“ Sightseeing Type: Churches / Temples / Address: Kiti / Larnaka / Cyprus „
It never ceases to amaze me how often we take things under our noses for granted. For years, I have been holidaying in the same part of Cyprus and have travelled the length and breadth of the country to explore its rich and varied architectural treasures. However, the fine medieval church of Panagia Angeloktisti in the unassuming town of Kiti - about 3km from my father-in-law's summer house - somehow escaped my attentions until this summer, when I made a concerted effort to visit.
The main part of Panagia Angeloktisti, which literally means "Our Lady built by the angels" in Greek, dates from the 11th century and still serves as a working church for the busy village. During our visit, locals from various walks of life - an old lady dressed head to toe in black, a construction worker from the building site down the road and a dentist from across the street taking a break from drilling teeth - all stopped in to offer up a quick prayer and kiss an icon or two. It's nice to see such a venerable old building still in active use.
The church was built on and around the remains of a 6th century Christian basilica, the apse of which - and the fabulous mosaic of the Virgin Mary which serves as its stunning centrepiece - still survive today. Intriguingly, the mosaic was only "discovered" in 1952 during renovations. The original construction has clearly been added to and sympathetically restored in parts, and the standard is such that you can hardly differentiate between the ancient and the relatively new.
EXTERIOR & GROUNDS
The large walled grounds around the church are very well-maintained, with shrubs and flower beds scenting the air with their colourful blossoms. There are a few mature old trees on the site with massive trunks, around which benches have been strategically placed - providing a place to rest, people watch and admire the exterior of the church. It is quite peaceful as there is very little road traffic around the site. The only appreciable noise is the insistent chatter of the innumerable small birds perching in the trees.
To the left of the main entrance is a kiosk of primarily stone construction that blends unobtrusively into the rest of the site. The toilets are located behind it, but we didn't use them on our short visit, so can't really comment. The kiosk offers coffees, other appropriate liquid refreshment (i.e. no beer), snacks, sweets, post cards and guide books. The proper history of the church, written by a local historian, is available here for 5 Euros. I casually flicked through it, and was impressed by the colour plates of the main mosaic and altar curtain.
The main entrance leads inside a large porch, obviously added later, with the small door into the church proper directly in front of you. You are greeted with a silver stand containing a platter of fresh (and blessed) bread, a bowl of holy water, and a sand filled stand for lighting the pencil thin brown candles provided. The interior of the vaulted stone porch is filled with icons in various states of repair mainly dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. They are helpfully labelled in both Greek and English and include a panoply of saints, angels and martyrs.
Entering the dimly-lit church proper, you are immediately welcomed by the heady, lingering scent of incense, which seems embedded into the very fabric of the building. The interior is fairly simple and basic, which makes the stunning and lavishly decorated wooden altar "curtain" that much more impressive. It is adorned with biblical scenes and saints in vivid colours and gold paint and is worthy of closer and lingering inspection.
Beyond the "curtain" is the stunning 6th century mosaic of "Hagia Maria" flanked two angels. It is one of the finest examples of this type of mosaic and, apparently, one of very few in the world from this time period. Frustratingly, you can only view it through the altar gate and I was disappointed that I couldn't get a closer look. Only the upper half - within the dome of the apse - survives intact. Sadly, the wall below is fractured and large parts of the much larger original mosaic are missing.
The altar "curtain" and the mosaic are clearly the focal point, although he rest of the church is worth having a wander around. There is an ornate finely carved pulpit of heavy, dark wood built into the wall opposite the main door, as well as the remnants of old paintings and friezes (most are incomplete) along the walls and under the main cupola. There is also a balcony, accessible from stairs on the left hand side wall, which offers a great overview of this compact church from above.
Kiti is about 12km to the west of Larnaka Town. Follow signs for the airport, and continue straight over the airport roundabout until you hit a T-junction. Kiti and the church (on brown "heritage site" signs) are clearly signposted from there. There is a large car park across the road. It should take you no more than 30 minutes from downtown Larnaka.
VISITING HOURS & OTHER USEFUL INFO
The church is open from 8am to Noon, and then 2pm to 4pm daily. The only exception is Sunday, when it opens at the later time of 9:30am. You are not allowed to take any photos or video inside the church itself. As is the custom in most Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries, visitors - men and women alike - should cover their shoulders and dress decently. Although there is no one around to enforce this, and you could probably get away with it, it is still respectful to do so. There is no admission fee, however, you are encouraged to make a donation by lighting a candle and dropping a Euro or two into the collection box.
Disappointingly, there are no leaflets or pamphlets available giving even the briefest of overviews, but I have found this typical of similar sites in Cyprus. You are left much to your own devices (or the expensive guide book) to get background history. Unlike some other sites we visited, there is no knowledgeable priest in evidence on-site either. The old gent who mans the kiosk has very little English and pointed to the guide book when I asked him a few simple questions. I felt funny about intruding into the quiet time of the locals who popped in, but was lucky (and grateful) to the visiting dentist, who, obviously pegging us for tourists, made some polite conversation and offered a few words on some of the highlights of the church.
You could probably cover the interior and exterior in less than half an hour, so it may be worth combining it with a visit to the un-manned medieval Venetian watchtower along the Meneou to Pervolia coast road a few kilometres away, and the Hala Sultan Tekke (an important Muslim site quite close to the airport on the way back in to Larnaka) - especially if you are travelling from somewhere other than Larnaka. There are also some excellent beaches and taverna's around 5km away at Faros and Pervolia if you fancy a bit of a swim and/or lunch.
Panagia Angeloktisti is an excellent, intact and working example of an 11th century church. The architecture alone is worthy of a look, but it is the 6th century mosaic that truly makes the diversion to Kiti worthwhile. Recommended.
© Hishyeness 2009
An 11th century church