Nicosia (Cyprus's capital city) has a bustling population of over 300,000 that has expanded considerably in recent years. Summer temperatures are around 5 degrees hotter than the coast, but fortunately a cool breeze brings relief in the evenings. The tranquil atmosphere hides the reality that Nicosia is a divided city. The "green line" that cuts through the very heart of this unique walled city dates from the troubles of 1963 when Nicosia was partitioned. At that time a British intermediary drew a line, in green ink, on a map of the city. This term is now used to describe the line that divides the whole island. Tourist movement between the two sectors of the town is controlled by border crossings. EU citizens can cross the border at any official crossing point, however, nationals from other parts of the world may be turned back.
The remarkably well preserved Venetian walls are the most imposing structures in the city and are now a major tourist attraction. The ramparts, comprising 11 bastions and three gates, completely encircling the city, providing fine walks along several sections. Erected in 1567-1570 to keep out the Ottoman Turks, they failed to be very effective. The Ottoman army landed at Larnaca just as they were being finished and stormed Nicosia just three months later. Within its walls, the old town is a fascinating place with narrow winding streets and old crumbling buildings, many of which have now been renovated.
Leaving the modern City and entering through the gates to the old town is like taking a step back in time. It is easy to become lost in the maze of alleyways, old houses with ornate flower laden balconies, interesting little squares and palm fringed open places. The many small craft shops dotted around the town sell locally produced handicraft work. Just behind the award-winning Leventis Municipal Museum, which recounts Nicosia's long colourful history, lies the recently revived Laiki Geitonia (or Popular Neighborhood). This an area designed to authentically recreate the atmosphere of the old town, where you can watch the local craftsmen at work among the artisans' galleries and walk amongst the many traditionally restored buildings, quaint little shops and tavernas.
The main commercial shopping areas in Nicosia city are around Archbishop Makarios Avenue and Stasikrates St, and Ledra and Onasagorou Streets in the old town. In addition to shopping for traditional handicraft items such as jewellery, Lefkara lace, embroidery and ceramics you can take advantage of Nicosia's modern shopping centres to buy the latest designer fashions, perfumes, liqueurs and prescription eye wear, all at reasonably low prices.
Nicosia has many excellent restaurants serving traditional food as well as international cuisine, plus numerous bars, discos and clubs to suit a variety of musical tastes. The main areas for evening entertainment are Laiki Ytonia and George Grivas Ave, Eleftheria St being favoured by younger people because of its many pubs.
Places to Visit
Originally this was one of the three main gateways to the old city walls; Famagusta to the east, Keryneia to the north and Paphos to the west. Built in 1567 by a Venetian military architect, the design was copied from a gate in Chania Crete. The gate has been lovingly restored as southern Nicosia's Cultural Centre. Its stone barrel vaults now provide the venue for concerts, plays and exhibitions.
Archangel Gabriel Monastery
The church of this monastery, set in a lovely peaceful garden, is of the Byzantine era. It was rebuilt in the 17th century and then absorbed into the monastery estate. Inside there is a large fresco of the archangel and the tomb of the founder, Archbishop Nikiforus.
The Archbishop's palace is a large mock Venetian structure. The state rooms are not normally open to the public, but on special occasions visitors can view the bedroom of the Archbishop Makarios III. A large bronze statue of the former Archbishop, and president of Cyprus, is situated in the grounds.
The Byzantine Museum
The museum was set up by the Archbishop Makarios III foundation. Located in part of the Archbishop's palace,the museum contains the largest collection of icons in Cyprus, including an delightful collection of 33 splendid mosaics. There is also an impressive art gallery displaying modern paintings.
The Ethnographic (Folk Art) Museum
This museum contains 19th and 20th century folk art, housed in the Archbishop's palace. Exhibits include rare examples of wooden water pales, weaving looms and traditional costumes, plus examples of lace from Lefkara.
If you only intend to visit one museum in Cyprus this one must be top of your list. The archaeological museum contains the best finds from across Cyprus, including wall paintings, examples of classical Greek pottery, ancient sarcophagi, sculptures. Plus many Roman and Egyptian finds, along with artifacts from ancient Salamis (including some splendid royal tomb furnishings). Exhibits from the bronze age include some of the first implements from the island's all important copper mines. One of the most memorable exhibits is the "Cyprus Terracotta Army" containing over 1000 votive figurines of various sizes found intact at Agia Irini. A new edition to the museum is the set of magnificent Lion sculptures from the royal tombs at Tamassos.
Border Crossing Viewing Points
If you don't wish to cross over to the Turkish side, a raised viewing point is available on Ledra Street. Observatories are also available in some large shops and tall buildings.