Nicosia is situated practically in the centre of Cyprus and constitutes a rich cultural hub. The history of the city dates back to the Bronze age.
In antiquity and in early Christian times it was known as Ledra. It has been the capital of Cyprus since the late Byzantine period (11th century).
The Lusignans transformed it into a splendid town, with royal palaces and 50 churches.
Contemporary Nicosia combines the historic past with the liveliness of a modern city. The city centre, the old “Chora”, surrounded by 16th century walls, with museums, old churches and mediaeval buildings, maintains the leisurely atmosphere of yesteryear.
Outside the walls, the modern town with its contemporary comforts pulsates to cosmopolitan rhythms. Nicosia remains the only divided capital in the world. A few kilometres into the countryside one can admire superb Byzantine churches and monasteries.
Cyprus’ diminutive size is greatly disproportionate to the wealth of treasures that you will discover during your visit to its capital. Dating back to the Bronze Age, Nicosia is perhaps the only area of Cyprus that has been continuously inhabited since the Chalcolithic Era (3000 B.C until present day), with its first inhabitants settling in the fertile Mesaoria Valley. Nicosia’s illustrious history and geographical uniqueness have made it a crossroads for some of history’s most important civilizations. Imprints left by greats such as the Ptolemies, Romans and the Byzantines, the Franks, Venetians, Ottomans and finally the British may be encountered in one’s travails through the Old Town area of Nicosia.
It may surprise some to discover that Nicosia was not always the impressive capital that one encounters today. Historians believe that that it was built over the ancient city of Ledra, a small town that existed around 7th – 8th century B.C.
It was only when the monarchical institutions fell at the end of the 4th century that Nicosia was able to take advantage of its natural resources and geographical position at the centre of the island. Cyprus’ last days as a monarchy ended with the Franks when Catherine Cornaro, the last queen of Cyprus, was forced to give the island to Venetians. Old Nicosia is surrounded by the Venetian Walls, behind which one may discover the city’s historic past unfold into a magical labyrinth of museums, old churches and medieval buildings. The Nicosia Walls were built by the Franks in the 16th century after the Lusignan kings arrived on the island. The Venetians realized that the walls did not offer adequate protection from invaders and tore them down, replacing them with the walls that remain until present day. The Ottomans repaired the Walls and covered them with stones during their occupation of Nicosia. Until today, the Walls are the most well – preserved construction in the city.
Do not forget to take a walk through Laiki Geitonia, where you have the opportunity to see some remarkable examples of traditional urban architecture as well as other small art workshops. In the same area, one will also encounter the Leventio Museum with its collections of architectural findings, medieval armours and other documentation of Nicosia’s evolution. Seek out Trypiotis Church that dates back to 1695, Phaneromeni Church and the Cross of Missirikos, an old Byzantine church with gothic Italian elements that was converted into Araplar Mosque in 1571. Also noteworthy is the Armenian Church and Monastery (Notre Dame de Tyre) that was originally a nunnery during the 13th century. This particular church also has architectural elements from the 14th century, since renovations taking place were never completed the Ottoman siege. The Church only took on its present form after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Omerie Area lies at the heart of the inner wall city and includes important examples of urban architecture, including the notable landmarks Omerie Mosque and Baths. While you are in Laiki Geitonia, stop by the Nicosia Local Market which is located next to the Arts Centre and the old inns. This area once made up the socioeconomic centre of the inner – wall city and continues to be a meeting point for Nicosia’s multi-cultural citizens.
Nicosia is a city that will reward visitors in search of ‘something different’. As a result of the various architectural influences that are visible throughout the city, one cannot help but be charmed by the manner in which past and present, traditional and contemporary have seamlessly fused together. The modern city centre will capture your imagination from the start, with its melting pot of influences that give the city a unique image. The city’s landmarks, museums, theatres, musical events and galleries both inspire and fascinate.
The streets of Makariou, Ledras, Onasagorou, Stassikratous and Mnasiadou offer shopping options that are comparable to many European countries. Nicosia also offers Cypriot and international culinary temptations in the many luxury restaurants that line its streets.
One of the most important churches of Nicosia is the Cathedral Church of St. Ioannis, where all Archbishops of Cyprus have received the Holy Sacrament since the 18th century. Panagia Chrysaliniotissa is the oldest Byzantine church in Nicosia and was built in 1450 by the empress Eleni Paleologou; it is noted for its vast collection of rare and ancient icons. Phaneromeni was built in 1872 next to an ancient Orthodox nunnery and is the largest church inside the Walls. Trypiotis Church was built in 1695 by Archbishop Germanos and is dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It is considered an important architectural example of the Franco – Byzantine Era.
One will also encounter the Catholic Church of the Holy Cross (1902) in Old Nicosia and the Anglican Church of St. Paul in the centre of the modern city. One may also visit the Monastery of Archangel Michael (close to Analyontas Village) that dates back to the Byzantine Era, the Monastery of St. Heraklidou, built near the tomb of the saint it is named after and finally Machairas Monastery, that dates from the First Iconoclastic Period (730 – 843 A.D) and was founded in 1148
At the centre of Old Nicosia lays Missirikos Church, a Medieval Christian Orthodox built in 1500 with byzantine gothic and Italian Renaissance architectural elements. It was converted into the Araplar Mosque in 1572. The Omerie Mosque was originally an Augustinian church run by monks and was dedicated to the Holy Mary. It was built in the 14th century and was converted into a mosque by Mustafa Pasa in 1571. Next to this are the The Omerie Baths that were built during the 16th century as a gift to the city of Nicosia by Lala Moustafa Pasa.
Next to the Constanza Bastion is the Bayraktari Mosque, where a Turkish soldier laid to rest the remains of Ottomans that fell during the city’s siege in 1571.
Famagusta Gate Cultural Centre
Tel. 22797660, 22797651
Monday-Friday 10:00-13:00, 16:00-19:00
Athena Avenue, Nicosia
“Melina Mercouri” Hall
Tel. 22797660, 22797651
Monday-Friday 10:00-13:00, 16:00-19:00
Athena Avenue, Nicosia
Achillios Municipal Library
30 Constantinos Paleologos Str, Nicosia (Opposite “Ochi” square open-air market) The Library operates as a lending library
Nicosia Municipal Multipurpose Centre
40 Nikiforos Foka Street, Nicosia
“Pallouriotissa Old Market”
Tel. 22797868, 99695699
7 Ayiou Andreou Street, Pallouriotissa
“MYLOI” Cultural Centre
Tel. 22797605, 99695669
4 Constantinoupoleos Street, Kaimakli
PALLAS Movie Theatre
Tel. 22456615, 22410181, 99544229
Corner of Rigenis and Arsinoe Street
Ledra Street Information Office
Monday-Friday: 07:30-14:30, Wednesday: 07:30-18:00
62 Ledra street
– Courtesy of the CTO
The Walls of Nicosia
The Walls of Nicosia were built by the Venetians in the 16th century replacing the old walls in order to defend the city against the Ottoman Turks. Until today, the Venetian walls are the most well–preserved construction in the city, although their sequence has been interrupted by openings which were done by the British to facilitate traffic in and out of the walls. The original three gates of the walls still survive – Famagusta (Eastern Gate), Pafos (Western Gate) and Kyrenia (Northern Gate).
Τhe Cyprus Museum (Archeological)
Τhe Cyprus Museum (Archeological) is the largest museum in Cyprus. Here, one may observe the evolution of Cypriot civilization from the Neolithic period until the early Byzantine period (7th century AD). Among its exhibits, one can admire the statue of Aphrodite of Soloi and the supernatural statue of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus.
The Leventis Municipal Museum
The Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia was established in 1984 by the Nicosia Municipality and the Anastasios G. Leventis Foundation. In 1991 the museum won the award of European Museum of the Year. The permanent exhibition spaces are home to exhibits which take the visitor on a journey through the history of Nicosia from antiquity to present day. The museum also offers organized educational programs and tours.
Τhe Museums of the Pancyprian Gymnasium
Τhe Museums of the Pancyprian Gymnasium are being housed in the historical centre of Nicosia. The museums of the Pancyprian Gymnasium comprise of: the Archaeological and the Numismatic collection, the collection of Old Maps and all Old Weaponry most of which have a Cypriot character. There is also an art gallery with works of great Cypriot painters and a Museum for Natural History.
Phaneromeni Church was built in 1872 next to an ancient Orthodox nunnery and is the largest church within the walls. The marble mausoleum located east of the church contains the remains of bishops and other clerics executed by the Ottomans in 1821 in reprisals for the beginning of the Greek War of Independence.
Agios Ioannis Cathedral Church
Agios Ioannis Cathedral Church was renovated in 1662 by Archbishop Nikiforos. The recently restored 18th century frescoes painted during the era of Archbishop Silvestros recreates scenes from the Holy Bible and the discovery of Apostle Varnavas’ tomb in Salamina.
Whilst wondering through the streets of Nicosia, one will inevitably come across a traditional local market. The markets of Agios Antonios and the Constanza Bastion are genuine examples of past times. The colours and scents of the products on display evoke pleasurable feelings to the passers-by and take them back to the days where ‘fresh’ foods could be found only there and handcrafted goods were made by real hands.
There are two routes one can follow: 1. Nicosia and its walls and 2. Pallouriotissa, Kaimakli – The latter restored outside the Venetian walls. These walks are offered by the Nicosia Municipality free of charge and are led by tourist guides. They begin and end at the information office of the Cyprus Tourism Organization (CTO) in Laiki Geitonia, 11 Aristokyprou Street (east of Eleftheria Square), Tel: 22674264.
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