Spare a day from your sunbathing schedule to visit the Cypriot capital Nicosia (also called Lefkosia), which dates back to the 11th century. A day is long enough to experience modern urban Cypriot life and satisfy your curiosity for a divided capital that is still split into ‘north’ and ‘south’ by the barbed wire fences and concrete walls of the island’s ‘Green Line’. Checkpoints allow tourists to pass between southern Cyprus (the larger Greek Cypriot side) and Northern Cyprus (the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus).
Nicosia’s architecture feels relatively low-rise, which gives an atmosphere of sprawling Mediterranean hub rather than a skyscraper-filled metropolis. Buildings swing from shabby-chic and broken down to brand new and sparkly, depending on which way you turn. The prettiest parts of the city’s architecture include its soaring minarets and the star-shaped old city walls. These Venetian walls jut out like an eleven-pronged Christmas star or an unlikely eastern Mediterranean snowflake. Tourists can keep their bearings in Nicosia by moving around the 4.5 km of walls, gate to gate and bastion-by-bastion. Worth checking out is the imposing Famagusta Gate which is now a cultural centre.
Come mid-afternoon the coffee beans and baklava pull crowds of students, city workers and shoppers into the snaking alleys and streets of the old city, inside the Venetian walls. Inside the heart of the southern city these cafés mingle with enough museums and atmospheric medieval sights to compensate for the minimalist architecture typical of the beach resorts. Showy Makarios Avenue in south Nicosia is the place to be seen…it seems.
The sun doesn’t let up in this city, so head indoors to cool down and gen up. In southern Nicosia are ancient Cypriot archaeological discoveries, displayed at the Cyprus Museum (west of the city wall) and the National Struggle Museum, which gives one side of the story of Cypriot division. You can see the other side of the story in north Nicosia at the Museum of Barbarism, the former home of a Turkish army official and his family who were murdered by Greek-Cypriot terrorists in the sixties. Another historical highlight of northern Nicosia is the Büyük Han Caravanserai – a restored complex of niches, water fountains and rooms once used by travelling silk and spice traders. Stop here for a drink in the shade and use your imagination to step back in time.
Tourists from the EU and most of the western world can pass freely between the two halves of the city by showing their passports and filling in forms at the military checkpoints. (Photography is prohibited at the checkpoint and in the derelict no mans’ land between north and south). A pedestrian checkpoint was opened at the northern section of Ledra Street in 2008, leading visitors from the south straight to a handful of fake designer shops with cut-price named items. The atmosphere at the checkpoints is businesslike but tourists shouldn’t feel intimidated by the paperwork and stern faces.
Things are different for Turkish citizens and various other “non-Europeans” who will be denied entry into southern Cyprus from the North.
Posted : Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 at 11:00
Kelly Pipes is a writer and editor who has worked in travel and travel publishing for the last ten years, and has enjoyed every single minute of it. Alongside other projects she shares off-beat travel news and authentic travel experiences on her own blog, Sandwagon.