Nicosia Travel Guide

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Nicosia The Last Divided Capital

Nicosia The Last Divided Capital

Yannis

  Nicosia lies roughly at the center of the island, with a rich history that can be traced back to the Bronze Age. It only became Capital of the island in the 11th century AD. The Lousignians turned it into a magnificent city with a Royal Palace and over fifty churches.

Today it blends its historic past brilliantly with the bustle of a modern city. The heart of the city, enclosed by 16th century Venetian walls, is dotted with museums, ancient churches and medieval buildings preserving the nostalgic atmosphere of years past. Yet this old heart is split in two, leaving Nicosia the only capital city in the world to remain divided by force.

The new Nicosia developed outside the walls became a contemporary, business and cultural center. Just a few miles away areenchanting places of interest such as Byzantine churches and monasteries, archaeological sites and charming villages.

Without a doubt, Nicosia the 1000-year-old capital of Cyprus should be on every visitor's agenda. It lies roughly in the center of the island; within easy reach of the other towns and a day in Nicosia will be a day well spent.

The old walled city of Nicosia is unique and definitely the place to head for first. Encircled by strong fortress walls built by the Venetians in the 16th century, the enchanting old city is scattered with buildings and monuments of historical interest as well as little shops, caf├ęs and tavernas. The Nicosia Jewels Museum and the Municipal Arts Center are both well worth a visit. The 'Levention' Municipal Museum, with an imaginative presentation of the capital's history, was awarded the title "1991 European Museum of the Year".

To walk through the old city is to step backwards in time. Narrow streets and old houses with ornate balconies jut from weather beaten sandstone walls, smell of jasmine flowers in those long summer evenings, and craftsmen in small workshops practice trades unchanged for centuries. 'Laiki Yitonia' - Folk Neighborhood - is a pedestrian section, which has been carefully renovated to evoke the atmosphere of past days. The two main streets of old Nicosia, Ledra and Onasagorou, are lined with shops of every type, and both streets are pedestrian - only.

Not to be missed is the unique Cyprus Museum, housing island's most important collection of Cypriot antiquities and treasures from the Neolithic Age to the Roman Period. In contrast to these ancient finds is the State Collection of Contemporary Art, and on the other side of town, just off the main Limassol road, is the Cyprus Handicraft Center.

Another award winner is the city's renovated 'Pyli Ammochostou' - Famagusta Gate - one of the original entrances to the old city, which won the Europa Nostra award for its restoration. Many old churches are to be found in this part of town, and other places of interest are the Folk Art and Byzantine Museums, the Archbish's palace, the Cathedral of Ayios Ioannis with its beautiful frescoes, the National Struggle Museum and the intriguing house of Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios - a fine example of l8th century architecture - which houses the Ethnological Museum.

Not far from these monuments is the infamous 'Green Line' that divides the Republic from the illegally occupied area to the north. It has been in existence since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the island and claimed 37% of northern Cyprus as a breakaway pseudo-state that has since been recognized by no nation, other than Turkey.

The modern city that has developed outside the walls is a cosmopolitan center of business and culture. Nicosia is regarded as the shopping heart of Cyprus, with a variety of restaurants, discos and bars. Within easy reach of the capital are such historic gems as the l2th century painted church of Asinou, the picturesque monasteries (Makheras, Ayios Iraklidios), the regal tombs at Tamassos, the ancient city-kingdom of Idalion and the enchanting villages of Fikardou and Kakopetria.

Nicosia Shopping   The main shopping areas in Nicosia are Arch. Makarios Avenue, the parallel street behind it, Stasikratous Street, and Ledra Street. In addition to shopping for handicrafts, embroidery, pottery and other local made items, visitors to Nicosia might like to take advantage of the capital's modern commercial centers to buy such items as the latest design fashions, prescription eye wear, perfumes and liqueurs, many of which are less costly here than in Europe.

Stasikratous Street is known for its attractive and rather expensive boutiques, selling high quality clothes and shoes as well as silverware, fine porcelain and imported oriental clothes.

If you follow Makarios Avenue until the end and then turn right, you will get to Eleftheria Square, which leads to the central part of the town. Most of the shopping area in the old part of Nicosia is now pedestrian way so it is easy to ramble through the zigzag streets of the town especially Laiki Yitonia which is of particular interest to travelers who want a taste of Cypriot culture. Laiki Yitonia is a renovated eighteenth century enclave where local artisans and craftsmen display their wares along cobblestone lanes. Here too bougainvillea laced restaurants beckon with the aroma of roast lamb and Greek coffee.

If you go back to Eleftheria Square and follow the walls past the Town Hall and Post Office you will arrive at Eleftherios Venizelos Square, otherwise known as "OHI" square. There, an open market takes place every Wednesday. It is particularly colorful and worth a visit.

It is a good idea to shop around before buying and once you begin you will realize just how much there is to see. Take your time and relax while shopping. From shoes to spectacles to clothes, you are bound to find something to suit your taste and pocket and at the same time you will discover a little of the daily life in the capital.

Before shopping remember that in winter, shops open from 8.30-13.00 hrs and from 14.30-17.30 hrs. They are closed on Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. In the summer, shops open from 8.30-13.00 hrs and 16.00-19.00 hrs; again no shops in the afternoon of Wednesday and Saturday, except sometimes in Laiki Yitonia.

Laiki Yitonia - A Brief History The oldest documentation we have concerning Nicosia within the walls, dates back to 1567, when the Venetians took over the island, and built the fortification with the eleven bastions, that one can still see today. Nicosia though, has a history dating long before that period, and has been the capital of the island since 1192, when a French Royal family, the Lusignans, made it their capital. They built an important number of monuments, such as churches, monasteries, palaces etc. We also know that Nicosia had 250 churches, and that the town was much larger than the one built by the Venetians, who had destroyed a large number of original buildings to construct the fortifications. Nicosia today, has nothing really left of the French period, except the churches, and what one still sees is the structure of the town after the Venetians. The town planning was a result of a way of living: narrow streets with houses built next to each other. The buildings we see today basically date from the end of the 18th and 19th centuries, and they have all the characteristics of houses built within fortifications. Their design is also proof that architecture has managed to combine both worlds, the East and the West. Greek, French, Venetian and Turkish details, all mix in a typical Cypriot expression. The basic materials used for the buildings were wood, sandstone, and mud brick. The combination of all these different materials gives us today an example of fine architecture.

Until 1960, old Nicosia still retained all these characteristics, which gave the city its architectural character. In the next 20 years, Nicosia experienced a series of transformations both in the natural environment, as well as in the social environment, due to the demanding pressure for the development of the city.

The sudden change, found the city unprepared and unable to cope with the new needs. As a result of this change, the sudden development caused serious destruction to the historical character of the city. The "green line" divided the walled city, and aggravated the situation, by literally cutting in two the historical center, thus creating a problem to the city itself, and to all those who had to abandon their homes, because of the proximity of the green line. Gradually, the old town, - that once was full of life and commercial activity, is abandoned, and people look for solutions outside the fortifications.

The old part of our city, our historical center, was withering away, and problems within the walls just increased every day - traffic, lack of green areas, difficult living conditions and other problems. The Government of Cyprus, being aware of the problem the old city faced every day, decided in 1977 to expropriate the area of Laiki Yitonia, a small area not bigger than 1000 square meters. The main aim was to breathe new life to the city within the walls, by creating a nucleus with a very strong folkloric character that would combine, commercial and cultural activities. The basic scope of our government was to give a real example for the revival of the old city that would guide the way to a development of Nicosia, that would also safeguard in this way, its architectural character and its tradition.

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September 13, 2005 change by lrzezak

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