In the Karpas
The mysteries of the long tip of the island
There are legends about this place. Karpas, or Karpassia—the long panhandle of the island of Cyprus—is also its most remote locale. Time slows down. You can forget when and where you are.
To get to Karpas, you have to drive. It’s not that far in terms of kilometers, but thanks to the poor quality of the roads—which helps ensure the region’s conservation—it can take as many as three hours to arrive at the end of the peninsula from the capital of Nicosia.
The entry to the furthest section is a town called Rizokarpaso (in Greek), or Dipkarpaz (in Turkish—literally, Tip-Karpas). Despite the legacy of the 1974 Turkish invasion and the ensuing quasi-permanent de facto division of the island, the bicommunal village is still home to members of both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. Along the village’s main street, cafés dedicated to each respective community stand across from each other.
While in much of Cyprus, thanks to the island’s topography (and the Green Line that cuts across the island) you can pretend you’re on a much bigger landmass, in Karpas that illusion falters. At a certain point you’re on a road hemmed in by mountains, but as the hills fade away, you can see water on either side.
The area forms a sort of an odd microclimate. It’s just this narrow strip of land, a miniature valley, and you feel that you are on the edge of… something. You know there’s land to the East, but it also feels like there could also be nothing on the other side. This is the end, at least when it comes to Cyprus.
Apostolos Andreas Monastery
Many of the legends about Karpas derive from Apostolos Andreas Monastery, an extremely important holy site for the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1191 CE, it was at the monastery that the Byzantine ruler Isaac Komnenos surrendered to Richard the Lionheart, chased all the way to the tip of the island.
There are also countless stories about the supernatural happenings at Saint Andrew’s monastery. Here are three, excerpted from Rupert Gunnis’ classic travel guide, Historic Cyprus, later published by Turkish Cypriot bookstore Rüstem Kitabevi.
“Indeed, the writer himself knows of a case of a child who had always been completely blind, and whose sight was restored as soon as he had crossed the threshold of the church. But St. Andrew is a jealous saint. Once a Turk was bringing his blind child, and had promised a great present to Saint Andrew if he would but cure his son. As soon as the child came within sight of the church he was able to see. The Turk at once turned back, but hardly had they passed the monastic boundary when the child was blind, and no amount of prayers or gifts could make St. Andrew relent.” —Rupert Gunnis, Historic Cyprus, p. 169
Saint Andrew is apparently quite protective of his monastery. According to another legend:
“Not so long ago thieves from a neighboring village broke into the church and opened the safe. As soon as they took the money out, the doors of the church disappeared, and they were hemmed in by blank walls. Trembling, they returned the money, and at once the doors appeared and the thieves fled, never to rob or steal again.” —Rupert Gunnis, Historic Cyprus, p. 169.
But Saint Andrew, it seems, would also protect his believers:
“When the writer was there in 1935 there was a boy who was going to work for two years without fee or remuneration of any sort at all. He had been motoring, and while overtaking another car on a narrow road with a steep cliff below had gone too near the edge, and had felt the car turning over. In the actual moment of danger he prayed to the saint, and though the car overturned and fell to the bottom of the cliff the boy was unhurt.” —Rupert Gunnis, Historic Cyprus, pp. 169-170.
More recently, too. A friend of mine told me she visited Apostolos Andreas Monastery with a tour group. On their approach, the weather was stormy, the sky glowering overhead, and rain drumming the bus’s glass. But as soon as their buses pulled into the monastery’s parking lot, the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and light beamed down on them.
After the events of the 1974 Turkish invasion and the monastery’s abandonment, the monastery fell into severe disrepair. From 2014 to 2016, restoration work was undertaken by the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage to repair the monastery—and given the monastery’s alleged spiritual resonance, it certainly sounds like good karma to me.
At Golden Beach, located near the edge of the island, another friend of mine described the setting as evocative of the beach in the 1997 film, Contact. That film, based on the Carl Sagan book of the same name, features a sequence when Jodie Foster has a supernatural experience while being strapped into a machine that may or may not allow her to travel through an intergalactic wormhole. In that experience, she sits on a beach and speaks to a being who adopts the guise of her late father.
When I visited the beach, there were only about fifteen people scattered across the sands. And then, out of nowhere, two riders on horseback appeared. One of them rode bareback, without saddle or boots, and he took his horse to a full gallop. Then he steered the horse into the sea. Meanwhile, a drone filming the riders hovered overhead. It was like a dream.
But horses aren’t the only animals to be found in the Karpas. The region is most famous for its wild donkeys. After the 1974 invasion, many Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots abandoned their homesteads all over the island. And the donkeys were suddenly free.
Signs in Karpas warn drivers about the presence of these “feral donkeys.” In this region, the donkeys will stand outside your car window and stick their head into your car, so you’d better have carrots at the ready!
Whether you choose to believe in the legends or not, Karpas/Karpassia is a magical place, its wonder heightened by its remoteness, its difficulty in visiting.
As I make my preparations to leave the island, I will cherish my memories of visiting what may be Cyprus’s most sublime locale.
This is the twenty-second post in The Cyprus Files, a limited-run newsletter series from The Usonian chronicling my Fulbright experiences in Cyprus. You can read all the posts in The Cyprus Files here. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss a (free) dispatch from the island of Aphrodite!