Lapithos (Λάπηθος ) is a town of Kyrenia District on the northern coast of Cyprus, which was a kingdom in ancienty. According to Strabo, the settlement was founded by Spartans. In Assyrian inscriptions, Lapithos is mentioned as one of the eleven Cypriot kingdoms. During the Persian rule, Lapithos was settled by Phoenicians. The last independent king Praxippos was subdued by Ptolemy I in 312 BC.
Since 1974, after the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, the town remains occupied by Turkish Army. The Turkish invasion of 20 July 1974 opened the door of Lapithos back to them while their Greek co-villagers were forced out of their homes and property. Four thousand Lapithiotes became refugees having gone through the curse of war: fighter bombardments, broadsides fired from warships on the coast and murderous fire of invading Attila soldiers.
The piratical invading warships moored off Kerynia, opposite Lapithos. They murdered, raped, took prisoners and displaced the Lapithiotes all over Cyprus. Since then the bleeding soil of Lapithos has not bloomed any scenting lemon blossom … Ninety-one murdered and missing Lapithiotes are begging for vindication. The blood of the deceased makes the soil moan. The voices of the murdered and missing persons will not let anyone live in peace on the Land of Lapithos unless the rightful owners of this land are allowed back. Unless Justice and Freedom prevails. Since then it remains under Turkish occupation.
Patriarch Gregory II of Constantinople was born in Lapithos.
Lapithos, Lambousa, Imeroessa, Lapithea. Has been making a journey in history for thousands years now. ‘Construction of the Laconians and of Praxandros’says Strabo. Alexander from Ephesus, the ancient philosopher called it Imeroessa that is attractive, passion-arousing.
The archaeologists refer to Lapithos as colony of the Laconians, built after the Trojan War (circa 1000 BC) by Praxandros its first king. However, findings from excavations i.e. pots and pottery wheels date back its existence as early as 3000 BC. Diodoros of Sicily refers to Lapithos as one of the nine Cypriot Kingdoms circa the 4th century BC.
Peisistratos, king of Lapithos, with his flotilla, together with Nicocreon of Salamis and Stasanor of Curium, came to the aid of Alexander the Great, helping him to capture Tyros in Phoenicia. For this reason Alexander, the victorious army commander, declared Cyprus free from the Persians. The last king of Lapithos was Praxippos.
The Roman, Byzantine and Luisignan Period
During the period of the Roman Empire, Lapithos had more than 10,000 inhabitants. It formed one of the four districts of Cyprus. From ancient times Lapithos became a centre for the processing of copper and more importantly an earthenware centre.
During the proto-Christian period (25 BC -250 A.D.) Lapithos experienced a great commercial drive because of the plethora of its produce, but also because of its port and its shipyard. During this period Lapithos was given the name Lambousa (Shining) may be because of its shining wealth or because of its shining beauty and cleanliness or because of its lighthouse, which shed shining light to the surrounding region.
During the first years of Christendom the apostles Paul, Barnabas and Mark passed by Lapithos coming from Tarsus. According to Apostle Barnabas, Lapithos had walls. He cites that during his second tour with Apostle Mark, they stayed outside the walls because they were not given access to the city. During the Byzantine period, Lapithos enjoyed great prosperity in commerce as well as in riches, art and development. Bishop of Lapithos Theodotos (circa 314-324 A.D.) died a martyr in Kyrenia while Bishop Didymos was represented at the 4th Ecumenical Synod (451 A.D.) by Saint Evlalios or Evlampios; a chapel dedicated to who can be found near the monastery of Acheiropoiitos.
Lapithos was heavily inflicted by the Arab incursions. The population often had to flee and take refuge in the interior. Upon the liberation of Cyprus from the Arabs after the victorious expedition of Nicephorus Phocas, the Byzantine Emperor - 965 A.D. - Lapithos’s refugees returned to their town to rebuild it in a new location, not by the sea, but at the foot of mountain Pentadhaktylos.
During the Lusignan period Lapithos boasted a greater population than Limassol or Famagusta or Pafos. It was a feud known under the name Le field de la Pison, believed to be a Latin paraphrase of Lapithos. It is known that a few years before the Ottoman Turkish conquest of Cyprus (1571) 3000 troops were stationed at Lapithos under the command of Zanetto Dandolo, who fell during the defence of Nicosia.
The Ottoman Period
During the Turkish occupation (1571-1878) the Ottoman Turks seized a great amount of landed property owned by Greeks. In addition two Greek Orthodox churches were converted into mosques. In 1780 a section of Lapithos detached to form a new village, Karavas.
During the Greek War of Independence on 18-21 June 1821, Konstantinos Kanaris, captain of a fire ship and one of the great heroes of the Greek Revolution, paid a visit to Lapithos in order to take provisions and to recruit men. Kanaris anchored at Asprovrisi. He was hosted at Paspallas house at Ayia Paraskevi. There they ‘staged a funeral’ burying weapons (mainly local knifes) and other provisions in the local cemetery by the sea. During the following nights sailors from Kanaris’ fire ship unearthed the stuff, loaded it on board and left with sixteen new recruits. The Turkish rulers found out about the incident days later. Not surprisingly they took severe action. They beheaded the local headman Chatzelias and another sixteen Lapithiotes in Nicosia during the massacres of 9 July 1821.
The British Rule
Soon after the British leased Cyprus from the Ottomans in 1878 Lapithos was declared a municipality. Andreas Koumides took office as Mayor.
The people of Lapithos participated in the liberation struggle of 1955-59 (EOKA) in many heroic ways. Many young Lapithiotes were trained in the tactics of guerrilla warfare by Gregoris Afxentiou and later by Kyriakos Matsis. Lapithos was at the forefront of the sabotage campaign against colonial rule. Bombs exploded and British troops were ambushed and attacked. For this reason the community was ordered to pay heavy collective fines. Men were detained while a curfew was often imposed.
The Zurich-London Agreements (1959) may have brought about the birth of the Republic of Cyprus (1960) but they did not really produce long-lasting peace. In 1963 inter-communal strife broke out. Three hundred Turkish Cypriots living in Lapithos were forced to flee under pressure from the military circles of Ankara pursuing their segregationist designs. They took refuge in the Turkish enclaves north of Nicosia.
Coup d'Etat and Invasion
Lapithos the fair lemon blossoming head village, the Byzantine Lambousa, always woke up cool and very beautiful until the cursed day of the treacherous coup d’ etat of July 15th 1974 perpetrated by the Junta of Athens and EOKA B’. Turkey who was way laying for years before, found the pretext to invade in Cyprus on July 20th, 1974.
That day Lapithos did not wake up at ease bathed in its green halo, the blue of the sea and the bright light of sunrise. It was dawning July 20th 1974, when low flying Turkish war planes scared Lapithos and some distance to the East of the Monastery of Aheiropoietos , Turkish Attila warships had anchored during the night ready to bombard. Bombardment from the air and from the sea started at 5:30’ that morning. Four low flying bombers, giving the impression they were about to fall on the rooftops, indiscriminately bombarded among other targets military camps at Glykiotissa, the camp near Aheiropoietos Monastery, the Bosphorus camp east of Keryneia and the Sands of Panagra where there were disused look out posts since 1964.
Scared villagers tried to hide in their lemon orchards. When the war planes emptied their bombs flew to Turkey to reload the war ships too started bombarding villages in the Pentadactylos Mountain slopes and civilians indiscriminately. Death and destruction was the result…
For three days on July 20th , 21st and 22nd the Turks bombarded and killed. On July 23rd we were informed that the Turks had landed at daybreak on the 20th at 6 and 5 mile west of Keryneia killing indiscriminately, violating women, taking civilians as prisoners.
On Monday, July 22nd 1974, the UN Security Council decided on a cease fire. The Turkish invaders did not stop their advance. They captured Keryneia at 6 p.m. while Lapithos and Karavas were going through tragic hours expecting in anguish what the day after would bring. Some villagers left for Nicosia and for other places sensing disaster while others were staying and hoping…
The Turkish troops advanced systematically according to a program. They carried mopping up operations, seized property and arrested civilians. People scared leave to save their life, they do not know, they do not believe that their escape is predetermined since Attila’s aim was partition, occupation and Turkification of a land that for 3000 years had always been under Greek population and Greek culture because it was born of Greek hands and succeeded in achieving great progress reaching lofty targets through Greek ideals and culture.
Following violent fighting on August 4th and 5th in the hills and the lemon orchards of Lapithos on Tuesday the 6th the Turks occupied the village paying a very heavy price with many dead and injured.
The Turkish forces attacked at 4:20 a.m. but until 11:45 a.m. did not even to capture a single village hamlet. However when the companies of Eftychios Salatas and those of second lieutenant Hadjinicolaou were ordered to break away from Lapithos and Karavas and take positions in the Vasileia – Vavylas line, the Turks ambushed them by the canes of Airkotissa where the brave fighters of the 256 army battalion suffered heavy losses.
At 3:20 p.m. the Turkish tanks passed from Karavas to Lapithos and the 256 battalion left on the battlefield 24 dead, 26 injured and 50 are still missing. Those were the first losses. There followed other losses. Finally by August 6th the losses of the above battalion and those of the 70 E.C. battalion dead and missing rose to 99.
On August 6th 1974 Lapithos, the cool and all green village with its strange beauty, a combination of mountain and sea view together with neighbouring Karavas, the two big villages of Keryneia District fell into the hands of the Turkish Attila.
The 28th Turkish division suffered great losses but many Greek Cypriot civilians were murdered in cold blood and many were taken prisoners. The missing, fallen and killed Lapithians amount to 91 and the prisoners taken then were 40. One hundred and eighty two Lapithians remained enclaved.
The Lapithians dispersed as refugees, tried to seek refuge in the homes of relations living in the free areas of the Republic, in schools and under olive or carob trees and wherever they could find a shelter. They were living with the hope that they would soon return to their homes and to Lapithos. Their heart was broken as a result of the destruction caused by the invasion of a foreign army and the injustice of being forced out of their homes.
They were asking themselves how after two World Wars fought in the 20th century was still possible for Turkey to impose the law of the jungle. The people could not believe that they could not return to their ancestral homes to Lapithos which had been Greek for 3000 years and was put under the boot of the Turkish invader. The people could not perceive how the United Nations Organization, the protectors of Human Rights, would permit that injustice against civilian populations living peacefully in their villages. How did the United Nations tolerate an invasion of a nation of fifty million into a small island of less than a million people, a Member state of their own organization with all the consequences of such aggression?
The people of Lapithos became refugees in their own land and soon tried to become active, to survive and stand the unbearable pain of expectation for the day of their return because inside their heart they knew that one day the will return.
The return to Lapithos has become the aim and the yearning of the refugees from Lapithos. It has been for thirty years the target of their efforts and of their activities. They are not giving up their hope and they will struggle to make true the return to their beautiful village under conditions of freedom and respect for human rights.
Situated about 14 Kilometers west of Kyrenia, on the northern coast of Cyprus, on the East it borders with Karabas, on the West with Basileia, on its South with the villages of Sysklhpos, Agridaki, and Larnaka tis Lapithou. It spreads from the high mountains of Pentadactylos to the waters of the Mediterranean. In fact, it rests against the background of the highest peak of Pentadactylos, the Kyparissobouno, which reaches about 1024 meters high, its highest peak, exquisite Lapithos spreads in the green reaching the Mediterranean coast.
The village was constituted of six enories (parishes). Each enoria had its own civil and religious administration. There was a community council under a chairman and an ecclesiastical authority with a Greek Orthodox priest. Moreover every enoria had its own cemetery. The six enories were the following:
Ayia Anastasia and Ayia Paraskevi in upper Lapithos. They were known as the Pano Enories (Upper Parishes). Ayios Theodhoros on the west side of the village and Timios Prodhromos and Ayios Loukas in the centre, while Ayios Minas lay to the east.
Farming and Crops
Lapithos has fertile land and rich water resources due to its headspring (kefalovryso). A variety of trees were cultivated. Citrus, especially lemon-trees, thrived producing 11-12 million lemons per year. It was the greatest production in the island. The lemon-tree grown in the Lapithos area (Lemonia Lapithiotiki) is well known in Cyprus. The orchards of Lapithos filled the place with their green colour. In springtime every span of the land smelled sweetly. The scent of lemon blossom was omnipresent. Olive-trees thrived especially in the hilly areas. Carob-trees also prospered. They provided the so-called ‘black gold’ at a time when commerce was not at its best.
Water-loving plants like fistikia (pistachios), konari and kolokasi were plentifully cultivated in the Lapithos plain. Mulberry-trees were planted on the edge of the orchards in order to protect the lemon-trees from the winds and the saltiness of the sea but also to provide food for the silkworm the mainstay of the silk industry.
The green-clad orchards with their evergreen lemon-trees, citron-trees (nerantzies), tangerine-trees, grapefruit-trees, bergamot-trees and all sorts of orange-trees formed the green background of the scene as if of a painting most conspicuous in Spring as the white blossom of the trees embellished every inch of the land.
The great variety of white plums in Lapithos was perhaps unique. Red, yellowish tzianeres (very sweet and round that can be eaten unripe) but also the so-called flokkaroues (long and greenish) are varieties peculiar only to Lapithos. Plum-trees, reklot, formoses, red-leaved pournelies, mavropournelloues (small round blackish pournelles) were abundant. They provided extra income to the local farmers.
When Cyprus became British Colony in 1878, the British set about re-organizing the administrative structure of the island. Thus Lapithos became one of the ten new ‘municipalities’. Both the Mayor and the Municipal Council were democratically elected by the people of Lapithos. As a result competent personalities were elected in office, who strived for the progress and well-being of the small town.
This Municipal Council stayed in office until the end of 1987, thirteen years after the invasion.
The 1974 catastrophe put all the activities of our Municipality to a halt. The displaced Lapithiotes were dispersed not only around the island but also in the world at large. They were simply looking for a place of refuge... The items on the agenda of the first post-1974 meeting of the Municipal Council on 13 January 1975 were as follows:
1. Jobs in the civil service for the now unemployed municipal employees. 2. Problems of the municipal employees. 3. Enlightenment campaign on the Cyprus National Problem.
The Municipal Council meetings were taking place in the homes of its members until the Municipality was offered temporary offices at 37 Ammochostou Street, Nicosia, west of Ammochostos Gate. The Municipality of Lapithos found itself under the same roof with also refugee Municipality of Kythrea. The current Mayor of the town is Athos Eleftheriou.
The town is divided into six parishes. Each one of the six bears the name of the saint to whom the parish church is dedicated. Starting from the west plains the traveller finds the parish church of Ayios Theodhoros Stratilatis – Saint Theodore the Victorious Army Commander. Next, one finds the parish church of Apostolos Loukas – Apostle Luke – and finally the parish church of Ayios Minas – Saint Minas. On the hills there are another two. First, the church of Ayia Anastasia – Saint Anastasia – situated in a commanding spot with a large yard surrounding it in which there is a primary school. Then, on higher ground, there is the largest of parish churches in the village, that of Ayia Paraskevi – Saint Paraskevi. This is also the location of the Kefalovryso – headspring. Last but not least, right in the town centre, lies the Church of Timios Prodhromos – Holy Prodhromos, dated back to the 18th century, the oldest in Lapithos.
In the Saint Theodore's interior old Byzantine books and icons were kept. According to the testimonies of those enclaved in their own land after the Turkish invasion, by 1975 every piece of treasure in this historic church was pillaged.
Gregory II Cyprius (Greek Γρηγόριος ο Κύπριος)
Lapithos is twinned with the following Greek Municipalities:
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