Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – Cyprus chapter Larnaca & The Southhas to say about Larnaka:
“Larnaka revolves around its seaside position. The coastal promenade – known universally as the Finikoudes – is where locals and visitors alike come for a morning coffee or an evening beer, to flop out on the beach during the day and to stroll at sunset. It’s the hub of the scene, with restaurants, cafes and bars galore, and during summer it fully revs up for the annual flood of holidaymakers.
Take a few steps inland, though, and a less tourism-centered side of Larnaka unfolds. The modern downtown district has stayed determinedly low-rise and has a proper community feel and working-town atmosphere, while the old Turkish quarter of Skala is a slice of days-gone-by Cyprus, with plenty of quaintly dilapidated shutter-windowed and whitewashed houses.
Between the two you’ll find the Byzantine church of Agios Lazaros and Larnaka’s little fort, both of which – in their own ways – have kept an eye on the town for centuries.
This 9th-century church is dedicated to Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus is said to have resurrected four days after his death. The church itself is an astounding example of Byzantine architecture, and further restoration in the 17th century saw Latinate and Orthodox influences added to the building, most prominently in the bell tower, which was replaced after being destroyed by the Ottomans. The beautiful interior is a showcase of unique Catholic woodcarvings and skilled gold-plated Orthodox icon artistry.
Lazarus has a close association with Larnaka. Shortly after he rose from the dead, thanks to Christ’s miraculous intervention, Lazarus was forced to flee Bethany. His boat landed here in Kition, where he was ordained as a bishop and canonized by Apostles Barnabas and Paul. He remained a bishop for a further 30 years, and when he died for the second time he was buried in a hidden tomb.
In 890 the tomb was discovered; it bore the inscription ‘Lazarus Friend of Christ’. Byzantine emperor Leo VI had Lazarus’ remains sent to Constantinople and built the current church over the vault to appease local Christians. The remains were moved again, to Marseille, in 1204.
The Tomb of Lazarus is under the apse of the Agios Lazaros. Several sarcophagi were supposedly found in this catacomb when it was first discovered but only the empty tomb remains. In 1972 human remains were uncovered under the church altar; some believe they are those of St Lazarus, possibly hidden here by priests in anticipation of theft.
As with so many stories in the Bible, the legend of Saint Lazarus of Bethany – Agios Lazaros in the Greek Orthodox tradition – is a tantalizing mixture of myths and elements of historical truth. The miraculous reincarnation described in the Gospel of John is impossible to verify, but a man called Lazaros did travel from Judea to become the bishop of Kition, on the site of modern-day Larnaka, in the early years of the Christian church.
When Bishop Lazarus departed this life, perhaps for the second time, his grave was forgotten for centuries, before being rediscovered by Cypriot priests in AD 890. To protect the saint’s bones from invaders, the contents of the grave were moved to Constantinople, before being carted off to Marseilles by rampaging knights during the Fourth Crusade.
Over the following centuries, the chapel raised over the grave of Lazarus was used as a Catholic church by the Franks, and as a mosque by the Ottomans before finally returning to its Orthodox roots in the 16th century. In a curious epilogue, more human bones (thought by some to be those of Lazarus) were discovered in the church in 1972, and a portion of the skeleton was sent to Russia in 2012 as a gift to the Russian Orthodox Church. Cypriot pilgrims venerate the remaining bones of Lazaros on display in the church of Agios Lazaros in Larnaka.
Municipal Art Gallery
This small gallery is made up of five adjoining colonial-style stone warehouses built by the British in 1881. Three of them show contemporary artworks by local artists. The buildings are also used to host occasional international exhibitions.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
It was wonderful to return to Larnaca, to its relative smallness and its quiet charm. I’m not entirely sure the city would feel the same during the busy tourist season, but for now, it suited us to a tee. This time we chose to stay in the centre, just a couple of blocks away from the beach at Finikoudes. We no longer had to walk 2km into town to explore the sights and we had more options for eating than we’d had before.
We found a beautiful AirBnB apartment with a view of the sea and a few of the palm trees along the promenade. It was located just a block off a lively pedestrian street and the evening after our long day of sightseeing and driving from Pafos, the others went out for a light meal while I went to bed early.
It had been quite tense driving on the motorway during the rush hour near Lemesos. The other drivers were quite erratic and I couldn’t take my eyes off them for a second. The traffic was heaviest until we turned off onto a quieter stretch of the divided highway. It seems the speed demons were headed for Nicosia and they didn’t tolerate anyone causing them to slow down.
The upside of the others going out for a drink and some appetizers was that they discovered a terrific restaurant just by chance. It was located along an arcade that branched off the pedestrian street and it would have been easy to miss it altogether. They came back raving about the grilled mushrooms and the others appies that they’d nibbled on with their beer.
Well rested after a good night’s sleep, I was ready to hit the town and tie up some loose ends in terms of a few of the historical sites that we’d left to see upon our return. Our first stop was the church of Agios (Saint) Lazarus. Yes, reputed to be the same Lazarus that figured large in the Bible. We learned that a man by the same name did travel fro Judea to Kition and became a bishop here on the island of Cyprus, and in Larnaca no less.
We had admired the church many times as our walks through the city took us past it again and again. Early on we had noticed a small Lebanese restaurant just off the square near the church, and found the food they prepared to be of excellent quality and more importantly, quite portable. We went back several times, occasionally to eat the falafel and the spinach pastries right away, and other times to pack them up for one of our road trips.
We had avoided going inside the church because it’s a popular destination for tour groups and we wanted to go when we would have the place to ourselves. When we returned to Larnaca near the end of November there seemed to be fewer and fewer tourists around and we jumped at the chance to see the church when only locals might be paying a visit.
The interior of the church certainly did not disappoint. I was happy to see that there were no signs prohibiting photos so I was able to capture some of the beauty of the woodwork and the icons. I was particularly impressed with a large silver box with a detailed tableau in bas-relief on all the sides. The underside of the lid held a stunning painting of Agios Lazarus.
I’d read that after the saint died, his body was supposed to have been transported to Constantinople and to Marseilles to protect it from looters. More recently, human bones were discovered in the church, and many choose to believe that they are the relics of the revered saint. I’m not entirely sure, but I think that these bones may be stored in the silver casket that I admired so much.
After admiring the frescoes and the other works of art in the nave of the church, I followed the arrows and descended down into the crypt below the altar. Several beautiful sarcophagi were discovered there and are now on display in a courtyard behind the church.
The only thing that remains there today is a simple stone casket, with the lid partly ajar. Of course, there is nothing inside anymore. I was a dreary place, and one would have to be a believer to find any special meaning for visiting the chamber.
After seeing the church we paid a small entrance fee to tour the neighbouring Byzantine Museum, but it was filled with artifacts and paintings donated by the Orthodox Russian clergy. The priceless relics that were once housed in the museum were on loan to Lemesos’ Archeological Museum in the 1960s when sectarian violence broke out and the museum was looted. The museum is trying hard to rebuilt a collection by I found the display of garments and utensils used by the priests relatively uninteresting.
Before leaving Lazarus Square, Donna and I popped into a neighbouring jewellery shop called ‘Every Day Is A Gift’. I had been admiring a colourful necklace, and in fact Donna had liked it as well. When we’d first seen it, the shop had two on hand, but I wanted to think about it instead of making a snap purchase.
I had the idea that I could buy one as a gift for Donna, and she could buy one as a gift for me. It would be a great way to remember our time together in Larnaca. However, much to my dismay, both the necklaces had been sold while we were away in Pafos. I left my name with the owner in case she could get her hands on others from the same artist. She was sure she could, but we were leaving the next day, and there just wasn’t enough time. Rats!
By now it was getting to be lunchtime so we wandered over to the Takis Kebab House for a hearty meal of grilled meats washed down by ice-cold Keo beer. The woman who owns the restaurant recognized us from our previous visit and seeing that the eatery was relatively quiet, she came over and had a nice long chat with us.
It was great to ask a few questions of a person who if greatly affected by the ups and downs of the tourist industry. She was friendly and frank with us in equal measure. If we were staying longer, I’m certain that we would have become regulars. After such a big meal, it was important to walk off some of the calories so we set off to explore some more of the neighbouring back streets, and Donna and I took some photos of the more interesting street art painted on the crumbling walls.
We made our way over to the waterfront once again, and decided to have a look at the art on display in Larnaca’s Biennale 2018 exhibit. It was pretty avant-garde, in fact a lot of the installations were indescribably weird, but here and there we each saw something that appealed to our sensibilities. There were a couple of paintings I like, the colours really caught my eye. It was entertaining for sure, and before leaving we had a chance to admire an artwork and speak to the artist who was on hand to accept our praise.
Later that evening we returned to the restaurant that the ‘Three Musketeers’ had discovered for the second time (the third time for Anil, Donna and Duncan). The food was so delicious that we wanted to ‘walk through’ the entire menu but time was running out and we had to leave for home the following day. The restaurant is called Báltou Piyavn and apparently it’s difficult to translate, but it has something to do with using lots of oregano! It was a great way to end our time together in Cyprus, and who knows we might just be back again one day.