Cyprus - The Middle Ages

The Famagusta Gate, the Nicosia Venetian Walls, Stavrovouni Monastery, and the Byzantine churches in the Troodos Mountains have brought me many special memories starting many years back in my childhood, and these special places still whisper to me after three decades with the same sweet views and breathtaking character

Cyprus - The Middle Ages

Welcome to another adventure as we travel back through the rich history of the island I love. There are many great sites which surround my home from the time known as The Middle Ages or Medieval Era. I have memories from childhood and still enjoy many of the most popular masterpieces which are scattered across the land like masterpieces upon a mural. Splashes of life in stone upon the canvas of life which tell countless stories from the many centuries past. These most precious and sacred places are a vital part of unlocking the wonderful secrets that help to make The Island of Cyprus “slogan.”

The Famagusta Gate, the Nicosia Venetian Walls, Stavrovouni Monastery, and the Byzantine churches in the Troodos Mountains have brought me many special memories starting many years back in my childhood, and these special places still whisper to me after three decades with the same sweet views and breathtaking character. As Omorfos, the man I gather with friends at the restaurants and bars near the Famagusta Gate. 

My dogs travel with me to the area by the Nicosia Venetian Walls where many others bring their pets to socialize. Maybe it is the animal lover in me, but my dogs seem to bask in the history, and I feel confident they understand the significance along with the others as they play together. It is my hope that someday when I have children, and I am old enough to have grandchildren I will take them in my car and share the thrill of the winding roads on the way to the Stavrovouni Monastery. Now that the Saint Hilarion Castle, Buffavento Castle, and Kantara Castle are in the open territory all children can savor their splendor as well. 

I should probably apologize for dwelling on the beauty of the present day and keep my dreams for the future to myself since we are going to travel back hundreds of years into a time of war and suffering. If we fail to notice the beauty which has come out of those blemishes of old, then we can never fully appreciate the character of the island. Please take my hand and let us walk together through the fields of yesteryears where these seeds of splendor were planted deeply in the ground, the hearts, the minds, the souls of all Cyprus. 

Let us begin our journey and hope we do not get stuck in the middle ages.

Sometimes Nature Marks the Endings and Beginnings

Around 330, when the Empire of Rome split into East/West, Cyprus became part of the Byzantine rule. Simultaneously, two major earthquakes destroyed the buildings across the island in less than ten years. It was perfect timing for remodeling and rebuilding to start a new era. Most of the major cities were never reconstructed, but Salamis was restored to a lesser scale than before and became known as Constantia. It was named after the son of Constantine the Great. The new capital was established and was Christian for the most part. Great meeting places and massive architectural masterpieces were erected as churches. Colorful marbles, murals, and mosaics were all established to help further Christianity.

A Dream Which Changed the World

There was a struggle for control of the Church of Cyprus by Eastern Orthodox interests which lasted more than a century. In 488 Archbishop Anthemius had a peculiar dream. It was during his dream that the location of the tomb of Barnabas was revealed to him. After finding the burial spot writings were penned by the saint and were lying inside the coffin on top of his body. These writings turned out to be the entire Book of Matthew. Armed with the sacred writings, the Archbishop took them directly to the Emperor, Zeno. The Church of Cypress was secured the ritual three changes were set in place. Archbishops were to replace the staff of a pastor with a sceptre, wear purple cloaks during all of the public services and use red ink for their unique signature. By the start of the seventh century John, known as “the merciful” of Amathus became the patriarch of Alexandria, and Leontios, a church writer from Neopolis was another prominent Cypriot. 

Six Centuries of Struggles

It was in 649 that the first attack made by the Arabs came to the island. The capital city was taken by placed under local rulers and drafted in the form of a treaty. Hala Sultan Tekke was later built during the Ottoman reign to mark the spot where Umm-Haram the Prophet lost a relative when she fell from a mule. In 680 the 12,000 soldiers left to guard the island were removed, and an agreement was struck by Justinian the 2nd and the caliph named Abd al-Malik. For the next three centuries, Cyprus was jointly governed by the Byzantines and the Caliphate, and taxes were shared by the emperor and the Arabs. During the 300 years, there was a tremendous amount of fighting between the two parties on the mainland, and it seldom ceased for any measurable length of time. 

Basil the first, the Macedonian recaptured Cyprus in the late 9th century, but by the turn of the tenth century, Damian of Tarsus and a fleet of Byzantine ships under Himerios retook control with a four-month removal of thousands of their captives from the island. By the tenth century, Byzantine control was back due to the resurgent empire. In the late 12th century with help from Sicily, Isaac Komnenos, who was the final Cyprus governor kept the crusaders out of the harbor due to the friendly relationship between the Sicilian Emperor and the Sultan of Egypt.

The Lionheart and Many Who Followed

It was late in that same 12th century when the ruler of Cyprus allegedly refused to allow the sister and the bride of Richard the Lionheart to have rations without de-boarding their ship after being separated from the fleet during a storm things took a turn for the worse on the island. Richard allowed Komnenos to remain in power after he quickly took Cyprus with the promise that he would aid in the crusade against Saladin. The governor was bound in silver chains in order to not break Richard’s promise never to place him in “irons” and kept captive until his death when he refused to further his crusade obligation. At least Komnenos was able to properly enforce the “iron-clad” contract with the Lionheart during the remaining three or four years of his lifetime. Richard immediately raised taxes and then sold the island to Guy de Lusignan because it was more trouble to him than he had time for. 

Three Hundred Years of Crusades and Chaos

It started with Guy who could be compared to the dumb-witted brother, Fredo in the Godfather. Guy passed power onto his older brother Aimery who died ten years later in a reported fish overeating incident. Hugh the first was the son of Aimery, and he took over power for less than a decade and died leaving control to his eight-month-old son, Henry the first who was not officially crowned for seven years. Ruling is rather tricky for an eight-year-old child thus his uncle Philip of Iselin was the official regent who had the child crowned to ward off potential claims. Philip died and the regent passed to his brother, John. At age 12, Henry had the regency snagged by Emperor Frederick of Rome’s holy empire from the boy’s uncle, John of Ibelin. John was popular and well respected and loyal forces quickly retook control of the island and started the war of the Lombards. 

Henry finally had a son with his third wife in 1253 and died leaving power to Hugh the second who was an infant. The child’s mother, Plaisance of Antioch acted as his regent and she became to be recognized as the most valiant woman in history. She died in 1267 and Hugh of Antioch assumed regent. High the third, Hugh the fourth, Peter the first, Peter the second, James the first, all led to the 15th century when Janus took power. In 1426 the Mamluks attacked and Janus met them with his army at Khirokitia. Legend explains that due to a lack of water the men drank wine and when an embassy was sent they killed them due to their state of inebriation. The Turks were insulted and angry and made short time of slaughtering the drunken forces.

The Turks then exposed the fact that the levitating cross was a hoax. It had been left at the Stavrovouni in the monastery in the fourth century by St. Helena. Janus was captured and taken to Egypt and forced to ride backward on a donkey in public as a form of humiliation. After two years Janus was ransomed back to Cyprus by the Mamluks who were in power. Power transferred to John the second. From the scandals surrounding John the second who offended the Pope with his vile nature and lack of control over his two wives to the final bizarre deaths of James, followed by his son within a year the Venetian rule had little trust around the world. Ottoman rule was a certainty as a result of the distrust for the queen who narrowly avoided an assassination attempt. 

The Trip Home

Let us rush back from this time quickly before the thousands of soldiers arrive to begin the next era in Cyprus history. Being stuck at this particular time in the “middle” would certainly be tragic and we can return back to the present. Now that we are back amid the surrounding beauty of the island it is easy to see that nothing left a mark. That is precisely why Cyprus is the “motto.”

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