A tale of two capitols (Nicosia, Republic of Cyprus & Lefkosia, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus)

Nicosia Travel Blog

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Bayraktar Mosque - Nicosia

Today was my day to go to South Nicosia in Cyprus and North Lefkosia in The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It is technically a separate country with its own border and flag, although its existence is contested. It is only officially recognized by Turkey. It has been a separate entity since 1974. The city has served as a capitol since the 11th century.


Today was another sunny one, clear, blue, and warm. I love this weather. I was up and out in just 30 minutes as I wanted enough time to explore each side of this divided capitol.


I asked the front desk about the best way to leave town since I’ve had challenges doing so, each day.

Market at Constanza Bastion
With their simple directions, I was on my way headed north in no time.


I have to make a comment as I have been in a vehicle for many days in a row which is not the norm for me. I miss driving! I’ve about gotten this whole RHD thing down. With concentration, it’s not difficult. Also, their radio stations here are awesome!!! I especially like the British Forces radio station. They play really hot current music. I miss that!!!


The drive to the capitol is north from Larnaca through a straight valley with beautiful mountains and valleys of limestone. The stone is so creamy white that it reminds me of sand dunes at times. It’s definitely unique and unexpected. Every color stands out against this color of stone.


It was about a 45 minute drive from the hotel to the city limits of Nicosia.

Streets of the Lidras
The wonderful guy at the Tourist information center in Larnaca had highlighted the best way to cross the city and park in the Old Town just outside the Venetian walls. I followed his easy directions and wasn’t lost even once. Thanks!!!!!


The walled ramparts that surround the city of Nicosia were originally built by the Venetians and are now a major tourist attraction. The walls were erected to keep out the Ottoman Turks and took four years to build from 1567-1570. They weren't a fat lot of good as the Ottoman army landed at Larnaka just as they were being finished and stormed Nicosia only three months later.


The ramparts completely encircle the city and make for fine walks along several sections. They were built with 11 fortified bastions which have remained pretty well unchanged.

Bell tower of Tripiotis Church, dedicated to the Archangel Gabriel
Today the Green Line through the middle of the old city leaves five bastions in the south, another five in the north. The remaining Flatro Bastion in the east is occupied by Greek, Turk and UN forces in equal measure - such are the niceties in carving up an island.



I parked and paid for parking for 6 hours (3 euro). The government controls the parking prices. That’s great for tourists…the prices are reasonable and it is illegal to charge other prices. I parked between Constanza and D’avila bastions


I climb up the stairs to the top of the wall level. There is a farmer’s market in process at the Constanza bastion. It is a huge open space with all the veggies and fruits and treats you could want. In the far corner of the bastion is the Bayraktar Mosque. It was erected soon after the Turkish conquest in 1571.

An interesting door
After a brief walk around the market, I was on to the sights of the city!!!


I cross the street (the top of the wall) and then down the stairs down the other side to the Old Town street level. The street is only wide enough for one lane!


I enter near the pedestrian area of “Lidras”. The old homes are very interesting. I see a bit of Bulgarian and Maltese in the design. This area is very touristy with shops with crafts and souvenirs and cafes to lounge and have coffee or tea.


The Cypriots are known for their metal work and you will see creative window grates everywhere. They are fantastic. I walked this area for awhile soaking up the quaint charm.


Around a corner, I happened upon the Tripiotis Church, dedicated to the Archangel Gabriel.

Window grate on church window
It is the lovliest of the surviving Gothic churches in South Nicosia. It was built in 1695 in Franco-Byzantine style. It has Gothic windows and Medieval stone reliefs.


I continue through this area with the standard of construction being Cypriot Colonial and the details that go along with that. The doors and balconies and metal decoration had me click crazy. It was a real treat.


I stopped in to the tourist information center and picked up a city map which was very helpful. Also, just around the corner I noticed a shop with pottery and other distractions. I ended up with a replica of a museum piece of one of the clay tablets, and a lovely tile with a scene showcasing the beauty of Cyprus. Around the corner from that shop, I found a t-shirt that I liked. Most of them had been very tacky and overdone. This one is simple and tasteful. It will be added to my collection of t-shirts of the world.

Icon at Faneromini Church
Oh, I also bought a little ceramic scene of a typical Cypriot’s town center….so quaint.


The old city is a combination of charm and desolation. Restored yellow and white stone architecture with ornate covered balconies contrasts with dilapidated, dusty concrete

buildings. Many abandoned buildings still show the scars of bullet holes, and many are homes to families of stray cats. Recent archaeological excavations have revealed

the domestication of cats on Cyprus more than 9,000 years ago, the earliest finding of cats in burial sites in the world. Some of the most beautiful buildings in Nicosia have

been restored under the Nicosia Master Plan, a bicommunal restoration initiative begun in 1979 under the auspices of the U.N. Development Programme. Funding came from a variety of sources, including the U.S.-funded Bicommunal Development Program. The Master Plan is a comprehensive urban planning document designed to improve living conditions.

Part of sculpture at the border between the two Cyprus'
Almost 100 projects have been completed


I walked in and out of the maze of streets and found my way to Faneromini Church. It was built in 1872 on the site of an ancient Orthodox nunnery. It is the largest church within the city walls and is a mixture of neoclassical, Byzantine and Latin styles


Continuing down this pedestrian corridor, I came to an unusual monument / sculpture??? It has a round base of stone with metal letters attached to the tops. The letters are Greek and Latin. In the center are long poles with cones of cement at their ends, like arrows??? In the center is also a pile of other stones with letters on them.????


The Turkish invasion of Cyprus, in 1974, followed a coup that was intended to annex the island to Greece.

The border!
The invasion ended with Turkey occupying much of northern Cyprus and setting up a government that only Turkey recognizes. It is a situation that remains in place today.


Until relatively recently North Cyprus was a no-go area for tourists to the island. The situation has now improved by the political deadlock remains unresolved. The border between north and south Cyprus now runs right through the heart of Nicosia.

A UN buffer zone, only a few yards wide, separates the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The narrow streets of the old city can end in cement walls, gun emplacements, sandbags and razor wire. There is free mobility across the divide however through border checkpoints. Armed guards patrol and these are still the only places you can legally cross.


Nicosia is still a fascinating city.

Kumarcilar Khan, Lefkosia
Little visited by tourists, except those crossing to the north, it has an impressive old city encircled by an imposing city wall that is in good repair, in the south at least.



This is in front of the only pedestrian crossing from Cyprus to the Turkish Republic or Northern Cyprus. So……here I go, of course!


I stopped and asked the border guards on the south side and they said with an American passport there is no issue, so onward I went. I walked a path that was maybe 2 meters wide with metal walls covered in plastic. At the halfway point, there were military on both sides with machine guns in the street watching. At the border of TRNC, they asked for my passport and gave me a visa form to fill out with my name, passport number, and nationality.

Selimiye Mosque, which was originally the Gothic Church of St. Sophia - Lefkosia
The guard stamped the paper and said “DON’T LOSE IT”. I had heard of occasions where people traveled to the north and then were refused entry to the south, which was the reason that I asked before I crossed into the “occupied territory”.


The first thing that you notice is that Lefkosia is not as prosperous as Nicosia. There are many more buildings in a terrible state of disrepair. Also the conditions of their ruins need some tlc. I saw that at several, the EU is funding repairs.? I wonder how that sits with Cyprus?


The first little square was very touristy with cafes selling Turkish foods and coffee. There were a few shops with souvenirs but not many. I found a cool t-shirt with the Turkish-Cypriots whirling dervishes on it.


Next, I found Turunclu Mosque, building, which is constructed by cut stones and is located at the Women Bazaar Street in the quarter of Iplık Bazaar.

Window grate at Selimiye Mosque - Lefkosia
 The inscription on the doorway, it is recorded to have been built by Seyit Mehmet Emin Aga, a governor of Cyprus, in 1825. It is constructed on a platform that is above the road level.


I continued to walk this rundown area due to the amazing buildings that I kept finding. There was a Medieval Kumarcilar Khan. It’s a multi-domed, really architecturally fascinating building. The khan’s entrance consists of an interesting 17th century apse. Its difference to the Buyuk Khan is that this building’s balcony is covered with a wooden roof supported by thick stone columns whereas in the case of the Buyuk Khan the ground floor’s arched colonnade is repeated in the upper floor.


The grandest building came next, the Selimiye Mosque, which was originally the Gothic Church of St.

Interior of Selimiye Mosque - Lefkosia
Sophia. This ancient church is the chief mosque in the northern state of Cyprus, and the great festivals of Bayram and other Moslem gatherings are conducted here. It was formerly the cathedral of St. Sophia which was built in the period 1209 A.D. to 1228, over the ruins of a previous building. Only recently, in 1976, have the ruins of the ancient building before 1200 A.D. been discovered, on the southern side. In style of architecture, St. Sophia resembles the famous mediaeval cathedrals of France.


Along with the Muslim flag, the flag of TNRC can be seen here. This building, once great, is now a mess with alterations and patches and modern roof things. I don’t know what they are doing. It’s a shame, in my opinion.  


I went inside to see what this Gothic jewel had become. In typical mosque fashion, everything was painted white.

Color and design
The windows that had housed carved stone and then probably stained glass now were filled with a geometric venting. It’s quite creative. There was an older altar in need of repainting but, nicely traditional mosque style. There was, also, an extremely colorful new, or repainted one that is fantastic with vibrant colors and designs.


As I walked back out and put my shoes back on, I noticed a shop with intriguing antiques. I would have loved to have purchased something but, my money was all gone until I could get back to Nicosia. So, I took some pictures of the cool things;Tin plates with interesting designs.


On the south side is the St. Nicholas Church which is under restoration. Built in the Byzantine and mediaeval styles, it is called The Bedestan, meaning covered market, and this it was, until the municipal market moved to buildings on the other side of the road. The Bedestan is now preserved as an ancient monument and the interior has many fallen marble and granite columns, probably Roman, and it shows that the Bedestan was once a much larger church.

An interesting replacement for the Gothic stained glass windows
Looking around the church, one can still see the effects of the severe earthquakes of centuries ago. The guide will show you a vaulted room full of mediaeval tombstones, many having the coats of arms of crusader knights. The best photograph to take is that of the beautifully carved Gothic door on the northern side. It is a good ex ample of French mediaeval stone carving. Quite a mystery is why two such large churches were built so close together


The next square revealed a nicely kept row of traditional houses and cafes. At the end of this square was a monument with the flag and the symbol of the country, a howling wolf.


I was on my way to a mosque with the ruins of a great cathedral that is very famous. I had thought that I was lost……really lost. I even ran across a really cool door, great design and rough with age, and a little boy sleeping face down on the threshold.???


I pass another Gothic church, roof gone, now converted to a mosque, minaret at one corner.

The crest for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
  It was Haydarpasa Camii, formerly the Church of St. Catherine, built in the 14th century. The church is an elegant building comprised of a central space covered by two groin vaults. It also has an altar which ends with a three sided apse. On the apse’s northeastern side there is a two-storey building with groin vaults. On the apse’s southwestern side there is a small circular tower with a staircase. This tower has been turned into the mosque’s minaret. Of special interest are the building’s three-sided support pillars that are interrupted by oblong windows.



Finally just down the street form this, The Yenicami Mosque, built in the 18th century. The church is from Middle Ages, and probably it was constructed in the 14th century. In 1571, after the Ottoman’s conquest, it was converted into a mosque and was used until it collapsed in 18th century.

Youth of Lefkosia
Only the minaret, which is at southwestern side of the building, is still standing. After the collapse, a nearby building was used for worshiping. The large main hall and the arcades of the last congregations place in the worshipping area are notable. There are four tombs with a sarcophagus on each, are bounded in this building.


Now my time was becoming limited. I wanted to see the Byzantine Museum and the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia. It was almost 15:00 and I needed to leave by 16:30. This was now going to be a problem.


I found more than I thought there would be, of interest. I had enjoyed my discoveries so, whatever I miss, it’s okay.


I made my way back to the border.

Cypriot design - Nicosia
It seemed that I was much further away than I really was. I said goodbye to Lefkosia. It was interesting…..I recommend it, if you love history as it’s apart of this cournty/s history.


I made it to the border but stopped for a moment at a bench to take a picture of my stamped visa. I didn’t know if it would be taken or not.


I was processed on the TRNC quickly and Cyprus just saw my American passport and waved me on. So, I got to keep my visa. I get to keep my stamp……it’s surely one that not too many people have. I guess technically it makes country # 57 (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyrus.


Ok, so now, I’m in a hurry and trying to navigate the maze of streets to get to the opposite side of the Old Town, a mistake.

A great old door with element above - Nicosia
The Cyprus Museum was closer, I should have gone there. I would have at least gotten to see a bit of it. The time I spent trying to find the Byzantine museum was wasted…..couldn’t find it. I did pass a really cool Hamam on the way, I could really use that but, no time!!!


I stopped for a final site. It’s an Orthodox Church across from the Pancyprian Gymnasium. I could find no name on it or information online. It was a beautiful church and I had to take pictures of it.


I noticed, while walking through a passage, that their are metal tiles embeded in the stone streets. They are part of the city walks that take you through the historical areas of Nicosia and Lefkosia, within the Venetian Walls.


So, now just past 16:00, I need to head back to the car.

Walking path element for historcial walk within the Venetian walls
It’s a distance form here! I make it to the post office, where I had bought postage earlier today. I wanted to post a few of my cards from Nicosia but, I’d lost the second of two stamps needed…..aarrghh!!!


I get in the car….as I’m being watched by a strange man that is hanging out near the toilets. Actually, I recognized him from when I arrived, almost 6 hours ago..???!!!


I speed away and am able to reconstruct the great directions, in reverse. The drive back to Larnaca was spectacular. The sun was setting and the colors across the limestone mountains and the approaching Mediterranean Sea were just gorgeous.


Upon my return to Larnaca, for the first time, my navigation to the hotel was simple and there was an open parking space.

Many colors of the sunset -driving south between Nicosia and Larnaca
Thank God!!!


I went in and had a wonderful conversation with the lady at reception about travel, Cyprus, and the immigration issues regarding jobs.


I returned to my room and looked through my treasures from the day. I thought about the two capitols that I visited. How different and not really understanding why they can’t just get along. The people in Nicosia are really no different than the people in Lefkosia.


I wrote a bit, talked to Rob, still in Boston, and watched “Practical Magic” on DVD. I needed to get to sleep earlier, tonight. I planned a journey into the Troodos Mountains.

It should be a great day!

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Bayraktar Mosque - Nicosia
Bayraktar Mosque - Nicosia
Market at Constanza Bastion
Market at Constanza Bastion
Streets of the Lidras
Streets of the Lidras
Bell tower of Tripiotis Church, de…
Bell tower of Tripiotis Church, d…
An interesting door
An interesting door
Window grate on church window
Window grate on church window
Icon at Faneromini Church
Icon at Faneromini Church
Part of sculpture at the border be…
Part of sculpture at the border b…
The border!
The border!
Kumarcilar Khan, Lefkosia
Kumarcilar Khan, Lefkosia
Selimiye Mosque, which was origina…
Selimiye Mosque, which was origin…
Window grate at Selimiye Mosque - …
Window grate at Selimiye Mosque -…
Interior of Selimiye Mosque - Lefk…
Interior of Selimiye Mosque - Lef…
Color and design
Color and design
An interesting replacement for the…
An interesting replacement for th…
The crest for the Turkish Republic…
The crest for the Turkish Republi…
Youth of Lefkosia
Youth of Lefkosia
Cypriot design - Nicosia
Cypriot design - Nicosia
A great old door with element abov…
A great old door with element abo…
Walking path element for historcia…
Walking path element for historci…
Many colors of the sunset -driving…
Many colors of the sunset -drivin…
The view along the limestone plain…
The view along the limestone plai…
photo by: JP-NED