Nicosia

Nicosia, or Lefkosia, is the only divided capital city in the world. Not only is there division between Turks and Greeks - the Green Line runs through the middle of the Old City - but there is a split between the old and new.

Where the old has narrow cobbled streets and charming whitewashed alleys, the new is one vast bowl of concrete, much of it poured post-1974. The Nicosia suburbs are new housing estates and industrial plants.

Nicosia is located in the centre of Cyprus in the large, flat Messaoria plain and off the main tourist trail, although easily reached on flights to Cyprus.

Not so. It's true it has seen better days and Nicosia can sizzle in the summer, but this is still a lively city, with pleasant tavernas on tree-lined boulevards and an old world charm that is much in evidence around the Old City, enclosed by its 16th century Venetian wall.

South of the Green Line, the wall around Plateia Eleftherias is regarded as the main centre, with several pedestrianised shopping streets and the cobbled back streets of the popular Laiki Yitonia district. The streets of Nicosia are very safe wherever you walk, provided you keep an eye out for traffic

Travel

South Nicosia has several networks of urban buses. Most bus routes start at Solomou Square next to the Tripoli Bastion in the city centre or the terminal at the Constanza Bastion to the east. In addition Nicosia municipality runs its own free yellow buses within the city walls. Buses to other resorts are frequent and cheap but there is no public transport to the airports at Paphos or Larnaca. There are plenty of taxi firms in South Nicosia that pick you up with a phone a call. There is also a 24-hour taxi rank at the Eleftherias Square. Taxi fares are regulated by law and drivers must use a meter. South Nicosia Service Taxis are operated by Travel Express from the Podocataro Bastion with cheap rates to other resorts.
Car hire is plentiful and parking easiest in the large pay and display car parks around most of the city bastions, with the largest and most convenient between Constanza and D'Avila bastions on Leoforus Stasinou. It's best to avoid driving between 11am and 1pm weekdays when traffic gets very heavy.

Shopping

The main shopping areas in South Nicosia are Makarios Avenue, Stasikratous Street running parallel behind it, and Ledra Street. As well as the local craft shops there are the usual international stores like Virgin and Woolworth's. Stasikratous Street is best known for expensive boutiques, shoe shops and silverware jewellery. At the end of Makarios Avenue is Eleftherias Square and the city centre. Most of the shopping area in the old part of Nicosia is now traffic free. From Eleftherias Square the wall past the town hall leads to Eleftherias Venizelos Square, also known as Ochi Square, and a colourful open market every Wednesday.

Sights

There are a few ancient sites worth visiting and some attractive churches and monasteries to visit. The villages in the Troodos foothills are a step back in time. The best archaeological site is Ancient Tamasos, the remains of the ancient kingdom found about 17km south west of Nicosia near the village of Politico. Its wealth was founded on copper which was extensively mined from 600BC.

The main attraction is the tombs of two kings with walls carved to imitate wood. The treasure that was here has long since vanished and a hole in the roof of the larger tomb shows where the grave robbers got in. Six limestone sculptures - four lions and two sphinxes -were recently discovered during work on one of two 6th-century BC royal tombs. Two of the lions were life-size and complete.

 

About 2km south is the postcard pretty village of Pera with its winding cobbled back streets and bougainvillea-bedecked walls. The village is one of several often included in 'safari' tours of Messaoria and the Troodos mountains. Photogenic opportunities can also be found at Orounda and Peristerona where there is a very fine church. Heading into the Troodos mountains is the area of Agia Marina with several well marked shady picnic spots. Another favourite is the pretty village of Fikardou is one of a clutch of well-preserved villages. Houses date from the Ottoman period and have splendid balconies.


Things to Do in Nicosia


Venetian Walls

The walled ramparts that surround the city of Nicosia were originally built by the Venetians and are now a major tourist attraction. The walls were erected to keep out the Ottoman Turks and took four years to build from 1567-1570. They weren't a fat lot of good as the Ottoman army landed at Larnaka just as they were being finished and stormed Nicosia only three months later. The ramparts completely encircle the city and make for fine walks along several sections. They were built with 11 fortified bastions which have remained pretty well unchanged. Today the Green Line through the middle of the old city leaves five bastions in the south, another five in the north. The remaining Flatro Bastion in the east is occupied by Greek, Turk and UN forces in equal measure - such are the niceties in carving up an island. The southern ramparts and moat are generally in very good condition. Car parks have been built below them and there are gardens and town parks which also serve as venues for concerts. The bastions in the north have, unfortunately, been left to pretty much fall apart and many are now overgrown and crumbling. The walls used to have just three gates into the Old City but there is now access in several more places and traffic enters from all directions.

Famagusta Gate

The Famagusta Gate is the best preserved and most photographed of the old gates that once led into the city and is found in the Caraffa Bastion in the east, off Leoforos Athinas. The impressive sloping facade leads through the wall and an imposing wooden doorway. It was renovated in 1981 and the area is now used for exhibitions and concerts. These in turn have attracted several trendy restaurants and cafes to the area. This is also the main city bar and clubbing strip and the place lights up with neon after 10pm.

Laiki Yitonia

Near the D'Avila Bastion is the Laiki Yitonia district in the revamped part of the old city. The Government expropriated a square kilometre in 1977 to preserve the old city character and support local crafts and culture. The result is a prettified traffic-free area, crossed by cobbled lanes are full of shops and restaurants designed to catch the upmarket tourist trade.

There is a wide variety of bougainvillea-bedecked restaurants and an even wider variety of colourful but irritating touts trying to tempt you into them. Despite this, there are not that many bars or cafes where you can sit outside in the sunshine. Nevertheless it's a very pleasant area with lots of shade and you can always stock up on free maps and guides from the nearby Cyprus Tourist Office.

Cyprus Museum

The Cyprus Museum has the best collection of archaeological finds on the island. The building dates from around 1880 and is frankly past its best but the collections are very impressive. The highlight is the terra cotta figures dating from the 6th and 7th centuries. There are also some very fine statues, including Aphrodite of Soli, ubiquitous on travel brochures and posters..

House of Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios

The House of Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios is a remarkably restored mansion of a wealthy citizen around 1800. Lavish excess triggered a peasant revolt that threw him out and when he returned five years later he was beheaded for treason. One room has been restored as a living museum while the rest is given over to Ottoman antiques and memorabilia.

Makarios Cultural Foundation

The Makarios Cultural Foundation houses three exhibition areas. One is the European Art Gallery with painting by Van Dyke, Rubens and Tintoretto in its collection. Nearby is the rather dull Greek Independence War Gallery with maps, documents and paintings and also the Byzantine Art Museum which has a huge collection of icons from the 5th to the 19th centuries. Also nearby is the Ethnographic Museum which has many fine examples of folk art and crafts including embroidery, clothes, pottery, paintings, leatherwork and wood carving.

Hamam Omerye Baths

One of the most beautiful and well-kept Turkish baths in Europe can be found in the heart of Greek Nicosia. The carefully restored Hamam Omerye Baths were built during the Turkish occupation, converted from a church that once existed in its place. The baths consist of a mottled beige and yellow rusticated outer wall, constrasting with the smooth, cream domes behind. On cold winter days the steam from the baths leaves white trails in the clear blue sky.

Village of Fikardou

This picturesque village is situated 32 km south east of Nicosia, surrounded by peaks of over 1.000 m high. The buildings date back from the 19thcentury with modifications and additions made from the 20th century.

During winter time, there are just 4 people living in the village, all over the age of 65, occupying 4 dwellings. There was a steady fall after 1096 in the population, and the inhabitants moved to either the city or chose to live in larger settlements in search of a better life. This small village with its authenticity and the preservation of the sites, attract a great number of both locals and foreigners who come here to visit it, usually during the weekends. The local Rural Museum is housed in two of the most interesting traditional dwellings. This picturesque village was until recently an isolated self-sufficient settlement. Luckily the 4 people who permanently live in the village continue their traditional activities.

Churches

Archbishop's Palace

No ordinary Archbishop lived here, but Archbishop Makarios III himself. His giant black statue overshadows the square in front of the faux Venetian palace he once occupied. Archbishop Makarios was the foundation of Cypriot independence. His return to the island, celebrated by thousands of cheering Cypriots, marked the end of colonialism.
He is a controversial figure, however, especially for his support of unification with Greece. His efforts were the trigger for the Turkish invasion in 1974, ostensibly in support of the Turkish Cypriot minority who didn't want to become part of Greece. The palace became a battle ground during these times as the Greek Cypriot freedom fighters (the EOKA) battled with Turkish Cypriots intent on killing the Archbishop. The palace was almost destroyed during the fighting.

Panagia Phaneromeni Church

This church was witness to two acts of resistance against the Ottoman occupation, one real and one legendary. Firstly, after the Ottomans first occupied Cyprus in the 16th century, they tried to convert it into a mosque, but failed. Legend has it that every imam that tried to take up office was killed, so they gave up. Secondly, in 1821 an uprising was planned but uncovered, and the Archbishop and his staff were executed for their part in it. Their remains are buried in the mausoleum outside.

Saint Sophia Cathedral

This largest and surviving Gothic style church in Cyprus, that took about 150 years to be built, was officially inaugurated in 1326. After the occupation of Nicosia by the Ottomans in 1570, it was converted into a mosque.

Ayios Ioannis

Ayios Ioannis (meaning Saint John's) is the official cathedral of Nicosia. It is actually quite small, and is certainly not the largest church in Nicosia, but I suppose it is the official cathedral for traditional reasons. It was built in the 17th century.

Inside you will be able to see a double headed eagle (Byzantine design) depicted on the floor. When a new archbishop is consecrated, he stands on this eagle for the ceremony.

This church is also famous for the wall paintings it has inside (frescoes). There are a lot, although they aren't always that good it has to be said!