On the shore at the far end of the salt lake from Larnaka is one of Cyprus’s most important Muslim sites, the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque. With its elegant domes and minaret peeping out from a grove of palm and cypress trees on the shimmering edge of the lake (if you’re lucky the lake will be full of pink flamingos) the mosque is extremely atmospheric, only slightly marred by the distracting wind turbines located on the hillside behind.
The reason for the mosque’s veneration is the presence of the tomb of Umm Haram, variously described as the friend or wet nurse of Mohammed. One of the earliest followers of the Prophet, the story goes that she accompanied an invading Arab force in 649 AD, was immediately thrown by her mule and was killed. A mosque was built on the site of her burial beneath, legend has it, stones from a prehistoric dolmen that stood on the spot.
There’s a public footpath (the Kyprida Afroditi) along the edge of the lake to the mosque, with periodic benches (you’ll need them if it’s a hot day). Entry to the mosque’s environs is through a couple of elegant gateways, and past a sign directing you to recently discovered prehistoric remains. A hexagonal kiosk (sadirvan) outside the mosque’s entrance allows the faithful to wash their feet before prayer – non-believers simply have to remove their shoes.
Inside, the mosque is attractively human in scale, the floor lined with decorative prayer mats. The tomb of Umm Haram, guarded by a golden gate and lush green curtains, takes pride of place, while five other tombs, including that of the grandmother of King Hussein of Jordan – erected around 1930, it’s a big, white two-storey affair – can be seen in a separate alcove off to the left. Yet another legend attached to the mosque is that the three stones of the dolmen that stands over the graves flew here from Mecca on the day of Umm Haram’s death, and that the fifteen-tonne crosspiece was once suspended in midair, before coming to rest on the pillars. Incidentally, the current mosque is not particularly ancient, having been built in the early nineteenth century. But the whole scenic set piece reminds you that Cyprus lies on the very border of Western Europe and the Middle East.