No matter how far you travel and how many extraordinarily beautiful cities you see, the happiest place will always be home.
I never really gave much of a thought of my home country and hometown until years later when I travelled enough to finally settled down. I would always be impressed by the beautiful foreign landscapes, forests, jungles and massive urban cities, admiring their amazing history, culture and arts. But, then I would be asked where I am from, and surprisingly enough everyone was impressed with my country, calling it exotic and comment on its fantastic landscapes, history and culture. And I would be wondering what’s so interesting about my tiny country.
So, even though we all think we know our countries the best, believe me we don’t. Recently, I started studying more about my country, our history, our origins and our culture. And, I have to say, I am very impressed. Today, with this post I would like to introduce the most iconic places and things to visit in the Old Town of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.
Nicosia or Λευκωσία (Lefkosia)
Nicosia was first inhabited by farmers and hunters in 2,500 BC until it developed as the city-state of Ledra. But, although Nicosia has been around for at least 4,500 years it was not the capital of the island until the 10th century. You can see old ruins of the Ledra Kingdom at the Ayia Paraskevi hill in the southeast part of the city. Today one of the most popular streets of the Old Town of Nicosia is named as Ledra Street and we Cypriots always say “I am going downtown to Ledra instead of Nicosia”. Ledra Street is a commercial area full of shops, restaurants and coffee shops.
The island is a crossroads of three different continents thus it has always been a prize for the great rulers of both the ancient and modern world. Cyprus has been colonised and occupied by Egypt, Persia, Assyria, Phoenicia, Greece, the Roman Empire, Arabs, Turkish, Francs, Venetians and British. That’s a lot of different cultures, languages and religions and you can until today see their influence in our lifestyle, dialect, architecture and customs and beliefs.
First of all, the first thing you’ll notice in Nicosia are the massive walls that surround the old part of the city. Nicosia was fortified under the rule of the Venetians in the 15th century and until today the walls stand tall hiding the medieval old town. The walls were designed in such a way that from above the city of Nicosia looks like a massive star. Along the Walls there are three gates and eleven bastions. The most notable gate is Famagusta Gate which today is used as a cultural centre and exhibition. Furthermore, the walls now instead of a form of security, they are decorated with gardens, parks and often concerts take place within the walls through yearly events or festivals.
Cyprus is one of the first Christian countries in the world and wherever you are there is at least one church somewhere on the corner. Similarly, in the old town of Nicosia within the walls there are several churches and cathedrals representing our deep history and roots of Christianity.
One of the oldest churches in the city is the Church of Panagia (Virgin Mary) Faneromeni. The church dates back in the 13th century and it was part of a Cistercian monastery for women. The church though was rebuild again in the 19th century after it was destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake.
Cyprus has one of the oldest civilisations in Europe and if you love to explore ancient history then Cyprus is your place. There are several museums in Nicosia that show off the island’s rich history and culture. the Cyprus Museum is the oldest museum on the island and it established by the British in 1882. it exhibits archaeological finds from the ancient kingdoms of the island. The most famous ancient artefacts collection in the museum is the Terracotta Statues found in Ayia Irini.
If you wish to enjoy the old little streets with traditional Cypriot architecture in the old town then the best place to visit is Laiki Geitonia. It is a touristic area that features traditional restaurants with authentic Cypriot cuisine, bars with local wine and spirits and live music as well as shops with souvenirs and traditional art and crafts.
Lastly, in the recent tragic history of Cyprus, after the invasion of the Turkish army to the island through Kyrenia, Nicosia is today the only European capital that is divided into two parts. A large part of the city is within North Cyprus which today you can visit. Or you can walk along the Green line (UN Buffer Zone) which divides South and North Cyprus and see remnants of the 1974 war through the abandoned houses and empty streets.