Nicosia, the last divided capital.
When considering Cyprus as a holiday destination, what you find in the city of Nicosia is not what usually comes to mind, and for that reason I feel many will bypass this unique place.
Often, what’s lost in the image of Cyprus as, primarily, a beach destination is its rich history. Nicosia (or Lefkosia) proving to be a snapshot of this.
I admit, as a tourist Nicosia cannot be considered the most glamorous of locations in Cyprus, however, if you have a day or two spare I’d recommend making a visit, if only to experience the shift in culture and styles between South (Greek Quarter) Nicosia and North (Turkish Quarter) Nicosia. This shift is most evident as you step across the Green Line, a border crossing and de-militarized zone (Picture 1) that gets its name from the colour of the pen used by the UN officer who drew the line between the two halves.
The southern half of the capital is home to a city which feels especially European, whilst the Northern half feels very much like you’re in the heart of Turkey. This may not sound surprising considering who controls what, but it’s quite surreal when you’re there.
Unfortunately, the unique feeling mentioned is down to a sad recent past, where political violence and a dispute over control of Cyprus resulted in the mass movement of people from North to South and vice versa, whilst many also left the Island of Cyprus altogether.
When speaking to locals, most, whether they’re of; Cypriot, Greek or Turkish origin simply consider themselves Cypriots, who are frustrated by the bureaucracy and divisions.
It was refreshing to see numerous messages reaffirming peace dotted around the city.
Adding to the overall culture and feeling of city is the fact that Nicosia, and Cyprus as a whole, has been ruled by various empires over the years. This includes the Byzantians, Crusaders, Ottomans and the British.
As such, there are number of remnants from each era representing each period of rule. From the Venetian walls of the city to the Ottoman styled mosques and buildings dotted around.
It was very surreal having to walk through checkpoints and showing your passport everytime you walked across the city. The main currency on the north side is lira however most shops take euro so it’s not an issue. Nicosia is the only capital in the world with two different time zones. Also, be weary of your mobile data as you are no longer in Europe as you cross over to the north. My heart sank when I received a message from 3 about roaming in a non-European country.
In particular cities such as Famagusta, there are areas that are completely blocked off from tourists and citizens of Cyprus where only the Turkish military and their families are allowed to visit. This part of Famagusta is otherwise deserted. There are tour companies on TripAdvisor that can take you around this ‘ghost town’ and therefore give you a glimpse of what happened when the Turkish military stormed Cyprus.
More posts on Cyprus will be released soon 🙂