Lapithos - where the green mountains meet the blue sea
Situated west of Kyrenia, Lapta reflects its past glory into its role as one of the jewels in the crown of North Cyprus's tourism industry with its abundance of historical sites, natural beauty, hotels, restaurants and beautifully restored buildings.
Lapta lies on the narrow strip of land that stretches from east to west between the Five Finger Mountains Range and the sea, and can be described both as a mountain village and as a coastal town.
Lapta and its surroundings provide some of the most beautiful scenery on the island. Perched on the northern slopes on the Five-Finger Mountains, facing down towards the Mediterranean, this rather large village has been blessed with such pure water and fresh air that locally produced fruit, vegetables and meat cannot help but be delicious.
The relative largeness of Lapta, along with its rich historical heritage, natural beauty and range of social facilities, makes Lapta one of the livelier towns in North Cyprus. The area is highly popular with the English, Germans and other nationalities, who not only come to stay in the many hotels, but also choose to buy houses and settle there.
Symbol of wealth and plenty
As it was in centuries gone by, Lapta and its surrounding villages are still a symbol of wealth. There are 28 hotels and holiday villages along with 26 bars and restaurants. The neighbouring village of Alsancak hosts a further 13 holiday establishments and 25 bars and restaurants. The Lapta area offers a wide selection of accommodation types, ranging from 5 star to more humble premises. During the summer, the area is bursting with life, tripling the population from 6,000 to around 18,000.
Lapta is famous for its mountain springs, the most renown being those at Baþpýnar, a place of great natural beauty and the purest water. While other sources have long-since dried up, the waters at Baspmar continue to gush out of the mountainside at an altitude of 850 feet.
Lapta and its sister village of Karava were also once the site of some 17 flour mille and gardens producing citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and tangerines along with other fruits such as
pomegranates, figs, apricots and nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, all benefiting from the abundance of water in the area. The lush flora, made possible by this rich source of water, still exists today.
The abundant water supply also enabled tree planting the in the mountains around the village, resulting in a strong tradition of carpentry. The quintessential Cypriot-style wooden chests, still produced in Lapta, are famous throughout the island and have long been a standard feature in houses.
As a result of Lapta's natural richness and geographical location, the area has been a settlement of various shapes and forms since the Copper Age, and at various times in its history Lapta was a kingdom in its own right. Remains have been found in Lapta and Alsancak dating back to the Bronze Age, along with numerous tombs. The findings suggest that the Bronze Age inhabitants of the Lapta area were highly developed and industrious.
It is also known that the Mycenaeans colonised Cyprus in the 13th Century BC, transforming Lapta into a city. The city, ruled by a king named Praxander, was established on the coast in a place known as Lambousa and is said to have been an important centre of civilization. During the 4th Centruy BC Lapta is said to have been once of the leading 9 cities of Cyprus. Then known as Lapithos, the city was ruled by Peisistratos who is said to have joined Alexander the Great on his excursions into Asia. After Alexander's death it is said that Ptolemy, ruler of Egypt arrested and deposed the next in line to the monarchy, Praxippos, and handed the throne to a Phoenician family. The Ptolemy regime kept sovereignty right up until Romans annexed Cyprus to their Empire in 58 BC.
City of treasure
Lapta is also referred to as the "City of Treasure". During the Byzantine era, which lasted from 395 to 1191, Lapta grew and thrived to such an extent that it began to be known as Lambousa, a word meaning 'brilliant light'. Lambousa's wealth was not only renown in Cyprus, but also in the lands surrounding Cyprus. Pirates too were well aware of what riches could be captured from the city. In 653 a band of pirates, lead by Arab Commander Abu Awar, sacked the city. During the occupation of the city, it was agreed with the attackers that in return for their wealth the citizens of the town would be allowed to leave the city under the protection of Abu Awar's men. Of course, the citizens left hoping that one day they would return to their beloved city. Wisely, having given part of their great wealth to the Arab pirates, they then proceeded to secrete the remainder of their wealth in the walls and under the floors of their homes.
300 years passed before the Arab pirates finally left Cyprus in peace. Cyprus returned to Byzantine rule and it was possible for the descendents of the displaced citizens to return to Lambousa. Sadly for them, their hidden treasure was never recovered. The layout of the city had also been so much altered that the maps the returnees had brought with them were rendered useless. This story has been passed down by word of mouth through the ages and has attracted innumerable bounty hunters to the ruins of Lambousa.
It was hundreds of years later that any of the so-called Lambousa Treasure was unearthed by two separate groups of archaeologists. The first discovery took place in the late 19th century and the unearthed reliefs, decorative silver vases, pots and spoons with animal motifs on their rims that were found are today on display at the British Museum. Each of these exhibits are marked with the Byzantium Imperial stamp suggesting that they were brought to Lapta from the Byzantine capital, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul).
The second find took place in 1902 in Karava. Two stonemasons named Kostis Karilios and Kostis Berberi were at work extracting stones from a house at the ruins of Lambousa. Under the floor of the house they discovered an urn packed full of gold jewellery. Two days later they discovered, hidden in a secret compartment in one of the walls, a collection of silver plates and platters. The two stonemasons did not surrender their find to the British authorities in charge of the island at the time, but smuggled many of them to Paris. Luckily the men's plan was foiled and some of the treasure was returned to Cyprus to be displayed at the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia. Much of the treasure that was not returned later emerged in museums in Washington and New York.
The Lambousa Treasure is a reflection of the high standard of early Byzantine art during the 6th and 7th centuries and is indicative of the Lapta's wealth and level of social development at the time.
Lapta (Lapithos) - summarized
The sprawling, diffuse hill village, 10 km west of Kyrenia, is spread out over half a dozen levels. A number of springs from the mountain flow noisily out along irrigation channels to water the surrounding gardens and groves of citrus and olive. There are half a dozen attractive whitewashed churched scattered throughout the village, though none of them dates from before the 18th century.
The village itself is much older, founded by refugees from Lambousa seeking safety in the high ground from pirate raids. Lapithos was the seat of an Orthodox bishopric, until it was suppressed by the Catholic Crusader state in the 13th century.
Lapta also contains one of the island's most handsome stone mosques, whose classical Ottoman silhouette of minaret, square prayer hall, hexagonal drum and dome can be seen in Dumlupinar street. The cliff face by the town hall is enlivened by a waterfall fed by a spring at the head of the valley. A short but still arduous walk begins along a back road, at town hall level, and passes below the old Ayios Varvara church on its way to the smaller village of Karshiyaka, 4 km to the west. A dirt track to the left of Karshiyaka café twists uphill to give an approach for the climb of the summit of Kornos, a distinctive 946m high summit, on the western edge of the Gothic (Kyrenia) Range.