Located in the Troodos mountain range are ten painted churches which make up one UNESCO World Heritage Site. Together, they provide brilliant examples of various trends in Byzantine and post-Byzantine art, from the 11th to the 19th century. We were able to see six of them, in addition to a number of traditional, small Cypriot towns, during a day trip from Limassol.
Our first stop in the region was Lofou, a town my dad had read about in one of our guidebooks. After finding a place to park, we wandered around taking pictures and petting cats.
During our day trip into the mountains, we experienced a number of different weather patterns. In comparison to the warm coast we were leaving behind, the highest peak of the Troodos mountain range turned out to be below 0ºF with quite a bit of snow left over from winter storms, which was a surprise for me. Then, on the way down, we hit a heavy fog bank.
The first of the painted churches we visited was the Church of the Archangel Michael in Pedoulas. We parked near another church, built much more recently, and walked down a steep narrow path to find the location.
Luckily for us, this church was open year-round and free to enter. According to the engraving above the entry, it was constructed and decorated in 1474.
The next church we saw was the Ayios Ionannis Lampadistis, a monastery complex in Kalopanagiotis. There were multiple ways to get to this location, including a glass elevator that took pedestrians from the upper part of town to below where they could cross a bridge to the monastery. We, not knowledgeable of this, drove through the tiny streets of the lower district and parked directly next to the complex. The main church was built in the 11th century, with the rest of the buildings dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. The paintings date anywhere from the 12th century all the way to the beginning of the 18th. While we were free to roam around the complex and see the paintings inside, we were not allowed to take any pictures.
Right next to the monastery was a Venetian bridge dating back to the 16th century. Previously, it was the only access point between the town and the monastery.
Next up was Panagia tou Moutoulla, taking its name from the town it is located in. We luckily arrived to find the caretaker giving a tour to two other visitors, providing a lot of valuable information about the church. It is one of the earliest examples of a painted church with frescoes dating back to 1280; these paintings are the only surviving of this time period in Cyprus. Many of the faces depicted in the painted were scratched out by Ottoman soldiers. This church has had many visitors including an American student who spent 24 hours inside taking notes on each fresco and telling his findings to the impressed caretaker. She very kindly allowed us to take as many pictures as we liked, even showing us what was the altar door, though we couldn’t walk inside.
At this point, we were running short on time as most of the churches closed at 4pm. We barely made it to Ayios Nikolaos tis Steyis in Kakopetria, important as this church is completely fenced off from view once closed, and unfortunately were not allowed to take any pictures.
By the time we finished here, all the other churches, according to our guidebook, would be closed. We decided, however, that while there was still daylight we might as well see more of the region and at least the outside of more churches. We arrived next, driving through farmland on the other side of the mountain region, at Panagia Phorviotissa (Asinou) in Nikitari, the only one of the churches with restored paintings. We wandered around the site taking pictures of the outside and peering into any windows.
When we felt we had seen enough, we got back into the car and began to leave the parking lot. Just as we were doing so, we passed two cars, the latter of which waved at us to stop and roll our windows down in order to tell us they had tracked down the priest to open the door. We later learned it had taken them around two hours trying to find someone to let them in, going first to the cafe they had read about in their guidebook and then following various people’s instructions going place to place before they found the right person. The paintings inside were worth their effort and we felt very lucky we had encountered them.
The last church we visited was Panagia Podhithou in Galata, which, though expected, was unfortunately closed. We walked around the outside before starting the drive back out the Troodos region and to Larnaca, where we both had flights the following day.