In the Troödos
On a Mediterranean island, a mountain world of cultural heritage (and snow)
Cyprus may be an island, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have geographical variety. In the span of an hour, one can drive from the beach to the snowy peaks of the Troödos mountain range.
Perhaps named for the three ancient roads (τρία οδός / tria odos) that led to the central Troödos village, these mountains—of the same ophiolite morphology found in the Sierra Nevada range in California—dominate the center of the island.
In fact, Cyprus was born of two mountain ranges. The spectacular spine of the sharp, limestone Pentadactylos range in the north of the island rose about 250 million years ago. The Troödos followed, 92 million years ago. The land in between, the Mesaoria plain (sandstone), which once formed primordial seafloor, rose with it. Thus the island was born of the sea just like Aphrodite herself.
Today, the Troödos mountains contain a treasure trove of activities and cultural heritage, filled with all the contradictions of a hyper-militarized, divided island. The most high-profile example of this might be Mount Olympus, where a janky downhill ski resort runs for a couple of months (snow-permitting), and rental skis, boots, poles and lift tickets can be acquired for a mere 30 euros—and without a formal waiver.
Is this peak the home of the twelve Olympian gods, you ask? Well, the more famous Mount Olympus in Northern Greece might be considered the more likely “prime” seat of the gods. However, Ares and Athena might still be up on Cypriot Olympus. Here, the true summit of the peak is cordoned off and occupied by a British military listening station, where radio antennae analyze chatter from the Middle East.
If skiing isn’t your game, within the mountains you can also find the UNESCO World Heritage-certified Painted Churches of the Troödos, a collection of ten mountain churches of Byzantine origins. (The Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire was based in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), and survived the Western Roman Empire’s collapse in 476 CE, with its final collapse in 1453 CE).
Though the exteriors of these churches might seem modest, their interiors feature astounding frescoes dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries CE, depicting icon-style portraits of Christian scenes and local Orthodox saints.
The Church of the Panayia of Asinou is but one example of the glories of Byzantine art. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, if you walk inside this church, you can observe the vivid colors of the frescoes. In medieval times, when few could read or understand the ancient Greek spoken by the priests, these comic-book style panels animated the major scenes and stories of Orthodox Christianity. They were a valuable teaching tool for the church to carry on its stories and traditions.
These churches reveal a lost world of Byzantine culture and art that often goes under-appreciated in our accounting of the period in this region between the rise of Islam in the 7th century CE and the Crusades in the 11th century.
In relation to these churches, nestled within the mountains are several monasteries of the Orthodox faith, which I’ll discuss in a future post of The Cyprus Files.
Surrounded by the romantic peaks of the Troödos, in such a landscape of wonder, it is possible to forget you are on an island at all.
Panagos, P., Jones, A., Bosco, C., Senthil Kumar P.S. European digital archive on soil maps (EuDASM): preserving important soil data for public free access. International Journal of Digital Earth (2011), 4 (5), pp. 434-443. DOI:10.1080/17538947.2011.596580
This is the eleventh 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!