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Nicosia is a city that might be divided in the minds of some, but it is united as one culture. It is unique because it acts as two capital cities for two nations. The southern portion of Nicosia is the capital of Cyprus. The northern portion of the city acts as the Turkish capital of their republic of Northern Cyprus, although it is only Turkey who recognizes this as a capital. The rest of the world considers all of Nicosia to be apart of Cyprus and that Turkey is occupying the northern portion.
Conflict is nothing new to this island. For nearly 500 years, the Byzantine empire had control here and is actually responsible for making Nicosia the capital of Cyprus. Raids of the coastal towns were very common during this period of time, so the interior city made more sense as a capital. In the late 12th century, control of the city was held by several different ruling parties:
- the initial rulers were the Byzantine empire;
- Richard I of England invaded Nicosia because his bride-to-be was anchored off-shore of Cyprus for a week in fear of being captured on land;
- the Knights Templar purchased control of Nicosia from Richard I;
- the people revolted against the Knights Templar and Nicosia was sold to the King of Jerusalem.
This all happened in a span of 5 years. Today the ruins of these ancient civilizations and those who came before them are all well preserved and can be visited with just a small day excursion from the central city of Nicosia.
Ledra Street Is the Heart of Nicosia
Located within the walled portion of Nicosia, Ledra Street has become an icon of Nicosia itself. It has always been the busiest place for commerce within the city and it is a central hub for the side streets that lead into the Old Town. Pubs, quaint restaurants, and small cafés provide a unique opportunity for visitors to explore, experience local culture, and find new treasures.
If you stay on Ledra Street’s combination of brick and cobblestone, you’ll have a much more modern experience with a visit to Nicosia. Major worldwide retailers, such as Starbucks and McDonald’s, are present on this central commerce hub. You can also find internet cafés and many niche shopping opportunities as you stroll down this primarily pedestrian access street.
For another perspective of this city, venture on down to Faneromeni Square. Before 1974, it played the role for this city that Ledra Street provides today. Because of this, there are a number of historical buildings and monuments to see in this gathering place for musicians, artists, and free-thinkers. Of note:
- Faneromeni Church: This church was built in 1872 on the site of an Orthodox nunnery. It dominates the center of the square and is the largest church within the city walls. Dedicated to Holy Mary, it is unique because it features a mixture of classical, Byzantine, and even medieval styles.
- Faneromeni School: Founded in 1857, this school was the first all-girls school on Cyprus. It was founded to improve the literacy rates that at the time were declining across the island. The Marble Mausoleum that is on the school’s grounds is in memory of four clerics who were executed by the Ottoman governor at the time because of the role Cyprus played in the Greek War of Independence.
Nicosia Features Several Museums That Will Fascinate You
One of the highlights in a trip to Nicosia is the chance to explore its many museums. The most popular out of these is the Cyprus Museum, which explores the history of this island in detail. 14 rooms represent 14 unique time periods of which you journey through, beginning with the Neolithic era. Each room features artifacts found on Cyprus that represent the specific period. There is a heavy emphasis on Greek-Roman art here as well.
To view the city in its entirety, there may be no better place than the Shacolas Tower Museum and Observatory. Not only do you get a great view, but you’ll also learn about the two Cypriot populations and why Nicosia is split. Although the world doesn’t recognize an actual border in the city, there is a UN crossing point that separates the two sides and a passport is required to travel between the northern and southern portions of the city. Photographs throughout the exhibit document the history of the city.
And then, located in the Archbishop’s building is the Cyprus Folk Art Museum. It only has 6 small rooms for exhibits on display, but what you do see will give you a glimpse of what life was like on ancient Cyprus. Fixtures, furniture, and the architecture of the building all merge together to create a fun, unique experience in Nicosia. While there, make sure to visit the Byzantine Museum as well, as it holds the largest collection of religious icons on the island.
There Are Many Archaeological Sites
Out of all the different ruins that can be explored in and around Nicosia, perhaps the most interesting of them all is Konigsgraber von Tamassos. It holds the remains of a temple to Aphrodite, who according to legend emerged from the waters around Cyprus. There are also tombs that can be explored for a small entry fee. It is only open to the public on weekdays, however, if you plan on visiting.
Nicosia is a unique city that can offer visitors a different perspective on life itself. Divided, yet whole, it is a symbol of what each person faces each and every day. Choices must always be made and sometimes those choices divide. Sometimes choices bring people together as well. What you’ll find during a visit to this city is that there are many opportunities here within the city to make oneself whole again.
Because of that fact, a visit to this island capital is always worthwhile.
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