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The Bellapais Abbey in Cyprus: A Haven of Peace and Tranquility (In Cyprus)

Today’s The World Around Us will be presented in Turkish, with subtitles in Arabic, Aulacese (Vietnamese), Chinese, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Thai.

Greetings gracious viewers, and welcome to The World Around Us. Bellapais, meaning “beautiful land” or “beautiful peace” in French, is an ancient village of Cyprus near the famous harbor of Kyrenia. Perched on the Beşparmak (Five Fingers) Mountains, the village enjoys a spectacular panoramic view overlooking the tranquil, turquoise Mediterranean Sea. Much of the village’s popularity is drawn from its historic buildings and wandering stone-paved streets. Among the many attractions is the famous Bellapais Abbey, which is considered the most beautiful Gothic building in the Near East. Today, please join us as we visit the Bellapais Abbey with the pleasant Cypriot tour guide Mr. Can Kabakci.

Hallo and welcome. We are in Girne, at one of the most beautiful sites on the island of Cyprus, the Bellapais Abbey. I'd like to introduce Mr. Can here. He will guide us and give information about the abbey. Mr. Can, how are you?

Thank you and welcome. How are you?

Thanks. We're doing fine as well.

If you wish, we can go, please follow me. Let's walk through the entry gate.

The site of Bellapais Abbey is believed to be the early residence of the Greek Bishops of Kyrenia during the 7th to 10th centuries. Its location offers geographic benefits as a safe place for the monks to practice spiritually in peace.

The compound is situated on top of a massive rock based in between two riverbeds, which means an increased safety from earthquakes. Also, water is abundant and the place has strategic advantages, which makes it a very good stronghold. This location is at the heart of three other strongholds, The Girne Castle, St. Hilarion Castle, and Bufavento Castle.

The abbey, which dates to the 12th century, was constructed by the constable of Cyprus, Aimery de Lusignan, to shelter the Augustinian friars and canons. It was dedicated to St. Mary of the Mountain.

This abbey was founded by St. Augustine monks from Jerusalem, and the monks settled on the Cyprus Island where they built this abbey and the church inside the compound. The construction started in 1198 and ended in 1205, though considerable annexes were made to the compound throughout the centuries. What is noteworthy is that this place was used by religious knights as an abbey and church. Now if you'd like, let's move to the church, as I want to show some valuable artifacts in there, then we can continue our tour inside the abbey.

In1206, the abbey adopted the rules of the Premonstratensian order, also known as the White Canons, as the members used to wear white. Hence, the Bellapais was nicknamed the “White Abbey”. Between 1267 and 1284, Lusignan King Hugh III expanded the abbey. A large part of the complex that we see today was constructed at the time. However, in later centuries, it was used for different purposes, then was neglected. It was not until the early 20th century that the restoration work took place, thanks to the Lapidary Museum and the Antiquities Department of Cyprus.

This structure served as a Catholic Church from the early 13th century to the mid-16th century. This is the church of the abbey. The indigenous people of the Island, Orthodox Greeks, allied with the Ottomans, so most of the Catholic churches were converted into mosques while some were assigned to the Orthodox community. This is one of those churches.

Built on a rock cliff that plunges 30 meters below, the spectacular abbey complex consists of a church, a refectory, dormitory, and storage rooms arranged around the inner cloister. The church features both Gothic and Roman styles.

This church is known for its unique architectural feature all across the world. This structure demonstrates a combination of Gothic and Roman styles. How can we tell this? An example is the porticos right behind us. We can see the tapering pattern at the bottom. This is a characteristic feature of Gothic architecture, while the windows up above demonstrate the characteristics of Roman style.

Now again let's look at the main gate. The pillars at the sides reflect the characteristics of Roman architecture and tapering patterns, as we see on the upper ends of the pillars is the Gothic style. Also, the patterns we see above belong to the Venetian era. This gate no longer served as the main entrance when the building was converted into an Orthodox church.

The door you see right behind me leads to the treasure chamber. In the treasure chamber were kept important papers and some documents brought from Jerusalem. Next to that, we can see another sizeable door. It is a passage to the abbey and to the dorm upstairs through the stairs.

The church is the best preserved part of the complex, featuring an ancient belfry above the entrance, but only one bell has remained. On the entrance porch are also the remnants of the 15th-century murals depicting prophets and the life of Jesus Christ, painted by Italian artists. One can also find an iconostasis, or templon, which is the contribution of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Right behind me you can see a separating barrier adorned with icons, this is also called templon. This part is added by the people of Orthodox faith, as a part of their beliefs. Originally in the Catholic era, this barrier was not present. Behind this there is a very large window. As a part of the Gothic architectural philosophy, this window takes the rays of sun dawning from the east and illuminates the interiors. But this templon blocks the window, that is why the interior of the church is quite dim.

We can view this templon in three parts. On the top, Jesus and his apostles are depicted. In the middle, there are depictions from the life of Jesus. From his birth, to the last supper, the crucifixion and the resurrection. At the lower part, left and right to the door, Jesus and St. Mary are depicted along with the icons of other saints as well. The Orthodox community used to take advantage of these icons to deliver their teaching to the illiterate ordinary man, yet in time these have evolved into sacred depictions narrating moments in the history of religion.

In addition to the templon left by the Orthodox, the precious treasures of the church also include the bishop's throne, an elaborately carved pulpit, chandeliers, and some icon stands.

Right beside me is the throne, which is the official post of the archbishop of the island. The archbishop sits on this throne when visiting the island. An exclusive seat for him. Also you can see on the left other pieces, like the chairs where the congregation gets seated. These are all preserved as they were since the place recovered in 1983, and today they are still under protection. We can tell a few things about their functions. For example, this is for sitting.

However if the service is too long, or it needs to be conducted standing up, this can be reclined upwards like this and one can stand on his feet. The chair you can see on the other side also has the identical function. Right beside me, there is an icon stand. On the wings of the eagle, you see here with the icon stand, icons are placed alternating daily. Below, there are the closets and shelves. There were the icons of various other saints. They used to place them on the wings, like this. A member of the Orthodox faith entering the church goes and kisses this icon as a gesture of reverence. The life the saint shown on the icon would narrate to the viewers stories about virtues. These images remind the people of their spiritual duties.

On the northern side of the cloister is the refectory, which is a spacious and illuminated room. Inside the hall are a stone spiral staircase and a wall pulpit, which was used by the monks for scripture reading during their mealtimes. The door at the west that leads to the cloister is adorned with three coats of arms above.

Now we are in front of the door opening to the dining hall. There are three emblems over the door. The one at the rightmost end is the symbol of the Lusignan Dynasty. The one in the middle is the symbol of Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the leftmost one, which is a combination of the both, belongs to the Kingdom of Cyprus. The dining hall has an absolutely perfect acoustic design.

In springtime, classical music concerts are given in this place. It is called the Bellapais Concerts and they are public events. Right behind me is a sarcophagus of the Roman period. It dates back to the 2nd century BC. The monks carried this from another remote place. Here it was given a cross function and turned into a fountain. At their lunch times, the monks used to wash up at the fountain, right before the gate of the dining hall.

Finally, we come to the cloister's courtyard, which is considered the most sacred spot of the monastery complex. Lined with arches on three sides and decorated with robust cypresses planted around the 1940s, the yard is filled with the air of peacefulness and sanctity.

This place in the center where trees are growing is the most sacred spot in the compound. There we can see the porticos, monks used to circle around them. That was a kind of spiritual practice. Behind them are the classrooms. In the classrooms, the monks used to get training about their duties. Upstairs of the classrooms, there are the dorms. The capacity of the dorm suggests that around 200 monks used to stay in the compound. Downstairs is where the cellars of the abbey are located. These were used to store food, drinks, and clothes.

Thank you for taking your time to visit us and we hope you will visit us again. With all our hospitality, we would like to see you visiting our Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

We thank Mr. Can Kabakci for showing us the enchanting and spiritual monastery of Bellapais. With its elegant architecture as well as the hospitable village around it, the Bellapais Abbey is surely one of the places to be treasured on the island of Cyprus.

Thank you for joining us today on The World Around Us. Please stay tuned to Supreme Master Television for Words of Wisdom, after Noteworthy News. May your life be blessed and protected, always.

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