Provide ample time to go and visit one of the oldest monasteries on the island as it is found in Limassol‘s most idealistic setting, on the footsteps of the Akrotiri Salt Lake.
Considered as the Mediterranean region’s most important wetlands, the lake attracts thousands of birds who stop on the island during the migration seasons on their way either to Africa or Europe. Actually, BirdLife International estimates that between 2,000 and 20,000 flamingos spend the winter months in and around the lake, promising spectacular views of the pink coloured species.
Yet the area is also very well known for the Ayios Nikolaos ton Gaton Convent (St. Nicholas of the Cats) which lies at the Lake’s proximity. The monastery chapel dates to the fourteenth century; it was abandoned in the sixteenth century and was reinstated by Orthodox nuns in 1983.
According to tradition, the monastery was founded by St. Helen, who left a piece of wood from the Holy Cross at the site. During that period, Cyprus experienced a severe drought, forcing many people to flee the cape (the Akrotiri Peninsula), as the area became infested with snakes.
Legend has it that Constantine the Great, the Byzantine Emperor and son of St. Helen, sent a commander called Kalokeros to Cyprus in order to release thousands of cats that would lend a hand in getting rid of the snakes in the area; thus the cape was saved and became known as Cape Gata (Cape Cat).
Although the monastery has just a handful of nuns now, there are many cats living around the premises, which are said to be the descendants of those who rid the area of its serpents.
While on location, you may want to pay a visit to the Akrotiri Environmental Education and Information Center (AEEIC) which was established in 2004 to provide environmental education programmes for visitors tourists and locals alike. The centre provides plenty of information regarding the salt lake and wildlife in Cyprus, as well as a lookout point to view the Akrotiri Salt Lake.
The Convent is open to the public all year round and is entrance free.