Bellapais Abbey is located in the hillside village of Bellapais in Kyrenia district. Built on the flanks of Pentadaktylos Mountain, Bellapais Abbey is one of the most significant preserved monuments of the Medieval times in Cyprus and the only surviving example of Gothic style abbey in the eastern Mediterranean region.
The name “Bellapais” derives from the French name “Abbaye de la paix” which means “Abbey of Peace”. In the earlier years, it was called “Episcopia”, meaning “bishopric”, indicating the possibility of being built on the remains of the residence of the Orthodox Bishop of Kyrenia (Episcopi). Bellapais Abbey was established in the early years of Frankish Rule around 1200 A.C. by Augustian canons fleeing Palestine after the fall of Jerusalem to the Arabs when Aimery was the king of the medieval kingdom of Kyrenia. The Abbey flourished particularly when Hugh was the king of Cyprus who granted many privileges to the canons. Soon the abbey acquired wealth and reputation, while various wealthy people made contributions and donations to the development of the abbey. Eventually, the homonymous village was built and grew around the abbey.
The Bellapais abbey fell into disrepair by the end of the Venetian Rule when it got abandoned and stopped being in use. The final end of the abbey came during the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus in 1570. The abbey was given to Orthodox Christians and it was used as the parish church until the Turkish invasion in 1974.
The Abbey of Bellapais, as mentioned before, is one of the most impressive Gothic style buildings. The Abbey’s main entrance, which is no longer preserved, was on the western side and it was an elegant piece of architecture decorated with sculptural representations. The entrance leads to the forecourt where a church is located, devoted to Ayia Asprophorusa, or else “Our Lady of the White Garments”, possibly due to the canons who were dressed in white. It is a 13th century building, the oldest surviving building of the abbey. It has three aisles and inside the church there are impressive arches with pillars that support the roof. The church has a square nave with two aisles. Several minor changes were made to the church when it was converted to an Orthodox church, but it retained most of its original form.
The monastic buildings are on the north surrounding the cloister that dates to the 14th century. The building is decorated with sculptural décor of human and animal figures. On the north side of the cloister there is a carved marble sarcophagus dating to the 2nd century A.C. that was used as lavabos. To the north of the cloister is the refectory, a large rectangular room consisting of six groin vaults. There are still traces on the walls of the desks where the canons sat to eat. In particular, one seat seems to have been higher than the others possibly being the spot where the abbot sat.
On the eastern side of the cloister are the undercroft, the chapter house and the dormitories. The undercroft contained workrooms and the chapter house had stone tables and served as the abbey's administrative office. The dormitories were occupied a large space of seven separate rooms but only the wall to the west survived.
A courtyard that served a kitchen’s needs was on the western side of the cloister, to the westernmost edge of the northern side of the abbey. The rooms between the refectory and the kitchen may once have been the abbey's lavatories. There is also an underground crypt which the abbey’s treasures were stored.
Bellapais Abbey, built on a natural rocky cliff, is undoubtedly one of the most significant and most beautiful archaeological monuments in Cyprus. Unfortunately, after the Turkish invasion in 1974, the particular artefact, like so many other precious monuments of our cultural heritage, is left to decay.