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Lapta Village (Lapithos) - North Cyprus

Lapta is one of the most picturesque towns in the north of the island, with a superb setting on several mountain terraces overlooking the sea. Formerly Greek, there are three churches in the town, either locked or ruined. Its sister town of Lambousa on the coast below served in Roman times as its port, and some remains of harbour installations, like the harbour wall and fish tanks, are still worth a quick visit. Nearby are two pretty churches which can be seen from the outside though they are firmly within the confines of a military camp and not visitable. This is a shame as one of them has an early mosaic floor. A drive around the town of Lapta will take about 30 minutes, as the road network is positively labyrinthine. The visit to the Roman fish tanks at Lambousa will take an hour to an hour and a half as you have to walk along the coast from the Mare Monte Hotel.

Touring Lapta
Lapta lies about halfway between Camlibel and Girne, and the turn-off to it is well signposted from the main road. The town is reached after about 2km, but fte maze of roads leading up and down and all over the various levels of terraces amount to at least a further 5km. These terraces are a natural geological formation, relics of the higher sea levels, and interspersed with huge rocky outcrops, ravines and chasms. One moment you glimpse a church set up ove on a cliff edge, and your next view of it is from above surrounded by orchards and still seemingly inaccessible. The best way to get to the highest point of the town is to follow the signs to Bespinar Restaurant, a simple village restaurant which lies right at the top. From here you can wind down again by a different route.

Water seems to gush in abundance all over Lapta, in one place more like a waterfall than a stream, making it one of the most fertile spots in Cyprus, famous for its orange and lemon groves. A perennial spring (one of the very few on the island) issues from a rock above the town, at an altitude of some 280m, reached by the road which continues on above the town, beyond the Bespinar Restaurant. Under the Romans Lapta was one of the four administrative capitals of the island. It grew still further in the 7th century, when its sister town of Lambousa on the coast was being regularly pillaged by raiding Arabs, like most coastal settlements. When the population moved up the hillside, they carried with them many of the stones from Lambousa to build their new houses at Lapta.

Today you can still visit the ruins of Lambousa on a headland near the Mare Monte Hotel. From the main Girne road, follow the large sign to the hotel that points off close to the Alsancak turning. Leaving the car at the hotel car park, follow the sign pointing westward. The dirt track splits by the sea, with the left fork leading to the nearby farm, while the right fork heads towards the beach and the ruins. Once you hit the beach, turn left and walk west until you come to the ruins. The total time to reach the site from the hotel is 15 minutes at a leisurely pace. This is no longer within the grounds of the hotel, and shepherds are often to be found grazing their sheep in the ruins. It is best therefore to put on something rather more than your swimsuit, to prevent any misunderstandings.

You come first to the Roman fish tanks on the headland, the largest of which are the size of a good hotel pool, about 30m by 15m. Guests at the hotel who had stumbled on them during their evening strolls, considered them to be precisely that: the pools of a hotel since pulled down or never finished. They are cut into the rock beside the harbour, and were used by the Roman fishermen to keep their catch alive and therefore fresh for market. Waves splashing over the rock ensured the water was cool and constantly renewed, and intake channels specially positioned to tally with the tides and prevailing winds guaranteed that clean water entered the tanks, while another suitably positioned exit channel guided out the staler warmer water. These tanks are one of the first examples of Roman fish tanks to be found.

Inland from them, on the other side of the path, are the scant remains of Lambousa, sprawling over the headland. The overwhelming impression at first sight is of mounds of rubble everywhere, but this is not so much the work of Arab raiders as of illicit treasure seekers, digging for their fortunes. Lambousa in fact means 'brilliant', a name justified by the quantities of Roman and Byzantine treasure found here, notably the famous early 7th-century silver plates depicting the story of David, some of which are still to be seen in the Cyprus Museum. The place was abandoned completely in the 13th century. The original town was founded by the Greeks in the 12th century BC, but it was the Romans who made it into a major trading centre, establishing a naval base and dockyard here. The Roman harbour wall is quite well preserved, visible as you walk a little further round the headland. It is still in use with a handful of small fishing boats. Just 200m beyond the headland to the west, you can see the little churches of Akhiropitos Monastery and Ayios Eulalios, now unfortunately firmly within a military camp. You can get a good view of the latter from The Hut restaurant. This section of coastline can also be reached from the main road, by driving down the tarmac fork that runs to the sea directly opposite the sign pointing inland to Alsancak.

The closest church, set in the military exercise ground, is the charming little single-domed Ayios Eulalios, named after one of Lambousa's bishops. The outer structure dates from the 15th century, but inside it has an early mosaic floor and fine grey marble columns supporting the nave. The Akhiropitos Monastery is within the camp proper and is much more difficult to see. Its name means 'built without hands' in Greek, from the story, somewhat ironic in the circumstances, that it was transported here intact overnight from Asia Minor to save it from Muslim desecration. It was founded in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 14th century. Disused for some time, the monastery cells were occupied in the 1960s by animals and shepherds. Rising damp had been threatening the buildings for some time before partition, but now the problem requires urgent attention.