Kouris Dam and the Sunken Church of Alassa
I have been coming to Cyprus for many years and bought my house back in 2008. Visiting the Sunken Church at Kouris Dam has been on my list for nearly that long and finally this summer I got up one morning and with the added push of having a new bike and wanting to go out for a spin I headed out to see the Sunken Church.
There are two things that Cyprus has a lot of. History and Dams. The Sunken Church at Kouris Dam combines these in the best way possible and with some added mystery. Although an archaeological treasure that aroused international interest amongst renowned archaeologists, I found out the lake also boasts its own monster and even becomes a dive site when the water is high enough.
The day I arrived at the dam, the sun was shining, men were fishing and kayaks were out on the lake and the church stood before me, much closer and more visible than I expected. Admittedly, I had waited to mid-summer before I ventured out so that more of the church would be visible, but I was still surprised.
Here’s a bit of the history:
Kouris is the largest artificial lake in Cyprus, renewed by the Kouris river dam. Once, the village of Alassa stood where the waters of the dam are now, with the church being part of the old Alassa Village.
The Agios Nicolaos (Saint Nicholas) Church was built in 1929 and restored in 1960. In 1968 the authorities decided to build a dam to dam up 3 rivers. Unfortunately the village of Alassa was in the middle of the area subject to flood and was moved to a nearby mountain and the old village left to sink into the dam.
The long history of the village dates back to the 17th century B.C and it turns out that the largest palace of the Late Bronze Age was also discovered in the area as well as many bronze objects and a mosaic pavement taken from a roman villa depicting the Goddess Aphrodite bathing are now housed in the Archaeological Museum of the Limassol District.
The villagers of Alassa were transferred to a new location right next to the dam as the old village sank into the lake and another church in the name of Saint Nicholas was built when the new village was constructed in the 1980s just opposite the Kouris Dam. For those of you who fancy a visit, the ‘new’ Alassa is situated 12 km from Limassol on the road to Platres.
Nowadays, there is nothing in the area to remind us that there was a village there three decades ago, apart from the ruins of the church. When the dam overflows, the belfry of the church of Saint Nicholas of Alassa is the only part that is visible, as if floating atop the water, a beautiful and at certain times of the year rather eerie sight.
When the water level is low enough, usually towards the end of the summer, it is said you can even take a walk through the ruins.
As the winter heads in and we get our rains the church gradually disappears into the lake again leaving only the belfry visible. Kouris Dam never looks the same, it is ever-changing depending on the time of year, however, one thing does stay the same, it is a beautiful place whether or not it has any water.
The Kouris Monster
It is also said to be the home of the mysterious Kouris Monster! In 2008, rumours have it that a tourist saw and even managed to capture the “unknown monster” living in the depths of the reservoir.
It was immediately called the “Cypriot Nessie” by analogy with the Scottish Loch Ness monster. Although the heads of local municipalities together with representatives of the Cyprus Ministry of Agriculture tried to find the monster they found nothing and the legend continues.
If the beast existed, the “Kouris Monster” was likely a crocodile or other large reptile, which someone thoughtlessly bought and then decided to get rid of by throwing it into a reservoir.
There’s a large dirt car park as you arrive at the lake but keen to keep my road bike free from dust I headed a little further along the track and parked outside a new small church built alongside the lake and walked out onto the kind of beach area, sat and took it all in.
The whole lake is stunningly beautiful obviously helped by the blue skies and soft breeze, you cant’ help but try to peer through the water straining to see if any more of the village will offer itself up from the depths but these eyes of mine weren’t conjuring up anything new and I was beginning to get hot in my summer kit so it was time to see if I could ride around the dam’s tracks on my road bike – and that is another story.
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