A museum in the former monastery of Ayia Napa in Cyprus


Amidst the bustling mass tourism, the former Venetian Monastery of Ayia Napa in Cyprus's Famagusta district stands defiant against the passage of time. Constructed with rusticated ashlar masonry, it is one of the few remaining Renaissance buildings that attest to the enduring influence of the Serenissima and the Ottoman presence on the island.

The building we see today dates back to the 16th century when Cyprus was under Venetian rule. It is being renovated to become a museum that will showcase artefacts from its long history. This project is a collaboration between Ca' Foscari University of Venice, the Freie Universität Berlin, and the Diocese of Famagusta.

The museum created in the former monastery of Ayia Napa in Cyprus is an interdisciplinary project funded by the European Union and the Cyprus government. The Diocese of Famagusta, the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, and the Municipality of Ayia Napa also support the project.

The monastery near Famagusta was founded in 1530 and has a long history. Its name means 'wooded valley' because the south-eastern coast of Famagusta was known for its rich vegetation, an idyllic forest full of natural springs. It features a cave church dating back to the Byzantine period, which displays a famous icon of the Virgin Mary and a Latin chapel. Over the years, it was a place of worship visited by Orthodox and Catholic pilgrims. Later, it was used exclusively as an Orthodox monastery, and in the 20th century, it functioned as an ecumenical church centre.

The Ayia Napa project is led for Ca' Foscari by Professor Lorenzo Calvelli and aims to establish a museum within the rooms of the former monastery. The goal is to bring history to life by showcasing archaeological discoveries, local artefacts, elements of the monastery's architecture, and a valuable collection of (post-)Byzantine icons from the northern part of Cyprus, which has been occupied by the Turkish army since 1974. This museum project seeks to share the monastery's history and highlight the impact of interreligious relations on Cyprus's culture.

“The history of Cyprus is often seen as a series of conflicts and dominations,” says Lorenzo Calvelli, “but the island has actually been a meeting point for different cultures for thousands of years. The monastery of Ayia Napa is a special place that will be revitalized through international collaboration between various cultural and research institutions. Our work focuses on the relationship between the monastery and its surroundings to understand how natural resources have contributed to the development of an extraordinary architectural complex in a unique region of Cyprus. In ancient times, Ayia Napa was a sparsely populated area; now, it is at the heart of Mediterranean mass tourism. Our goal is to promote cultural tourism and help both local communities and external visitors gain a better understanding of the history of this fascinating monument.”

We have very few documentary sources on the monastery, including a few descriptions by German and Italian pilgrims who had visited it, but many questions still remain unanswered, such as which monastic order occupied it, although it was certainly founded as a Catholic monastery. After the taking of Famagusta and the famous episode of the torture of Marcantonio Bragadin, many Catholic churches and this monastery too became Orthodox following the Ottoman conquest of the island.

The museum project is connected to detailed research, making use of historical and epigraphic studies. One of the museum's highlights will be a recreation in stone of a lost inscription. This inscription was documented by an English traveller in the 18th century and commemorated three individuals from Venetian Famagusta, who funded the construction of a 16th-century church in honour of the Virgin Mary. Once the museum is finished, the project will continue as a research and education initiative, in partnership with Freie Universität Berlin, the Academy of St. Epiphanios, and Ca' Foscari University of Venice.

Prof. Brigitta Schrade, project leader and lecturer in Byzantine Art History at Freie Universität Berlin, says: "Courses on Byzantine art and the collaboration between Byzantine Studies at Freie Universität Berlin and the Berlin Museums have resulted in a project that has been enriching professionally-oriented teaching and research at FU Berlin since 2011: the establishment of a museum in the former monastery of Ayia Napa on Cyprus. After completion of the museum, the project will be continued as a research, teaching and learning project in cooperation with the Academy of St. Epiphanios and the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.”

His Eminence Basil, Metropolitan Bishop of Constantia-Famagusta, declares:"The monastery of Ayia Napa is a monument of great historical significance. Its transformation into a museum, as well as an academic and cultural institution through the activities of the “Saint Epiphanios” Cultural Academy and Research Centre, will elevate the monastery's status as a key destination.

This initiative will provide educational benefits for local schools, expand learning opportunities, enrich the community, and draw visitors from all over Cyprus. Additionally, given its location in Ayia Napa, the monastery will attract many international tourists, thereby further promoting Cyprus’s rich history, religious traditions, and culture on a global scale. Furthermore, this initiative aligns with European cultural policy, which emphasises the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage and facilitates cultural exchange."