Nicosia (Lefkosia in Greek) has been the capital of Cyprus since AD 100 and has seen many turbulent times following the Turkish invasion in 1974; walking is the best way to get a feel for the character and city’s cultural development.
The old city of Nicosia is really not one to be missed when visiting the capital; it is mostly pedestrianised and has been undergoing a renovation of many of the old residential buildings that are situated within the 16th century Venetian walls. This restorative work has been almost 30 yearlong project to encourage a revitalisation in both parts of the Old City in a which not so long ago, were close to demolition.
Today, visitors can still see old holes from gunfire damage in some of the houses close to the city’s border. There are also buildings in this area, like the Hamam Omerye that have been thoughtfully restored; keeping an Ottoman-inspired design to portray Nicosia’s rich architectural inheritance.
Nicosia’s renowned history and mix of various cultures have made it an important milestone for some of history’s most important civilisations. Historians believe that that it was built over the ancient town of Ledra that existed around 7th century BC.
It was only when the monarchical institutions fell at the end of the 4th century that Nicosia was able to take advantage of its natural resources and geographical position at the centre of the island. The Nicosia walls were destroyed and rebuilt by the Venetians who wanted more protection shortly after the Lusignan kings arrived on the island; The Ottomans covered them with small pebbles and mosaics during their occupation of Nicosia; these are the walls that have survived until the present day.
Not to be Missed
Do not forget to take a walk through the winding narrow streets of Laiki Geitonia, where you have the opportunity to see some incredible traditional urban buildings as well as other small art workshops. Also within walking distance to this area, the Leventio Museum has an impressive collection of medieval artifacts and other documentation narrating Nicosia’s development over the years. Tripiotis Church dates back to 1694, and the Cross of Missirikos is an old Byzantine church with gothic Italian elements that was transformed into what is now called as the Araplar Mosque in 1571.
Nicosia is the last capital city in the world to still be divided today. Walking in the old city, visitors are reminded of this by the United Nations controlled buffer zone that still divides the city in two. Nowadays, the Ledra check point is more of a crossing guarded by peacekeeping soldiers as the official wall was demolished back in 2008 to allow the pedestrians to cross the border easier.
Click here to read more about crossing the border to the North.
The city walls establish the centre of the city and really marks the heart of the old town. The old town is mostly pedestrianised and visitors should visit by foot to really get a feel of the place.
How to reach by bus: any Nicosia based bus route headed in the direction of the central bus station will take you right to the top of Ledra Street; Nicosia’s main shopping avenue and the start of the Old Town.
Photo Credit: Nicolas Ktorides