Historical and Archaeological Information

Four kilometres northeast of the village of Dipkarpaz/Rizokarpaso at the site of Aphendrika on the north coast of the Karpas peninsula, the remains of an ancient settlement which was identified as the city of Ourania, mentioned by ancient writers, exists. According to the testimony of the ancient historian Diodorus Siculus (1st c. B.C.) Ourania existed during the Hellenistic period: It was conquered together with the neighbouring city of Karpasia by Demetrius Poliorcetes, the son of Antigonus Monophthalmus, during the conŒict between the successors of Alexander the Great for the partition of the Empire. Ourania, however, is not mentioned by ancient geographers and historians who wrote about Cyprus, like Strabo and Claudius Ptolemy, which implies that the city had already been abandoned by their time (1st c. B.C.). The archaeological evidence provided by the necropolises (cemeteries) of Ourania proves the existence of the city between the 6th and the 2nd c. B.C.

The ruins at Aphendrika were first identified as the city of ancient Ourania by the British archaeologist David George Hogarth (1889) and the Cypriot scholar Ieronymos Peristianis (1910). The site indeed preserves the remains of an ancient settlement with a harbour, which thrived possibly during the Classical Period. Three ruined churches and other architectural remains imply that the site prospered again from the Early to the Middle Byzantine Period (6th-12th). These churches are the basilica of Panagia Aphendrika (Chrysiotissa), the basilica of Asomatoi and the church of Agios Georgios.

Panagia Aphentrika

The standing church of Panagia Aphentrika is a 16th century single-aisled vaulted chapel with a pointed vault. This church was built within the west part of the nave of an earlier barrel-vaulted basilica (8th c.), which was in turn built over a timber-roofed basilica of the 6th century A.D.

The 6th-century church was a three-aisled columnar basilica with three semi-circular apses to the east end, which were incorporated in the barrel-vaulted basilica. The apses were connected by barrel-vaulted passages, of which the northern one still survives. The nave was divided from the aisles by two arcades consisting of seven limestone columns. The first column from the west of the southern arcade is still standing in situ.

Three large windows pierced the still standing central apse wall above the synthronon, the semicircular tiered structure at the back of the altar in the apse that combines benches reserved for the clergy, with the bishop’s throne in the center.

During the second architectural phase (8th c.) this church was rebuilt as a barrel-vaulted basilica reusing the original walls and the apses of the 6th c. basilica. The interior colonnades were replaced with pier arcades, each consisting of four cross-shaped piers. Both the walls and the apses were reinforced in order to carry the vault. The sizes of the windows were also radically reduced with the introduction of the vaulting system.

Little is known about the internal decoration and the liturgical furnishings of Panagia Aphentrika. The original floor has never been unearthed. The architectural members and liturgical furnishings recovered in the area include fragments of a chancel screen, a marble ambo of Constantinopolitan type, a capital and a column base. The marble base of the templon(iconostasis: barrier with icons in front of the Holy Bema) of the 16th-century church, may belong to the original 6th-century liturgical installations.

Asomatoi, Aphentrika

The Asomatoi church lies about 30 m. south of Panagia Aphentrika. The two churches have similar ground plan and construction characteristics but the first one is smaller. The original 6th-century Asomatoi church was a timber roofed, three-aisled basilica with three apses to the east end. The nave was divided from the aisles by two colonnades of five limestone columns, crowned with stone capitals of local production.

At the east end of the elevated Holy Bema, a synthronon was built. This is the only liturgical furnishing which is still in situ and probably belongs to the original phase of the basilica.

Like Panagia Aphentrika, the Asomatoi church was converted into a vaulted basilica at the end of the 8th century, utilizing the original ground plan. The three apses and the synthronon were reused from the previous phase. However, unlike Panagia, the north, south and west walls were completely rebuilt upon earlier foundations. The 6th-century arcades were replaced by two pier arcades consisting of three cross-shaped piers.

The west wall of the Asomatoi had three doors; today only the entrance in the south aisle is preserved.

Agios Georgios, Aphentrika

The now ruinous small single-aisled church of Agios Georgios lies about 50 m. west of Panagia Aphentrika.

It has a symmetrical twin apse built in ashlar blocks. It is one of the two churches in Cyprus with a double apse (the other one is Agios Georgios at Choulou, Paphos). It was originally covered with a dome on transverse round arches. An apsidal narthex (attested by its foundation) was added later (possibly during the 11th-12th c.).

The church represents an early form of the inscribed cross-in-square type. Most of the dome is now collapsed as well as the western part of the building.

Originally the church was possibly decorated with wall paintings. It has been suggested that Agios Georgios is the earliest surviving domed building on Cyprus, dated between the 9th and the 10th century.