KAKOPETRIA sits astride the Karyotis river on the main B9 road to Lefkosia, 50km from the capital, and allies the convenience of hotel, restaurant, bank and petrol station with a pretty (and now protected) old town of alleys and tottering houses. Busy with tourists at the height of the season, but pretty and relaxing around the main square, it has a soundtrack of whispering or roaring waters, depending on where in the village you are.
The name “Kakopetria” means “bad stones”, deriving, it is said, from the numerous large rocks swept down from Olympos in primordial times, which you can still see in the foundations of some of the houses. One such stone (“the Stone of the Couple”) had a reputation for bringing good luck to newlyweds: they would walk around its base, climb onto it, and make a wish. That reputation was somewhat dented when the stone shifted, killing a young couple in the process (it has since been underpinned by concrete and stone).
Just a couple of well-signposted kilometres southwest of Kakopetria along the F936 stands another of the region’s ten UNECO World Heritage Site churches, Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis (St Nicholas of the Roof). Make sure you visit during opening hours – it’s completely fenced off, and you won’t get even a glimpse of it from the road. The church building has a rough-and-ready, lopsided look, prompting speculation that the eleventh-century masons who built it weren’t quite up to the job. The steep-pitched roof, added to protect the early cross-in-square building from the harsh winter weather, led to the name. The church was once part of a monastery, but the rest of the buildings disappeared in the late nineteenth century. The paintings range from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries and therefore represent a remarkable history of the development of Byzantine art. The oldest paintings (for example, the Transfiguration and the Raising of Lazaros, both early eleventh century) may not look as impressive and colourful as later ones, but are extremely important. Note the number of life-sized saints in the nave and the narthex, and the larger-than-life-sized St Nicholas in the entrance to the diaconicon (the chamber to the south of the apse in which the books, vestments and no or used in the services are kept). Look out, too, for the painting of St Peter on one of the east piers supporting the dome, and in particular for the graffito (in ink) written by Russian monk and early travel writer Basil Moscovorrossos in 1735 in which he outlines his recent travels in the region – vandalism, it’s true, but interesting vandalism nonetheless.