In the middle of the flatlands to the south of the Akrotiri Peninsula’s salt lake lies the monastery of Agios Nikolaos ton Gaton. Originally established in 325 AD, the present buildings date from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Surrounded by citrus groves, and altogether rather unprepossessing, the monastery owes its celebrity to the presence of the cats that give it its name. They were introduced, it is said, by St Helena, to keep the monastery clear of snakes or, as another version has it, to replace young boys as companions for the monks. The monastery was abandoned after the sixteenth-century Ottoman invasion, but has since been taken in hand by an order of nuns who are bringing it back to life (and who look at visitors rather as if they expect them to make off with the silver). There’s a small one-room shop run by the nuns. Part of the appeal of the monastery is that its practice of keeping cats around ecclesiastical buildings spread to other parts of Cyprus and beyond – though today you’ll see far more cats in Larnaka’s Hala Sultan Tekke than in St Nicholas of the Cats.

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