The Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats (Akrotiri)

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The monastery of Saint Nicholas of the Cats is located southwest of the Akrotiri salt lake, the largest lake in Cyprus. It is one of the oldest monasteries in Cyprus, and according to tradition, it was founded by Saint Helen, mother of Constantine the Great in the 4th century. It is believed that the monastery was a shelter for fugitive monks, who had been chased away during the Iconoclastic era.

Recent excavations support the belief that the area was a dock of great importance for the fleet of the Byzantine Empire. Its role in imperial policy, hosting refugees and holy heirlooms, could possibly have been altered and identified solely with the Monastery itself. Nearby ruins of the chapel of Saint Varas on the shores of the salt lake are also probably an extension of the northern side of the Monastery.

The monastery dates back to the 14th century and was always just for men. It was destroyed by a great earthquake in the 16th century, but then reconstructed and once again functioned until 1570 when the Ottoman Empire conquered the island. The monastery was reconstructed again in the 18th century but abandoned for a century after that. In 1983, it became a convent once again, which today houses only a few nuns who are dedicated to taking care of the cats and painting icons.


Legend has it that St Helen founded the monastery, and not only did she leave a piece of the Holy Wood there, but she also brought hundreds of cats in order to exterminate all the poisonous snakes which had gathered around the island due to a terrible drought. Another legend says that Constantine the Great had asked Governor Kalokeros to help exterminate the snakes of the area. He brought 1000 cats and made the monks take care of at least 100 cats each day, and feed them twice a day in order to protect them from only eating venomous snakes. During the Ottoman invasion, the Monastery was completely destroyed and the cats began to wander, which explains the large number of stray cats living in Cyprus.