West of the Girne and North of the highest peak of the five fingers mountains Selvili Tepe, is Laphitos(Lapta). It is an attractive small town that is steeped in history and is one of the most renowned locations in Northern Cyprus. Every corner of Lapta is covered in lemon and orange groves, and other types of fruit orchards. The city (designated a city in ancient times) of Lapta which lies at the base of the mountain, is very fortunate for ıt has its own source of water, i.e. a series of springs called ‘Baspinar’. Known throughout history as ‘’ Lapithos or Lapethos ‘, the city was the capital of one of the nine kingdoms that cyprus was once divided into.
There have been a number stories put forward as to the origins of Lapta. They are all to one degree or another based on historical fact.
THE CITY’S MOST BRILLIANT ERA
Lapta began to become an important and wealthy city, around 800 BC, when the Phoenicians who dominated trade in the Easter Mediterranean, became its leaders. During the Christian period, Lapithos was the capital city of one of the 14 Dioceses (Religious areas). İt was during Roman and Byzantine rule that it reached the height of its importance. At this time, and because of the amount of wealth it had amassed, the city was renamed ‘’Lambousa’’ which means brilliant. Towards the end of the Roman era and during the early Christian and Byzantine periods, the city of Lambousa shifted its location to the coastline where it became a settlement renowned for its wealth. A number buildings for general public use, such as gymnasiums and theatres were built in the city. Lambousa remained an important city until the start of Arab incursions of 700 AD.
THE ARAB INCURSİONS AND THE ESTABLİSHMENT OF LAPTA Due to Lapta’s reputation as a city of immense wealth, the Arabs, who began their attacks in 654 AD, besieged Lambousa. They demanded that members of the community surrender with all their belongings and jewels, in return they promised to let them leave the city free of harm and to settle in any other part of Cyprus. Archeological excavations early in the last century suggest that most of the people in Lambousa had preferred to bury their valuable belongings and jewels, or hide them inside the walls or ceilings of their homes rather than surrender them to the Arabs. During the Lusignian era and up until the Ottoman period, the people of Lambousa who had abandoned the city established Lapta. In the 1800’s the people who originated from Lambousa and who lived in Lapta established Karava (Kyrenia). The remnants of Lambousa functioned as a source of stone for the two new cities and thus today there is little left of the ancient city.
The Lapta of today
The settlement of Lapithos, which was thought to have been the main city of one of kingdoms of Cyprus, was situated in the area where lapta stands today. Today the what is left of the once powerful city of Lambousa is located in an area close to the sea. It is believed that the townsfolk of Lambousa, who becoming tired of the constant Arab attacks, moved their houses to the slopes of the mountain. They used the stones from their former houses as building material in the construction of Lapta. The settlement developed significantly thereafter, especially during the Lusignian period, with the population of Lapta rising to 10.000. From the archaeological excavations Lapta was not the first settlement established in this area. Two Iron Age tomb chambers were found which tends to suggest that some form of human settlement existed during the Neolithic period.
A SYMBOL OF THE CİTY – THE BASPINAR SOURCE
Today’s Lapta is one of the greenest and productive corners of Cyprus and is full of citrus groves. As mentioned the the city owes its wealth and longevity, to the existence of a plentiful supply of clean water. The Başpınar springs, which are situated 280 metres above sea level and on the slopes of the mountain is one of the only two water sources on the Island that flows without interruption all year round.
Today the remnants of the historical city of Lambousa on the coast include its city walls, a number of stone tombs and a series of rock fish pools. The stone tombs, apart from being pillaged for centuries by grave robbers,were used in the Middle-Ages as a source of stone. Adjacent to the port are the fish pools which were carved out of the rocks during the Roman times. They are the oldest example of their type, and were used by fisherman to keep their catches fresh. There is a system of canals that allow cool clean water to replace the warm and dirty water. Some people argue that these pools are from the early Byzantine era and some say that they belonged to the bath’s of a Roman villa.
The archaeological excavations in Lambousa that began in 1992 continue today. It is believed that much of the wealth of Lambousa still remains hidden.
Byzantine Emperor Heraklius(610-641 BC), who challenged the enemy commander Raztis to ‘one to one’ combat during a fierce battle with the Persians in 627 BC.. Heraklius, who beheaded the enemy leader, compared his success with that of when David defeated the mighty Goliath. To celebrate his victory he had a series of plates known as the ‘David’s Plates’, cast from silver. In 1903 the said plates were found in two hoards, in and around the ruins of Lambousa and over a period of time were distributed to museums in Lefkoşa, New York,Washington and London. Once the ships of Arab pirates were sighted on the horizon, it is believed that the silverware was hastily buried in the ground. ‘David and Goliath’ are depicted in the centre of the largest plates. The plates are amongst the most outstanding examples of early Byzantine art. As most of them carry the imperial mark, they were easily identified as being made between 627 and 630 BC. A large part of the two hoards of treasure found in 1902 were smuggled abroad and sold to the New York Metropolitan Museum. In 1905, Lambousa was declared a protected site. In 1913, and on behalf of the Cyprus museum, John I Myres descended 40 feet down Acropolis Hill to carry out a study of the ruins. Up until 1991, no other work had been carried out to explore the Lambousa site. Between 1991 and 1994 the tomb area in the East of the city was converted in an open air museum suitable for visitors. Some of the graves were cleaned and exposed by a German group who worked in co-operation with the Antiquities and Museums Department. Currently the structures that can be seen at Lambousa include the Monastery (6-16th Century AD) Saint Evlalios Church (6th Century AD), the King’s Pool, the City Walls and the Tomb chambers carved out of the stone.
AREAS OF THE CİTY: Saint Anastasia (Lapta), Saint Paraskevei (Lapta), Saint Loukas (Lapta) , Saint Minas (Lapta) Saint Theodoros (Çayırova)
FORESTS: Lapta (Lapithos) , and Alsancak (Kravas).
CHURHES: Saint Marina (in Gürpınar), Saint Varvara (Girne-Kyrenia district) Saint Sotiros( Girne-Kyrenia district) Panayia Galaterousa, (Girne-Kyrenia District).