Bellapais Abbey, or “the Abbey of Beautiful Peace” (from French: Abbaye de la Belle Paix), is the ruin of a monastery built by Canons Regular in the 13th century on the northern side of the small village of Bellapais about five kilometers from the town of Kyrenia. The ruin is at an altitude of 220m above sea level, and commands a long view down to Kyrenia and the Mediterranean sea.
The site is also a museum, which hosts a restaurant and a cafe. The Abbey’s refectory now serves as a venue for concerts and lectures. In early summer it is also a venue for a local music festival.
Opening hours from June to mid-September are 9am to 7pm; the winter hours are 9am to 1 pm and 2pm to 4:45pmopening hours from mid-September to May are 9am to 5pm. There is an admission charge of 5YTL.
The site of the Abbey may have served the Bishops of Kyrenia as a residence, and as a place of refuge from Arab raids in the 7th and 8th centuries. The first occupants known to have settled on or near the site were the Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre, who had fled Jerusalem after its fall in 1187 to Saladin. The canons had been the custodians of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Aimery de Lusignan founded the monastery, with the first buildings dating to between 1198-1205. The abbey was consecrated as the Abbey of St. Mary of the Mountain. The White Canons (Norbertines or Premonstratensians) succeeded the founding canons in 1206. Consequently, documents from the 15th and 16th century refer to Bellapais as the “White Abbey”.
The main building as it can be seen today was built during the rule of King Hugh III 1267-1284. The cloisters and the refectory were constructed during the rule of King Hugh IV between 1324-1359. Hugh IV lived in the abbey and had apartments constructed for his use.
In 1373, the Genoese raided Kyrenia, almost destroying Kyrenia Castle. The Genoese stripped Bellapais of anything that was portable and of any value.
By 1489 the Venetians had taken control of Cyprus. They shortened the Abbey’s name to “De la Pais” (“Of Peace”), which in turn became Bellapais. By the time of the Venetians, the inhabitants of the Abbey had abandoned the Premonstratensian Rule. Reportedly, canons took wives, and then to keep the business within the family, accepted only their children as novices.
Following the Ottoman conquest of Kyrenia and Kyrenia Castle in 1571, the Ottomans expelled the Premonstratensians and gave the abbey to the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, which they appointed as the only legal Christian church on Cyprus. The Church of Cyprus neglected the Abbey, which fell into disrepair. However, the abbey church itself came to serve as the parish church for the village that grew up around it, and whose inhabitants may have used the abbey as a quarry for stone.
During the period of British control of Cyprus (1878-1960), the British Army initially took control of Bellapais. In 1878 they cemented the floor of the refectory, which they then used as a hospital. Unfortunately, the soldiers also fired off small arms in the refectory; one may still see bullet holes in the east wall. Then in 1912 George Jeffery, Curator of the Ancient Monuments of Cyprus, undertook repairs of the abbey.
Lawrence George Durrell was an expatriate British novelist, poet, dramatist, and travel writer. Born in India to British colonial parents, he was sent to England at the age of eleven for his education. He did not like formal education, but started writing poetry at age 15. His first book was published in 1935, when he was 23. In March 1935 he and his wife, and his mother and younger siblings, moved to the island of Corfu. This was the beginning of Durrell’s years of living around the globe.
His most famous work is the tetralogy The Alexandria Quartet, published between 1957 and 1960. The best-known is the first of the quartet’s four novels, Justine. Beginning in 1974, he published The Avignon Quintet, using many of the same techniques. The first of these novels, Monsieur, or the Prince of Darkness, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1974. The middle novel, Constance, or Solitary Practices, was nominated for the 1982 Booker Prize. In the late 20th century, Durrell was a bestselling author and one of the most celebrated in England.
Life in Cyprus
Wanting to return to his beloved Mediterranean and find a quiet place to write, Durrell moved to Cyprus in 1953. There Durrell taught at a local school and began to write what would become the Alexandria Quartet. However, his hopes for a quiet life were dashed by the inter-communal violence in Cyprus and the British administration’s inability to cope with it. In 1956, he abandoned his home on the island and left Cyprus very rapidly after it was revealed that Durrell’s association with the British administration had made him a target for assassination. He wrote about his time on Cyprus in the book “Bitter Lemons”, making reference to the troubles.
Near Bellapais abbey there is a well-known “Tree of idleness” under which Lawrence Durrel used to spend a lot of time. In Bellapais area there remained the house where he lived and was writing the book “Bitter lemons”.