Spectacularly sited on the mountainside, with a commanding view over the north shore and to Kyrenia, sits the imposing abbey of Bellapais (Abbaye de la Paix/Abbey of Peace) regarded as the most beautiful Gothic building in that part of the world. Bellapais Monastery was built after the monastic Augustinians, a French Premonstratensian Order fled from Jerusalem when the city fell to the Saracens in 1187. Building started in the Lusignan era somewhere around 1200 and gradually developed over the next 150 years. The monks wore white which resulted in the abbey becoming known as the White Abbey. Decline began in 1373 with the Venetian invasion. The abbey treasury was plundered and a relic, said to be a fragment of the cross, was stolen. Riches, brought by the many pilgrims who came specially to see the relics, disappeared and the abbey sank into a period of decadence and decay. Decline continued as the monks started to take wives and neglected care of the abbey. When the Ottomans arrived they sacked the building and used the stones for building material. The monks were most likely absorbed into ordinary village life and the church given to the Greek Orthodox Church.
Visitors can still appreciate the grandeur of this once proud abbey. Grouped around the existing cloisters are the refectory, storage rooms and church. A set of 15th century murals depicting coats of arms of the Jerusalem and Lusignan connection can be seen above the refectory door. There is access to the undercroft, below the refectory, which is often used for exhibitions, and a clamber up onto the top of the building reveals extensive views. The two Roman sarcophagi in the cloister were once used as wash basins. Concerts in the refectory are a regular feature throughout the year especially during the festival season between spring and autumn This romantic and memorable setting also provides a magical venue for weddings during the warmer months.
Even though it has had little powerful religious significance for centuries the, mainly ruined, abbey still has the power to attract. The pure Gothic architecture of the abbey, with its towering turrets, still draws modern day pilgrims and is best appreciated on the drive up from Kyrenia. Those who choose to walk the old Crusader Way from Ozankoy though, will enjoy the most evocative approach which enters Bellapais beneath its fortress like northern walls.
Don't forget to visit this site on your holiday in North Cyprus.