Ayia Napa is an old town that has existed since the end of the 18th century. It is located in the easternmost point on the south coast of Cyprus. What used to be a fisherman’s village is now a popular destination for tourists. It came into existence when the Greeks came here to escape a plague that ravaged their city of Thessaloniki. They set up a settlement around the Ayia Napa Monastery (translated from ancient Greek as «the saint of the woods»), which was originally built by the Venetians who dedicated it to the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that the village’s first resident was Nikolaos Kemitzis, who came here in 1790 — hence the founding date. Ayia Napa is located near Paralimni, Protaras and the Cape Greko National Forest Park.
Those who visit Ayia Napa in the summer have probably learned about the different things they can do here from their tourist guides and booklets. However, here’s a list of our recommendations for your time in Ayia Napa.
Ayia Thekla (church and island)
This modern white and blue building is located on the coast close to Sotira village and is open to the public. The church has a very interesting iconostasis and an icon of the highly revered Cypriot saints: St. Justina and St. Cyprian.The church is surrounded by an observation deck and a rest spot. If you walk down the steps you will reach the sea. If you look to the right of the church you will see an island that visually resembles a coral reef.
Nearby are the ruins of an early Christian basilica that has unfortunately been largely damaged. On Spirits Day (The Cataclysm) the area is used for religious service and a cross procession. The Ayia Thekla catacombs are located to the west of the chapel and belong to the Roman period (30 – 330 BC). They catacombs are a church that has been carved out inside a cliff. Researchers say that the area was most likely once used as a burial site, which in the Middle Byzantine period was turned into a church (mid 7th – 12th century). The church also witnessed the Frankish period (1192 – 1489). Inside the underground chapel, the candles are always lit.
The life of St. Thekla is equally interesting. According to a legend, Thekla was engaged to be married, but after being inspired by the Apostle Paul she decided to give up her plans for marriage and went on to preach. Her parents were outraged by her decision and had her captured by the authorities to have her burnt in order to teach other young women a lesson. However, a storm broke and the rain put out the flame. Thekla had miraculously escaped death on another occasions when she was thrown into a lion’s den. The animals stood back and she later became a hermit living a cave close to the city of Ma'loula in Syria. She dedicated her entire life (90 years) to constant prayer and fasting. With time the monastery that she founded also became her burial site, where part of her remains were kept until 2014 when the monastery was raided and 16 nuns were held hostage.
The rest of her remains that were kept in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia were relocated to Cyprus following the Mamluks’ conquest of the kingdom (1375).
Presently the remains are kept at the women’s monastery of St. Thekla located near Mosfiloti village (Larnaca region).
This archeological site is located to the west of Ayia Napa in the Makronissos region. It contains rock-cut tombs (19 tombs have been discovered so far and the work is still in progress), a small sanctuary and a quarry. In the period between 1989 and 1990 the Municipality of Ayia Napa financed the research performed at this site, which since 1872 has been a popular spot for illegal digging performed by «black archeologists». Recent research has shown that some of the objects have been damaged during the extended use of the quarry that is adjacent to the necropolis.
Entrance to the burial grounds used to be blocked by one large and two small stone platforms.
Most of the cells are identical: they have rectangular openings in the middle and three benches along the walls.
Although all of the tombs have been raided, some of the remaining elements still give away important information. We know that the deceased were first put inside a clay sarcophagus, which was covered with a three-sided top. The Makronissos tombs were definitely used during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
The traces of fire that have been discovered on the surface near the road suggest the fact that the site was used for the Greek cremation ritual. The sanctuary is a simple rectangular-shaped area, which was built using irregular shaped blocks. Some of the discoveries made by the archeologists in 1974 have allowed them to date the sanctuary back to the classical Cypriot period (480BC – 310).
Ayia Napa Monastery
This medieval monastery and church dates back to the 16th century. It is partly located underground and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary of the wild forest.
This part of the region is a great place for a walk during any part of the day. If you walk from the parking lot up to the gates of the Museum, you will see a water reservoir and a huge 500-year old sycamore tree hanging over it.
Greek poet Giorgios Seferis, wrote a famous poem dedicated to the tree, called «Aγιάναπα Β»:
Under an old sycamore
The wind rose up and blew away
Towards the northern castles
Without touching us…
There are two legends behind the founding of the monastery, which you can read about here. The exact founding date is unknown. The first mention of the monastery dates back to the 14th – 15th centuries and was made by a famous chronicler at the time called Leone Maheras. The monastery first appeared on Venetian maps in the 16th century and then in the 17th – 18th centuries it found its way into the journals and diaries of different foreign travelers ad diplomats (e.g. monk and writer Vasily Grigorovich-Barsky, literary critic Pietro Valle, consul Alexander Drammond).
The monastery’s courtyard is rectangular in shape. It includes buildings from different time periods (the oldest of which is the underground church located below the two-aisle church at the end of the courtyard. It was used for the same purpose as the Latin Church, which has only retained fragments of its 15th century frescoes). To the left of the entrance is a souvenir shop. Across from the entrance is an interesting stand displaying the monastery’s floor plan and detailed information about the origins of each segment of the monastery: the parts of the wall near the entrance (middle Byzantine period; 1191-1470s); the dormitory (the Venetian period; 1489-1571); the gate tower, the walls and the church; and the central fountain together with a gazebo and an arched gallery on the right side of the gate that leads to the monastery (the Ottoman period). This Museum covers a wide range of artifacts found both in the vicinity of the monastery and the other regions of Cyprus. This is primarily an archeological collection with a focus on ceramics, architectural objects and icons of local origins. The majority of the historic objects come from a private collection of Archbishop Makarios III, while the icons were brought here from the churches located in the occupied territories.
In 2007 following the return of the Constantine and the Ammochostos Archdiocese, the monastery fell under its control and at the request of Metropolitan Vasilios (Karayiannis) the monastery was used to found the Cultural Academy of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus. The official process of restoration took place in 2009-2012 and continues to this day alongside the work performed by the researchers.
Today this former monastery is known for the festivals that take place here every September.
Address: Seferis Square, Archiepiskopou Makariou III Ave
Working hours: Summer (May-Novermber) 08:00 – 16:30, Winter (November-May) 08:00 – 15:00; weekends all year round – until 16:00
Entrance is free
Free parking is available outside the Monastery.
In 1994 a new Church of the Virgin Mary was erected nearby. Every year on September 8th, the church celebrates the Nativity of Mary. The church holds regular Orthodox Christian service and visitors can go to a confession or take Communion.
Farmer’s Tavern (museum and souvenir shop)
The museum is located close to the monastery inside an old village house. Like many houses in the area it was built with clay bricks. Most of the houses in the region used to be only one story-tall, rarely — two stories, with large porches and arches. They were surrounded with spacious gardens.
The museum now houses traditional household objects, clothing worn by men and women, works by local carpenters and woodcarvers and archival photos of antique children’s toys.
Museums such as this one that are located inside original houses and buildings are a frequent occurrence in Cyprus. The Farmer’s Tavern is perfect for those who want to learn more about Cypriots, but don’t want to go too far from the coast.
The souvenir shop sells a variety of crafts and jewelry made by local artists.
We had a chance to talk to its director, Mr. George Nikitas and this is what he told us:
«Our museum found its home inside an private house that used to belong to a local family. It is an example of traditional single-story architecture. Many of the objects on display are things that my fellow villagers once used in their daily life. With time they were donated to the museum.
Here is an example of local footwear — antique boots worn by men. These shoes are reinforced with metal brackets and there is no difference between the right and the left foot. Now this is a «vurka» — a purse worn by a shepherd in which he carried food. You should also check out our local traditional costume — it is different from the costumes worn in other regions.
You will also notice the wheat braid that hangs over the door as you enter — it was used to bless the family with many children. I’ve found this artifact to be quite effective — I have five children! Would you like me to show you the oldest and most unique items in our collection? Women used these wooden crates to prepare the dough. And when a family had a baby, they put him or her inside this crate because they believed it would make him her grow up healthy.
These wooden molds were also used in bread making. The dough was kept here until it rose and was sent to the oven. Once it was baked, the bread was placed back inside the mold.
Did you see the traditional oven right outside the entrance into the house? Sometimes we use it to bake cookies that we hand out to the public for free. We also use it to make flaounas and other holiday food for Easter. Now let’s talk about halloumi — a popular local cheese. These copper containers were used to cook goat and sheep milk.
You can study almost the entire life of our local villagers and their everyday tasks and needs just by looking at this: here is an antique coffee kettle and an array of sieves, whose holes are all different in size (designed for different kinds of grain). I can see that you are interested in this ceramic doll wearing a traditional Cypriot costume. This is indeed a very old doll. However, our local craftsmen can make an exact replica of it for you.
You asked me about silk weaving. It is true that the large-scale manufacture of silk is mostly gone. But there are a few seamstresses still breeding silk worms and using them to produce true art!
Also, as you probably know, we hold many different festivals, where one of the things we demonstrate is silk weaving.
But we don’t only focus on things from the past, but also organize different events and celebrations where people can meet new masters using centuries-old crafts and techniques to continue the island’s traditions
A little side note for your readers: all of the festivals kick off in the spring (this year it was April 15th). We will be hosting ceramists who will also give free pottery lessons to children. I’ll tell you a secret — I am a ceramist by profession and we are the type of people who always find something to keep us busy!
Would you like me to tell you a little bit about the way Ayia Napa looked 40 years ago? None of these tourist spots were here back then. There was no square either. This spot where we stand right now used to be surrounded by empty fields, one of which was used a football field for local children such as myself. Many people steered clear of this area during the night because it was covered with wild weeds and bushes. Few people came to the wild Ayia Napa beach during the day either — and I was one of those people».
Address: Seferis Square, Ayia Napa
Working hours: 9:00 – 23:00 (summer); entrance is free
Telephone: +367 99684318 (George Nikitas)
The museum was founded in 2005 and is dedicated to the country’s marine history starting from the prehistoric times going up to the present day. The museum owns a full-scale replica of a cargo vessel from the 4th century BC, which was in use until 1967 – 1969.
The museum houses objects related to the Mediterranean marine life that span the course of millions of years. The museum is run by the Pierides Foundation together with the Greek Institute of Marine Conservation and the Cyprus Foundation for Marine life (Tornaritis-Pierides). This is the first museum of its kind in the Mediterranean region, whose main purpose is to share with its visitors the important role that the sea plays in the history of the island and its residents.
The exhibition is located on three different floors:
The upper level, with a blown-up copy of an antique map of Cyprus from the Venetian period (next to it is a small fisherman’s boat called «Anerus»). The map illustrates facts about the different flora and fauna found on the island (models of dwarf elephants and hippopotamuses based on 75 thousand year old skeletons), various fossils and antique effigies.
The middle level — objects found by archeologists that are closely connected to the sea: antique anchors; modern replica of a papyrella (a Greek boat made of papyrus dating back to 9200 BC, which was used to transport obsidian and objects made of it across the Aegean Sea), local and foreign ceramics (antique and Venetian), jewelry made of seashells by the island’s first pre-historic settlers and so on. These two levels create a historic framework for this truly breathtaking exhibition.
You will come across the exact replica of the famous Kyrenia ship, also known as Kyrenia II (built in 1985) — a cargo vessel (400 BC) that sank many centuries ago near the coast of Cyprus. The ship’s remains are now located at the Kyrenia fortress. The copy of the ship, with its sails fully unfurled, is really rather impressive thanks to the size and theuncanny resemblance. Behind the ship is a display screen showing a documentary film about the discovery made in 1967 around Kyrenia.
By the way, this story became the subject of an «Around the World» magazine article by Theodor Troev, a Bulgarian yacht sailor (written on May 1, 1988).
The bottom level features dark-blue walls, light ceilings with effigies of different terrestrial animals, predator fish, marine wildlife and birds inhabiting the area around the Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas. This level is dedicated to a natural science collection from the Tornaritis-Pierides Museum of Marine Life. There is also a diverse collection of seashells, corals and various petrified fossils. The majority of this collection comes from the Ayia Napa area and ranges 130-65 million years in age.
Address: 14 Kryou Nerou Street, Aiya Napa
summer (June 1 – September 30) — Monday 09:00 – 15:00, Tuesday – Saturday 09:00 – 17:00, Sunday 15:00 – 19:00
Winter (October 1 – May 31) — Monday 09:00 – 13:00, Tuesday – Saturday 09:00 – 17:00
Entrance: 4 euros (groups and university students — 2 euro per person), school students — 1.50 euros.
The Ayia Napa Bay
In addition to the small marina with cruise ships (including the famous «Black Pearl» that is known for its family-friendly entertainment programs), you can also take a walk down the coast and stop by the gate to the bay. You can also have lunch at one of the taverns, which often serve freshly caught fish from the bay. All of the cruise trips and sea rides leave from here throughout the day.
There is even a small parking lot next to the square.
The Sculpture Park
This park is located between Cape Greko and Protaras. It sits atop the slope of a hill that you will see as you exit Ayia Napa. This is a modern art space that is still growing and developing. In a way it is also an outdoors museum, which was first suggested by the then mayor as part of his strategy to revamp the region’s tourism sector.
The sculpture park launched in May 2014 with the First Sculpture Symposium in Ayia Napa. There were 17 sculptures created in real time by artists from Cyprus, Greece, the US and other countries directly in the park.
The subject of their work was the island itself, with its rich history, mythology and culture. It is a garden of «many paths», each of which features monumental sculptures and installations set against the permanence of the sea and the sky.
All of the works come with a description in three languages (Greek, English and Russian). You will probably notice that many of the works make an allusion to mythology and were made with local limestone: «Demetra Goddess» by Rodolfou Edgar Soryia (Argentina), «Eol» by Panaiotis Pasantas (Cyprus), «Female figure» by Ioanni Piza (Greece), «The Greek Sphinx» by Yury and Lyudmila Misko (Ukraine) and many others. There are many works also dedicated to Christian themes (e.g. «Destroyed Motherland» by Angelos Herakaris, Greece) made with sandstone, bronze and other modern materials (concrete, aluminum, construction foam, etc)and featuring ceramic and glass elements. You’ll find quite a lot of modern abstract and surrealist works, such as the sculpture by Kikis Patsalos or the more industrial-style works by Oscar Oguira (Cuba), Arsentiy Lysev (Russia) and the three`-figured «Organic triptych» by Vincent Bofilis (France).
There was a joint work by two Cypriot artists Christos Askotis and Loizos Sergiouthat I found very interesting. The artists used two large boulders that symbolized Cyprus and attached to them colorful glazed ceramic figures of urban and rural residents and the important buildings on the island. The style of the figures resembles that of the characters from the Karagiozis Shadow Theater. The installation is really quite touching and is called «Stone and its history».
Sometimes while passing the park on your way to Ayia Napa, you’ll hear the screeching of the chainsaw and the banging of a hammer and notice that the work there still continues and new sculptures are in progress.
If you want to grab lunch or have dinner after your walk through the Sculpture Park, you can always visit Evinos Taverna located nearby.
Address: Cape Greko Street, Ayia Napa (across from the Marina Hotel)
Working hours: 24/7
Telephone: +357 23816307
There is a café nearby, a parking lot and a bus stop «Marina» (read for more: www.cyprusbybus.com)
More information: www.loveayianapa.com
This natural stone arc is located in front of the Sculpture Park in Ayia Napa. When we were there we saw the arrival of a wedding motorcade and as expected of these traditions the newlyweds and their photographer started taking pictures.
This scenic and yet relatively wild mountain coast is full of steep drops and caves. There is a tourist path running along it. The mountain is made of the same type of rock as that found in Cape Greko and Konnos: porous and speckled. The area offers an amazing panoramic view of the sea, though it is often quite windy here.
The cape is located between Ayia Napa and Protaras. It is a national forest park as well as a cultural heritage site (as the sign at the entrance states). Nearby are a newly built tourist information center, a café and a parking lot.
The arch-shaped cave (also known as the Love Bridge or Komara tou Koraka) was recently recognized as being at risk of falling apart, so access to it has been prohibited. However, just looking at is breathtaking enough: the rich blue shades of the sea look beautiful when juxtaposed with the golden weeds growing nearby.
If you keep moving forward you will reach another special spot (it is often included in pilgrimage tours) — the Ayioi Anargyroi cave. It is located below the chapel (whose earlier version was built in 1950, and the current one was rebuilt in 1992), which is dedicated to St. Kosmas and St. Damianos — well-known saints and healers in Russia, who presumably lived around 3 – 4th centuries. According to a popular legend, the two brothers spent several years here. In order to enter the cave, you’ll need to walk up the 40 steps that have been carved out in the cliff. Inside one of the rocks you will see a ravine with holy water that is kept safely away from the salt water of the sea.
The Cyclops Cave and Trail
The site is located to the east of Ayia Napa, between Cape Greko and Protaras and close to Konnos. The cave has 3 to 4 «rooms» and you can find many stalactite formations there.
Did you know that stalactites (from the Greek word Σταλακτίτης, meaning «that which has dripped») are a type of formations that often happen inside karst caves. They resemble icicles and once the inflow of water into the cave stops, they too stop to grow.
Hiking in this area shouldn’t be too exhausting, so it’s a good idea to bring your whole family here. Many tourists recommend bringing supplies for a picnic. But please remember that this is a national forest park. So no fires are allowed and you must clean up after yourself. You should be able to find and enjoy the large number of spots with a great view of the sea, the mountains and the cliffs. You can also walk down to the beach and go for a swim.
Use your time here to take photographs. Nature lovers should be able to identify some of the plants that are endemic to this area, such as boxthorn (Lycium schweinfurthii), thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum), juniper (Juniperus phoenicea) and acacia.
You’ve probably heard of the many cultural events and festivals happening in Ayia Napa. They all start with Easter and continue until November. Here is some information about the festivals worth going to.
This is a perfect time to visit Cyprus. Holiday religious service (called «Agapi» in Greek, which mean «love», since on this day Cypriots exchange kisses and say: «Christ is risen!») ends around 11am. On this day families gather for holiday dinner. Easter is celebrated over the course of four days in Cyprus, which people like to spend with their families.
Across the island people take to the street to celebrate until Tuesday evening, playing traditional Greek music, dancing and singing.
Please note that almost all businesses are closed during the Easter week, so plan your stay ahead and join the celebration.
If you plan to come to Ayia Napa during this period, you can learn more about the local events here.
The festival is also known as Spirits Day. It is a Christian holiday and one of the annual events in Cyprus that happens in June, 50 days after Orthodox Easter (on the 7th Monday, to be exact).
This year the Cataclysm will be celebrated on the 4th of June.
The holiday incorporates Christian traditions (i.e. commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit) as well as pre-Christian mythology and rituals (that honor Adonis and Aphrodite). One can also spot an allusion to the story of the Great Flood — a celebration of water and the victory of life over fate.
Early in the morning people attend church for holiday service. Following which they walk towards the sea. The priest sanctifies the cross and throws it into the water. Many local men jump into the water to find it; the first one that does is crowned king of the holiday and the others become his designated retinue.
Following this ritual the celebration begins, drawing many locals and tourists to participate in the games, concerts and live shows happening on this day. You can go to the Luna Park with your whole family or have dinner with your family at one of the local taverns, enjoying traditional Cypriot cuisine.
Celebration continues for three days and includes sports, concerts, dancing, singing, poetry readings and many other things. Read this for more information.
September festival in Ayia Napa
The festival was first launched in 1985 and became an annual event ever since. It is usually held during the last weekend in September on Seferis Square near the Ayia Napa Monastery. The holiday has historic, cultural and even agricultural roots. The program includes theatrical performances, concerts by local and foreign artists and folk dances. Among the celebrities who participated in the festival were Nanu Muskuri, Marios Frangulis, Viki Leandros and George Dalaras as well as Russian tenors from Moscow and many others.
Ayia Napa Youth Festival
The festival was launched in 2010 when the Youth Committee of Ayia Napa decided to organize a public event similar to those held in Europe that combine music with other activities, have free admission and invite headliners from a range of different genres. The first festival lasted three days, gathered more than 10,000 people and featured reggae, rock, pop rock, metal, and hip-hop musicians.
Ayia Napa is known for another cultural achievement. On September 16, 2007 Ayia Napa dancers broke a Guinness record by forming the longest chain consisting of 268 people performing a sirtaki dance.
By car: Larnaca thoroughfare (А3) — about 40-45 minutes, from Paralimni to Retimnou Street — 10 minutes.
By bus: Paralimni – Protaras – Ayia Napa (101 and 102 going back), Larnaca – Ormidia – Xylofagou – Ayia Thekla – Ayia Napa – Protaras (711)
For more information: www.cyprusbybus.com
Today you learned a lot about Ayia Napa — a place commonly known as Cyprus’s tourist and commercial center.
In reality, just like any place in Cyprus, this area is saturated with history that hides behind the buzzing nightlife and the cozy beaches.
Travel more and see you soon!
Written by Evgeniya Kondakova-Theodorou.