UNESCO World Heritage Site #283: Painted Churches in the Troodos Region

UNESCO World Heritage Site #283: Painted Churches in the Troodos Region
UNESCO World Heritage Site #283: Painted Churches in the Troodos Region

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Troodos mountain region of Cyprus contains one of the largest groups of churches and monasteries of the former Byzantine Empire. The ten monuments included on the World Heritage List, all richly decorated with murals, provide an overview of Byzantine and post-Byzantine painting in Cyprus and bear testimony to the variety of artistic influences affecting Cyprus over a period of 500 years. The structures display elements that were specific to Cyprus and were determined by its geography, history and climate, including steep-pitched wooden roofs with flat hooked tiles, in some cases providing a second roof over Byzantine masonry domes and vaulted forms, while exhibiting Byzantine metropolitan art of the highest quality. The architecture of these churches is unique, confined to the Troodos range and almost certainly of indigenous origin. They range from small churches whose rural architectural style is in stark contrast to their highly refined decoration, to monasteries such as that of St John Lampadistis. They also contain a wealth of dated inscriptions, an uncommon feature in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Middle Ages, which makes them particularly important for recording the chronology of Byzantine painting. Important examples of the 11th century iconography survive in the churches of St. Nicholas of the Roof and Panagia Phorbiotissa of Nikitari. Within Panagia tou Arakou in Lagoudera and St. Nicholas of the Roof are found important wall paintings from the Comnenian era, with the first being of exceptional artistic quality attributed to Constantinopolitan masters. The 13th century, the early period of Latin (western) rule in Cyprus, is well represented in the wall paintings of St. John Lampadistis in Kalopanagiotis and in Panagia in Moutoulla, which reflect the continuing Byzantine tradition and new external influences. The 14th century wall paintings at Panagia Phorbiotissa, Timios Stavros at Pelendri and St. John Lampadistis also display both local and Western influences, and to a certain degree, the revived art of Paleologan Constantinople. In the late 15th century iconography at Timios Stavros Agiasmati and Archangelos Michael, Pedoulas exhibits once again the harmonious combination of Byzantine art with local painting tradition, as well as some elements of Western influence, which are different, however, from the earlier series of St. John Lampadistis that was painted by a refugee from Constantinople. The Venetian rule, which began in 1489 was reflected in the development of the Italo-Byzantine school, and the most sophisticated examples can be found in Panagia Podhithou and the north chapel of St. John Lampadistis, both successful examples of Italian Renaissance art and Byzantine art fusion. Finally, the wall paintings of the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior in Palaichori form part of the Cretan school of the 16th century.

The ten churches included in the serial inscription are: Ayios Nikolaos tis Stegis (St. Nicholas of the Roof), Kakopetria; Ayios Ioannis (St. John) Lambadhistis Monastery, Kalopanayiotis; Panayia (The Virgin) Phorviotissa (Asinou), Nikitari; Panayia (The Virgin) tou Arakou, Lagoudhera; Panayia (The Virgin), Moutoullas; Archangelos Michael (Archangel Michael), Pedhoulas; Timios Stavros (Holy Cross), Pelendria; Panayia (The Virgin) Podhithou, Galata; Stavros (Holy Cross) Ayiasmati, Platanistasa, and the Church of Ayia Sotira (Transfiguration of the Savior), Palaichori. Of the ten churches nine are situated in the District of Nicosia and one, Timios Stavros (Holy Cross), Pelendria is in the District of Limassol.

The previous two visits to world heritage sites in Cyprus were pretty easy. This one was a bit more tricky, or at least it was for me.

This site consists of ten small churches in the mountainous Troodos region of Cyprus. The churches are very small and if you drove past them, you would never guess that they are anything special.

The problem I had my first day was that they don’t use the UNESCO symbol when pointing out the churches. You will find road signs that are brown colored with a church symbol on them. If you get to one of the villages, just follow those signs. The roads in the villages are often quite narrow and winding. You could easily spend an entire day driving through the mountains, visiting all 10 churches.

The next day I went out with my friend Michael who is a native Cypriot and we easily found several churches. We ended up visiting 4 of the 10 churches:

  • Phorviotissa (Asinou), Nikitari
  • Lambadhistis Monastery, Kalopanayiotis
  • Podhithou, Galata
  • Ayios Nikolaos tis Stegis (St. Nicholas of the Roof), Kakopetria

In addition to finding the churches, the other hurdle you have to overcome is if they are even open. We got lucky and all 4 of the churches we visited were open around midday on a Friday. In researching this site I found that many people who have visited in the past found the churches were closed and you have to find someone in the village (usually a priest) to come and open it for you.

Also, most of the churches do not allow any photography. I received permission to take this photo in the church in Nikitari.

If you are just looking to visit one, I think the Lambadhistis Monastery in Kalopanayiotis is your best bet as it is an active monastery and they have regular visiting hours. We arrived at 1:30pm and just had lunch while we waited for it to open at 3pm.

They were very reminiscent of the Boyana Church outside of Sofia, Bulgaria.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites which I have visited.

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