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Bellapais Monastery
A few kilometres East of Kyrenia is the village of Bellapais that became famous after the publication of Lawrence Durrell's book "Bitter Lemons". The village is located on a plateau in the Five Finger Mountains overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and offering spectacular views. It is dominated by the Bellapais Abbey meaning abbey of peace. The building is rated as the most beautiful masterpiece of gothique art in the Middle East.

The first monks who have settled in Bellapais were Augustinians who had to flee from Jerusalem when the city fell to Saladin in 1187. The original construction of the abbey was established between 1198 and 1205 as a dedication to St. Mary of the Mountain. In 1246 the abbey gained prominence when the wealthy knight Roger the Norman gave a gift to the monks - a fragment of the "true cross" being an important relic. Pilgrims started flocking to the abbey to see the relic, to spend some time there in retreat and to make generous donations. So Bellapais Abbey grew rich.

A large part of the present complex was constructed during the reign of the Lusignan King Hugh III (1267-1284). He also conferred the right to wear a mitre, sword and golden spurs on the abbot. Many Lusignan kings were benefactors of the abbey, some even lived there. The cloisters around the courtyard and the refectory were constructed under the Lusignan King Hugh IV (1324-1359). The wealthiness of the abbey, however, made it a tempting target for the Genoese plundering of 1373 and the monastery treasure was stolen, along with the precious relic. This marked a downturn in the importance of the abbey. Records of the time reveal how degenerated the lives of the monks had become and that the abbey turned into a centre of experimental polygamy. During the Venetian period it was inhabited by 50 monks. The Venetians had shortened the abbey's name to "De la Paix". By 1570, the abbey itself was almost a ruin.

After the Ottoman conquest in 1571 the monks were thrown out of the abbey and it was given to the Greek Orthodox Church. A village started growing around the abbey and some of today's local families claim to be descended from the monks of that time. The ruins of the abbey were used for animals and its stones were taken to build the village of Bellapais. Restoration of the abbey started early in the 20th century under George Jeffrey, the first curator of the Lapidary Museum in Northern Nicosia.

The monastery has a big gate, its tower was added later. The church is the best preserved part of the monument and dates back to the 13th century. The church was regularly used by the Greek Orthodox community until 1976. The interior is still as the Greeks have left it, with an intricately carved pulpit and the bishop's throne being intact. Several Lusignan kings were supposedly entombed in the abbey. And the murals are from the 15th century.

The forecourt leads to cloisters with 18 arches. Under one of the Northern arches there are two Roman sarcophagi which once served as washing basins. The door behind the sarcophagi leads to the refectory of the monks. It is an exquisite example of gothic architecture and the finest room in the monastery. The room contains a pulpit for addressing the monks during their meals. Six windows in the Northern and one rose window in the Eastern wall illuminate it.