The beautiful and timeless village of Bellapais is truly a ‘must see’ during any holiday to Northern Cyprus. The village was made famous in recent history by the author Lawrence Durrell, in his classic novel ‘Bitter Lemons of Cyprus’, and of all the attractions of the place, Bellapais Abbey is certainly the most monumental. One of the most elegant examples of Lusignan Gothic architecture in the world, the Abbey brings an atmosphere of peace and calm to the village.

The site of the abbey was originally the home of a group of Augustinian monks, from around 1187AD. The first significant construction took around seven years and further major works took place between 1267 and 1284. Subsequent substantial building was carried out between 1324 and 1359. Bellapais Abbey was initially known as the Abbaye de la Paix, the name being changed to Bella Paise during the Venetian rule of Cyprus and later to Bellapaix, before finally changing to the modern day 'Bellapais'. The history of the village and the abbey is as convoluted as that of Cyprus as a whole. The Lusignans held the building in great esteem and it was widely believed to have held a fragment of the true cross, but when the Genoese overran Cyprus in 1373, the abbey became less valued. Its treasures were plundered and the monks fell into great moral and physical decline. Following the Ottoman rule of Cyprus, around 1750, the monastery was given for the use of the Greek Orthodox Church and the monks were evicted. The abbey remained under the protection of the church until the division of the island in 1974 and still incoporates a stunning chapel, with superb iconography.

In common with most ancient buildings in the Mediterranean region, Bellapais Abbey was often used as a source of building materials for inhabitants of the surrounding villages in the past. Nevertheless, its location and the sheer scale of construction means much of the abbey remains in excellent condition. Perched high in the mountains, the site was obviously chosen for security and offers magnificent views of the Mediterranean coast of Northern Cyprus. The Abbey is open to visitors and its upper parts offer breath-taking vistas. A visit at night is also a memorable experience, as the whole structure is lit from below and towers majestically above its surroundings.

The Abbey remains in frequent use today, as the substantial refectory makes a wonderful and atmospheric concert venue. The world-renowned ‘Bellapais Music Festival’ is held here annually and attracts many famous musicians. The halls and areas are also often used to house painting, sculpture and photography exhibitions. An evening of opera in the shadows of the building is truly a night to remember, as is a meal in one of the nearby restaurants. Above all, Bellapais Abbey holds an atmosphere of peace and serenity so powerful that you can almost touch it. It probably is best described in Durrell's own words; "Bellapaix, even in ruins, was a testimony to those who had tried, however imperfectly, to grasp and retain their grip on the inner substance of the imagination, which resides in thought, in contemplation, in peace".

Bellapais Abbey can be reached easily from The Hideaway Club Hotel and is only a few miles from Kyrenia. The village has narrow streets and is not served by public transport, but taxis are readily available and there is a good-sized car park at the base of the abbey. Guided tours are available and please feel free to contact us to enquire about any events being held here during the course of your holiday in North Cyprus.

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