. The traveler also left us a description of the now forbidden dish - small songbirds, which the Cypriots call "ambelopoulia".

Here we found a huge number of small songbirds, which at this time of year are caught in such quantities that most of them, which are not eaten on the island, are marinated in vinegar and taken to Venice or somewhere else," della Valle continues.

The dish was prepared from Cypriot stoves and black-headed warblers. Now hunting for them is prohibited, since the birds are protected by law, but poachers still trade them and then sell them on the black market.

In 1625, the monastery was mentioned as female, but 40 years later it became male, although, apparently, the monastery never attracted a large number of inhabitants.

Despite the fact that there were few monks here, the monastery owned huge tracts of land – up to Ormidia and Liopetri in the west, Chortakia in the northwest, Protaras in the northeast and Kavo Greco in the east. The monastery had olive plantations in Prastio, Synta, Pyrga, Ormidia and Kato Lefkara. The monastery also owned two farmsteads: in Ormidia and Prastio. With all this wealth, only 3-4 monks lived in the monastery, they used hired labor to cultivate the land.

In 1758, the Ayia Napa Monastery was closed, but by 1800 it was working again. In 1813, the monastery underwent a major reconstruction, as reported by the inscription on the northeast wing. During this reconstruction, the current entrance to the monastery was made, and the previous one was laid. The monastery was finally closed in 1821, after the Turkish authorities staged repressions against the Orthodox clergy and Cypriots who supported the uprising in Greece. After that, the monastery did not open. Today it works as a museum, although services are held periodically in the main church.

From a construction point of view, the Ayia Napa Monastery is a building of different eras, concentrated around a rectangular courtyard.

The main temple was built over a cave where, according to legend, an icon of the Virgin was found. It happened in the XIV century. The cave was expanded, turning into a full-fledged underground room. The oldest part of the monastery is four cells with vaulted ceilings in the eastern building.

In the middle of the courtyard there is a spring in the form of an octagon, this is a building of the XVI century. The water came here from a water pipeline built in the Middle Ages about two kilometers from the monastery.

In the middle of the courtyard there is a spring built of marble. Above it is a canopy, and in a circle there are seats in the oriental manner. <...> Here we sat, here we ate during the day, here we slept at night while the murmur of water lulled us to sleep - that's what Petro della Valle writes about him.<...>

Ayia Napa in Limassol

As we found out, "Ayia Napa" means "sacred forest". This expression became part of the name of the icon of the Theotokos found here - Panagia Ayia Napa or "Theotokos of the Sacred Forest". In honor of this icon, another outstanding temple was built – the Ayia Napa Cathedral in Limassol. The temple stands in the center of the city, on Agiou Andreou Street.

This temple began to be built shortly after the island was leased to the British Empire – in 1885.

The large and majestic church became a symbol of liberation from Turkish domination. However, the construction was not very active. Absolutely nothing was done until 1890. Finally, when the residents of these places had already begun to demonstrate in support of the start of construction, an architectural project of the temple was ordered in Athens and work on its construction started.

On the site of the current cathedral there used to be a small church, in which ancient paintings have been preserved. Unfortunately, in 1910 it was demolished to make way for a new church. The cathedral was built in the style of architectural eclecticism, the author of the project, apparently, was inspired by the temple of the Most Holy Theotokos Chrysopolitissa in Athens.

The Church of the Virgin Chrysopolitissa in Athens (photo )

The secret of the icon

The most revered shrine of the Ayia Napa Cathedral is an ancient icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. It depicts Mary sitting on a throne and holding the baby Jesus in her arms. If you look carefully, then in the right part of the icon, under the throne, you can see a sign resembling a coat of arms - a red shield, which depicts a golden lion standing on its hind legs, crowned with a crown and holding a sword in its right front paw.

The mysterious image?

Photo: Urania and Stelios Perdikis

From 1489 to 1570, when Cyprus was ruled by Venice, the ruler of Limassol had a special status, because the city played an important role in trade, was the see of a (Catholic) bishop and had its own fortress.

The ruler of Limassol was not appointed from Venice, but was chosen from the Cypriot aristocrats who lived in Nicosia. The symbolism of the coat of arms on the icon (scarlet and gold tinctures, a lion in a rising pose, a crown, a sword) indicates that the image belonged to an influential person who had royal origin.

Of all the Limassol rulers, only two who were related to the house of Lusignan, whose representatives ruled the island before the advent of Venice, fall into this category. They were the brothers Phoebus and Jason Lusignan. They were descended from the brother of King Janus (1398-1432) Eric, Prince of Galilee, who died in 1426 in the Battle of Chirokitia. Because Eric was a bastard, that is, the illegitimate offspring of King James I. He and his descendants could not claim the throne, but they had the right to the royal coat of arms.

Phoebus Lusignan was born in 1487 and was ruler of Limassol from 1509 to 1515. His brother, Jason Lusignan, was born in 1497 and became ruler of Limassol immediately after the death of Phoebus, that is, in 1515. In 1520, Jason married a representative of the aristocratic family of Lucia Flatro, she bore him a dozen children, among them was the famous Cypriot historian of the XVI century Stefano Lusignan. Jason died in 1570 during the capture of the island by the Turks.

The connection of the two brothers with the royal house suggests that one of them was the customer of the icon. Of course, there was no Ayia Napa Cathedral at that time (as we found out, it was built only at the beginning of the twentieth century), but in its place there was a church where a local bishop performed services. It was this church that was demolished in 1910. The inscription on the icon is made in Greek. This makes it possible to establish with a high degree of probability that the customer was Iason Lusignan, since his wife was the daughter of the Greek Cypriot aristocrat Vallian Flatro, and he was Orthodox by religion.

Thanks to interesting construction projects, first of all, the marina currently under construction, Ayia Napa is gradually moving away from the image of an exclusively entertaining place, gaining a reputation as a prestigious business center.

To buy a property in Ayia Napa now is to make an investment in the future.

Decided to buy an apartment or a house in Cyprus? Contact DOM! The website offers a huge selection of real estate - residential and commercial. Experienced agency specialists will be happy to help you make the right choice.

See also:

  1. TOP 10 Abandoned Villages in Cyprus
  2. Top 10 Most Underrated Archaeological Parks in the World
  3. Top 10 abandoned buildings in Europe
  4. Top 10 underrated regions in Europe
  5. Top 10 oldest buildings in the world
  6. EUR 150 000 or less: EU capitals with most affordable real estate
  7. Top 10 countries with the fastest growing house prices
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