Painted Churches in the Troödos Region
The Painted Churches in the Troödos Region comprise ten rural Byzantine churches and monasteries that are renowned for their paintings.
Their rich interiors present an overview of Byzantine and post-Byzantine painting. The architecture of the churches is indigenous: on the inside there's the classical form of a Byzantine church, on the outside it often looks like a stable or a farm. The extra layer on the outside was constructed to be able to cope with the heavy snowfall that can occur in the Troödos Mountains.
Community Perspective: “You won't be able to visit them all if you're in a hurry and you won't enjoy your visit if you're in a rush.” Two days and a rental car are necessary at least. The review by Kbecq provides access information for all 10 churches while departing from Nicosia, and Riccardo's does so when basing yourself in Kakopetria. Tsunami’s story reminds us of what travel could be like during Covid.
Map of Painted Churches in the Troödos RegionLoad map
The old stone houses of Kalopanagiotis crumbled down the hillside. Below, the bridge was out. I had to leave the car and gingerly inch across the span, trying not to focus on the gorge below. The monastery on the other side was deserted except for two black-clad and bearded priests. The younger greeted me with an unexpected Australian accent and ushered me into the darkness of the katholikon. Due to the lack of lighting and the netting that shrouded the interior to catch any errant flakes of paint peeling from the damp stonework it was hard to make out any details of the saints and Biblical scenes that coated the walls.
That was in 2006.
Revisiting this Easter, I was amazed at the change. Kalopanagiotis was now a chi-chi mountain resort where golf buggies carted guests through its zig-zagging streets to the spa and a shiny glass elevator joined the upper and lower sections of town. Cars trundled across the bridge, bringing crowds of visitors to the Agios Ioannis Lampadistis Monastery. There was even a conference of heritage professionals taking place in a meeting room above the monks’ cells. The interior of the monastery church was now beautifully restored and well-lit, enabling me to take in the details of the frescoes. From the entrance into the church there are essentially three naves running left to right. The first, the church of Agios Herakleidos dates from the 11th-12th centuries, the middle from 13th-14th century, and the furthest, the ‘Latin’ chapel, in a much different ‘Italo-Byzantine’ style from 1500. I found the narrow narthex the most breath-taking, decorated with Byzantine-style iconography of Saints Constantine the Great and his mother Helen as well as scenes from the Easter story. The narrow passage around the back of the church also showcases the double-roofed nature of many of these mountain churches (best seen at Nikolaos tis Stegis – St Nicholas of the Roof).
Elsewhere, signage to the scattered collection of Painted Churches is so much better than it once was (as are online map apps). I was even able to locate the church of Archangelos Michail in Pedoulas, which had previously eluded me. Compared to the others from the western grouping of churches (Nikolaos tis Stegis, Panagia tou Moutoulla and the aforementioned Agios Ioannis Lampadistis Monastery) it is on a side-street in the village itself. From the outside it is unremarkable, looking like a slightly truncated barn with a steeply-pitched roof. Inside it has more of the characteristic frescoes of the Troodos, these dated quite precisely to 1474 and to a local painter called Minas (photo).
I really enjoy this World Heritage Site. The churches themselves are very pretty, the decoration is almost too overwhelming to take in at a single viewing, the surrounding landscape of pine forests, peaks, vertiginous valleys and ramshackle villages clinging to hill sides is beautiful and an utter change from the coastal tourist resorts, and there is a delight in the treasure hunt of tracking down the scattered components. While the collected sites of Paphos may be the most ‘important’ World Heritage Site in Cyprus, in my view the Painted Churches the best that the island has to offer – and I’ve still only visited four of the ten churches inscribed.
World Heritage-iness: 2.5
Our Experience: 3
(Visited February 2006, April 2023)
The 10 painted churches located up on the mountains in the Troödos Region of Cyprus are an interesting collection of richly decorated Byzantine churches, some of which date back to the 11th century, still in use (somehow) today.
Something that I realized after visiting a few of the churches in August 2021 is that, by visiting only one or two of them, one would not really grasp the full meaning of this inscription. In fact, some of the churches are isolated, small and, honestly, quite unimpressive on their own. However, as we visited more and more, the prospective drastically changed for me and I started to appreciate the uniqueness of this serial site and the thread that connects all these monuments.
A particular, although at times frustrating, features of some of the churches is that they are normally closed and you have to find the keykeeper in order to get the church open for you to visit. And this proved to be not always an easy task. The website of the Department of Antiquities (Link to the website) provides some information on the opening times and how to reach the keykeeper, but unfortunately it is not always accurate and the task can turn out to be slightly harder than imagined.
Following is our itinerary with some tips:
Driving from the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Palaepafos (also part of the Paphos WHS) and being based in Kakopetria, the easiest itinerary for us was to split the Troodos region in 2 parts: first the churches on the east side (further away from Kakopetria) and then those on the west side.
(1) The first church visited was Timios Stavros at Pelentri. The church was closed, although we arrived during visiting time but there was a sign with a phone number to call. I tried calling twice but nobody answered. However, a few minutes later, while I was trying to figure out what to do next, a lady arrived and she opened the church for us. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pics inside. However, this church is not really outstanding compared to the others.
(2) After a lunch break, next destination was the church of Stavros Ayiasmati. Approaching the church, a sign informed to collect the key at the café at Platanistasa (some 8km away!) and gave a phone number. Of course, the church was closed but I called and someone answered. Unfortunately, his English was not easy to understand and it took me almost 5 minutes to understand that the key was hidden under a flowerpot next to the door. Bingo! We opened the door and were free to take photos and roam around the really small church as we pleased. This church has some remarkable paintings. I was surprised that a World Heritage site is left completely unattended and anyone could come in and damage the paintings. I wonder if UNESCO knows about this situation.
(3) Next stop was Panayia tou Araka. This was easy as a monk selling local produce such as wild honey let us take pictures of the open church. He even made a comment on the lens of my camera with a perfect Australian accent! I liked this church a lot.
On the way to Kakopetria we briefly stopped at Panayia Chrysokourdaliotissa (tentative extension to this serial site, I might write a separate short review for that one) and we arrived with enough time to enjoy a stroll around the picturesque town of Kakopetria before dinner.
(4) The next morning, we went first to Panayia Podithou. The church was closed and there was a phone number to call but as I was about to get my phone out a car arrived and the driver opened the church for us. No photos allowed inside. If you are short in time, this one can be missed.
(5) Not far is Ayios Nikolaos tis Steyis which is well worth a visit. It even has a nice yard and a souvenir shop. Pictures inside are prohibited but I managed to sneak a couple of shots as the shop lady was on the phone. This church should be included in any list of the painted churches to visit.
We then visited the Troodos Geopark Visitor Centre and the Asbestos mine, the summit of Mount Olympus, found a 500-year-old black pine tree, and a few locations of the Troodos UNESCO Global Geopark that are scattered around the Troodos Mountains (and parts of it are on the tentative WHS list), before heading on with our church quest.
(6) Next stop was the church of Archangelos Michael at Pedoulas. Small church, easy to find, open and pictures allowed. However, the state of the painting seemed not as good as others. If really short in time, give it a miss, although it’s relatively close to the next two churches and therefore easy to visit.
After a lunch break, we moved on to Panayia tou Moutoulla. The website gives no information on opening times and when we arrived at the church at 3:07PM, we found out that the church was open until 3PM. Sadly, nothing to do here, keep going.
(7) We then moved on to Ayios Ionannis (St. John) Lambadhistis Monastery, just a few km away. The beautiful monastery was open and this was the only place where there were other tourists. The church is the largest among the 10 and it’s one of the best preserved. It’s a must visit when in the Troodos region. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside. I even begged the guardian monk but he was inflexible and told me that I can find plenty of pictures online!
We still had enough time to get to Kykkos monastery before its closing time. This is a modern monastery about 30 minutes west of St. John Monastery and it was a good way to spend a couple of hours before dinner time.
(8) The next morning, we left Kakopetria for Nicosia (with also a brief stop to the church of Saints Varnavas and Ilarionas, another tentative site) and on the way, at 10AM, we stopped at the last of the painted churches in the Troodos region, Panayia Asinou. The church was closed, despite the opening times are posted online. We called the number found on the website and after ten minutes an old man showed up and opened the church for us. Of course, no photos allowed inside. The paintings in this small church are remarkable, probably the best among all the churches visited.
It took about 2 days with a rented compact car and some extra sites on the side. Visiting only the churches might require a shorter time, if you find the churches open, but my advice is to not rush and enjoy the slow-paced life in the Troodos mountains.
Compared to Clyde’s review written in 2016, now it seems to be easier to visit the churches as the roads are all really well paved and there is no need for a 4X4 vehicle. The churches are well signaled on the roads and can also be found easily on google maps and their positions are all accurate.
Read more from Riccardo Quaranta here.
When I entered Cyprus in mid-December 2020 with intention to stay for 3 months, there was not much of lockdown. Museums and archaeological sites were open, and I was able to visit Choirokoitia and Paphos WHSs within my first 2 days in the country without any problems. Staying in the Paphos District for 3 months, I thought I would visit the Painted Churches in the Troodos Region WHS sometimes in January or February. I was not following the local news and just going about my own business. Then on January 10 I was told by my landlord that a strict lockdown was to commence on the next day.
Suddenly, we had to stay inside our residences with allowance of only two 3-hour slots a day outside and were also not allowed to move from one District of the country to another. The Troodos Region was basically in the Nicosia District. The feeling that I might not even be able to visit the Troodos WHS before I leave Cyprus in mid-March persisted for a long time, until I was caught by a few police officers on street when I was wandering around at midnight despite the 9 pm curfew. The officers then let me go. I realized at that moment that after all the Cypriots in the southern half of the island were ethnically Greek and loose.
So I decided to take it easy. As a non-resident of the country, I had a right to go to the airport to leave the country and therefore to travel from Paphos to Larnaca where the airport is. I made a plan to travel from Paphos through Limassol, the Troodos region, and Nicosia to Larnaca, claiming my hotels as my residences for 1 to 3 days each. For this reason I had to wait to visit the Troodos region until my last week of stay in Cyprus, which was the first week of March.
After visiting the top of Mt. Olympos, a TWHS and the highest point in Cyprus at 1952 m , I took a mini bus (which is free within the Troodos regions) from the village of Troodos to the village of Kakopetria in the afternoon, and as soon as I arrived at my hotel in Kakopetria I headed to the following two churches on foot.
1. Church of Agios (St.) Nikolaos tis Steyis, Kakopetria
The 1st church I visited was open, and I was happy to be able to claim this WHS. The church seemed to be attended by a caretaker during the opening hours, but he was not following me around. There was a sign for no photographs at the church. As I entered, it was very dark, and I could hardly see anything. I thought I would have to use the flashlight of my phone to see the frescos but then thought if I was going to use the flashlight, I might as well take photos.
I found the church building architecturally quite interesting. It does not even look like it is a church within a church. The outer church seems to cover the inner church only half-way. You can see one roof over another from outside.
2. Church of Panagia (The Virgin) Podhithou, Galata
I arrived at this church in the outskirt of Galata at 4:10 pm, and a sign with the phone number of a caretaker said it closed at 4pm. When I called the phone number, there was no answer.
The next day, after visiting the Kykkos Monastery, the single most important monastery in Cyprus, by two mini buses from Kakopetria, I went back to this church before 4 pm. I called the phone number and had a caretaker open the door for me. There was a sign for no photos, and the caretaker was following me around as if I would take photos.
This church supposedly contains some of the newer paintings under the banner of Italian-Byzantine School. But the interior of the church within church was only half painted.
The caretaker's phone number is: +357 99671776. I would call this number before visiting this church. It can be opened by him until 4 pm except on Monday.
* Church of Agios Sozomenos, Galata
This church is not among the 10 WH churches but is the one of the two that were requested by State Party not to be examined in 2006. Since this church is right in the middle of the village of Galata, 1 km from Kakopetria, I asked the same caretaker above if he could open it for me, and he rather reluctantly did. His phone number was not posted on this church, so it probably means nobody really gets in this church. He did not let me take photos even though there was no sign for no photographs. This church is not very well taken care of, and it was also possible to take photos of the paintings on the outer wall of the inner church through the holes/cracks of the outer church, which I did after the caretaker locked the door and left.
On the third day in the Troodos region my friend, Vasilis, from Nicosia drove out to Kakopetria to hang out with me. I met Vasilis at the Great Lavra of Mt. Athos in 2010, and we kept in touch. He had come out to Paphos a few weeks before, which was the first time I saw him in 11 years. He did the mandatory military service for 2 years for Cyprus in the Troodos region, so he was very much familiar with this region. I wanted to visit Panagia tis Asinou in Nikitari that day, but when Vasilis called the church at about 2 pm, it turned out that the caretaker had left the church due to no visitors earlier on the day. So instead we decided to go visit the following 3 churches.
3. Church of Archangelos Michael (Archangel Michael), Pedoulas
This small church is supposed to have been restored and to contain some of the best paintings among the 10 churches, but I was surprised that the door was kept open without any attendants around. Indeed, when I first saw the small brick structure with an open door, I thought it was a public (human) toilet, not even a stable. It contained a large portrait of Archangel Michael as well as a very unusual painting of completely naked Jesus being baptized by John at River Jordan.
Vasilis mentioned that when he was a child, he used to come to this village of Pedoulas with his parents for a week-long summer getaway every year, so we walked around the village a little.
4. Church of Panagia tou Moutoulla, Moutoulla
By the time we arrived after 4 pm, it was closed. This is supposed to be the oldest of the 10 churches. Despite that, it was not taken care of so well, and I was able to take some photos of the paintings on the outer wall of the inner church through the wall of the outer church, on which there was no sign for no photos.
The UNESCO material says, "They also contain a wealth of dated inscriptions, an uncommon feature in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Middle Ages, which makes them particularly important for recording the chronology of Byzantine painting." The photo I post here from this church seems to contain such a dated inscription. But Vasilis said he couldn't read the Byzantine Greek medieval alphabet on this photo.
5. Monastery of Agios Ionannis (John) Lambadhistis, Kalopangiotis
This was also closed. It is the only monastery among the 10 churches and consists of several buildings, one of which is now a museum.
So 2 of the 3 churches we visited that afternoon were unfortunately closed, but this WHS is also inscribed under Criterion 6, which is about the Byzantine vernacular architecture of the simple church buildings. I quite enjoyed this aspect. It was about discovering yet another style of Christian church.
I plan to go back to Cyprus perhaps for another 3 months in the near future, so I would visit some more of these rustic churches. Almost all the 10 churches, even Panagia tis Asinou in Nikitari, are reachable by bus if you are willing to walk for a few kilometers each in the last legs.
Vasilis' invitation to a socially-distanced dinner at his parents' house in Nicosia completed that day for me.
A day before the departure from the Larnaca airport I also visited the Hala Sultan Tekke and the Larnaca Salt Lake Complex TWHS and the Church of Panagia Aggeloktisti TWHS.
Read more from Tsunami here.
Preparing for our trip to Cyprus, we noticed that very little practical information (opening hours, ...) can be found about the painted churches, so maybe the below is useful for future visitors. Note that we visited all 10 churches mid March, so potentially the opening hours may be different in other months/seasons.
As mentioned in previous reviews, it's best to use GPS coordinates to find the churches - they are indicated below. Unlike Clyde, we never felt we needed a 4x4 vehicle but the difference might be that we used the 'avoid unpaved roads' option on our GPS.
We explored the Troodos mountains for 2 days. Visiting all 10 churches in one day could maybe be possible since we departed from Nicosia and also visited other sites (Kykkos, Fikardou, ...), but this will probably be rushed.
We particularly liked the churches located outside of a village (e.g. the ones in Nikitari and Platanistasa), but they are all worth a visit.
1. Nikitari: 35°02'45.4"N 32°58'24.5"E, open when we visited it on a Monday at 10 AM.
2. Lagoudera: 34°57'55.7"N 33°00'25.1"E, open when we visited it on a Monday at 10.45 AM.
3. Platanistasa: 34°58'44.8"N 33°02'48.0"E, closed when we visited it on a Monday at 11.30 AM. Coming from Lagoudera, a sign at a T-junction (right to Platanistasa, left to the church) indicates that the key can be picked up in Platanistasa. We did not do this taking into account that this would take about 30-45 minutes (back and forth) and that we were low on fuel [note that there are not a lot of petrol stations in the Troodos mountains].
4. Palaichori: 34°55'18.7"N 33°05'41.9"E, open when we visited it on a Monday at 12.15 AM. However, note that the church is normally closed on a Monday but we were lucky that other tourists called the caretaker. This person also gave us a 10-15 minute explanation about the church, the paintings, ... which was certainly added value.
5. Pelendri: 34°53'35.4"N 32°57'58.8"E, closed when we visited it on a Monday at 14.45 PM and no coordinates of the person with the key.
6. Galata: 35°00'12.5"N 32°53'47.7"E, closed when we visited it on a Tuesday at 9 AM. On the door is a telephone number which can be called as from 9 AM but when we tried this at 9 AM and again at 9.15 AM there was no answer.
7. Kakopetria: 34°58'39.8"N 32°53'20.1"E, open when we visited it on a Tuesday at 9.30 AM.
8. Pedoulas: 34°58'03.4"N 32°49'52.8"E, open when we visited it on a Tuesday at 10.30 AM.
9. Moutoulla: 34°58'56.8"N 32°49'26.5"E, closed when we visited it on a Tuesday at 10.45 AM and no coordinates of the person with the key.
10. Kalopanagiotis: 34°59'33.4"N 32°49'48.4"E, open when we visited it on a Tuesday at 11 AM.
Finally, note that in most churches taking pictures inside is not allowed. However, the caretaker at Palaichori did not mind and in Pedoulas there was no caretaker at all.
I visited this WHS in February 2016. It is made up of a series of 10 or 12 painted churches high in the Troodos region of Cyprus. The official map indicator offered by UNESCO gives 12 GPS coordinates while the description only mentions 10. Since I had enough time I visited all the churches even though the 'latest' additions were closed for restoration. I'd recommend renting a car and most importantly a GPS navigator. I brought my GPS along with all the saved coordinates and still visiting some of the churches surely wasn't easy. If possible, I'd suggest to approach the Troodos region coming from the capital Nicosia instead of what I did, i.e. crossing inland from Limassol. The route is much more scenic on the latter option, however you'd be better off on a 4x4 vehicle to be on the safe side as you'd be able to venture down the several tractor trails or minor roads to get to all the churches in a sort of loop. I managed with a non-4x4 compact vehicle but there were several moments when I thanked my lucky stars that I managed to do this without damaging the car or worse getting hurt. I have to say that I really enjoy these kind of WHS (a series of less-known sites). Ihe Troodos region reminded me of the Val de Boi Churches in Catalunya. In my opinion the interior of the painted churches of Troodos is their definite highlight and why they have OUV, even though their exterior is quite unique too albeit simple at the same time. My favourite interiors were in Agios Ioannis Lambadistes, Panagia Phorviotissa Asinou, Panagia tou Arakos and Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis. These had incredible colours and detail and were in very good condition overall. When churches were closed, I simply asked around in a cafeteria or shop and immediately the friendly locals would call the keyholder! It was really quite an experience and goes to show how laid back life still is in the Troodos region. You won't be able to visit them all if you're in a hurry and you won't enjoy your visit if you're in a rush. I spent 2 full days exploring and it was really worthwhile. Visiting solo in the low season meant that I could easily take several photos and enjoy the quiet environs practically alone. Visiting the churches was completely free even though I bought quite a lot of interesting books and postcards in most of them. My favourite church exterior was that of Panagia Phorviotissa Asinou, which is the most accessible, and in front of which there is a marble Unesco plaque. Almost all the other sites have an individual plastic/metal Unesco sign attached and I'll surely make a photo collage of them all in my free time. The 2 painted churches (+ another non-inscribed one) in Galata offer a great place to stop to eat and to enjoy exploring a Troodos village. Even though the weather was sunny and quite hot at daytime (in February!), the roads close to Mount Olympus (1,952m) and the mountain peaks were covered with melting snow so you should keep this in mind if you visit in December/January. Overall, I really think this is the best WHS in Cyprus and one of the best 'minor/unkwnown' WHS the list has on offer.
Over two days I managed to visit all ten of the listed painted churches. This involved driving through magnificent autumn scenery, along steep winding roads, wel;l worth the effort. Of the 10 churches:
1 was closed for restoration (Pelendria)
2 were unrestored but open to visitors (Moutouilas and Kakopetria)
2 were restored but closed (Palaichori and Platanistasa)
5 were restored and open to visitors (Galata, Pedoulas, Lagoudera, Nikitari and St John's Monastery).
Of the ten churches only Nikiteri and Lagoudera rated 'spectacular' frescoes, while others were damaged or patchy.
Of all the Troodos churches, I've only been to the only one easily accessible by public transport from Nikosia - the one in Galata. We took the effort to go there from Famagusta in Northern Cyprus and were very much disappointed. The paintings were nice but nothing out of the ordinary. I have seen much more beautiful ones even in Nicosia. Only the paintings in the apsis survived (and one other fragment) which was also a bad surprise as I imagined them to cover the entire church (again like in Nicosia). The church was badly lit (in order to preserve the frescoes) and the apsis which is the only interesting section of the church was not accessible to anyone but the local priest. So even in the dusky inner room of the church we still had to admire the paintings through a wall! A (partial) compensation for this unrewarding visit was the nearby charming village of Kakopetria with its cubbled streets. I sure hope the rest of the Troodos churches are better!
I visited the Metamorphosis Church (one of the inscribed churches) in the mountains. The most interesting experience for me was knocking on a few doors near the church to finally get the "keeper of the key" to open the church for us. And the beautiful frescos in the church was worth all the effort. No exception as well to the beautiful location the church was situated and the friendly people we met on the way up the mountains. Definitely worth a visit!
Far away, deep in the heart of Cyprus, a number of very old and special churches can be found. They are like hidden treasures, and also in the age of paved roads and cars, it takes some stamina to visit them.
Of the 9 enlisted churches, I visited 3: Panagia tou Asinou, Panagia tou Araka and Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis. Although they won their inclusion in the list mainly because of their interiors, I fell for their simple outside beauty. Often "just" a robust stone building, but in the best natural settings you can think of.
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2006 Requested by State Party to not be examined
Extension "Church of Agios Sozomenos, Galata and Church of Agios Mamas, Louvaras (Extension to the “Painted Churches in the Troodos Region”) (Cyprus)" withdrawn
To include the Church of Ayia Sotira (Trans-figuration of the Savior) in Palaichori
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