CYPRUS: Nicosia, the Capital


Nicosia, called Lefkosia by the Greeks, is the capital of Cyprus.

We spent five nights there, in a wonderful traditional house in the old town with a great courtyard and sunset views from the balcony.

Nicosia is still surrounded by the walls built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Nowadays parks have replaced the moats.

Our house was not far from the Famagusta Gate, also from the 16th century.

Along the wall was a huge monument to the war of Cypriot independence from Britain.

The old town still shows the ravages of the war of independence, which last from 1955 to 1960, as well as the civil war of 1974.
Nicosia--and, indeed, the whole of the island--is now divided between Greek and Turkish zones, with a so-called "Green Zone"
still patrolled by UN peacekeepers, separating the two. In fact, the border betwen the two zones was only a few houses
from our apartment, where the street was barricaded by oil drums, sandbags, scraps of lumber, and barbed wire.

The streets of Nicosia are an interesting mix of old and new, with delapidated and neglected buildings side by side with chic and modern ones.

There was a lot of graffiti.

There are religious buildings from all periods.

While Muslim mosques and their minaret towers are found throughout the Greek Cypriot side of Nicosia, all but one are closed.
(The same is true of Christian churches on the Turkish Cypriot side.)

The center of the old city has pedestrian streets lined with cafes and bars, shops and restaurants.

We had some tasty meals in Nicosia, including our lunch at the restaurant called "Berlin Wall #2" close to the so-called Cypriot "Checkpoint Charlie" since the restaurant is built at the end of a street now made a dead end by the barrier between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot zones.

Below left is the Orthodox cathedral of Nicosia, and below right is the huge archbishop's palace.

The archbishop's palace is a modern one, built after independence in 1960--since the first man elected as president
of the Republic of Cyprus was the Orthodox archbishop of Nicosia--so the building functioned as both a political
and religious headquarters. The previous archbishop's palace has now become a museum of Cypriot folk art.

Another interesting museum was the mansion of an 18th-century Ottoman official, called a dragoman.
A dragoman was a liaison between the local Greek Orthodox community and the Ottoman government.
His house was set around a courtyard and garden, with its own small bathhouse at the back of the garden.

Below is an ornately carved ceiling from another mansion of the same period.

The archeological museum in Nicosia was impressive, with object from the Neolithic to the Greek and Roman eras.

Among the most interesting exhibits were these hundreds of terracotta figurines, found together in an ancient grave.

Modern Nicosia extends far beyond the old town, and is not all that attractive.

But where the old and new cities meet is the city hall, below left,
and a tall residential building designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel.

It was designed to evoke the Mediterranean with its white walls and lush plants growing out from balconies and wall openings.

The plaza between this building and the old town is a huge construction site. It is Eleftheria Square,
and will become a multilayered public space, designed by the Iraqi architect, Zaha Hadid.

A few more random Nicosia sights below.

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