The Long Green Line

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The Long Green Line

Now that the Berlin Wall has long since collapsed, Nicosia, the capital of Cyrus, remains as the only divided city on Earth. A long Green Line marks the division point between the Nicosia's two sides — the southern Cyriot side and the northern Turkish side — with barbed wire and guard towers.

The northern part of the city functions as the capital of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a disputed region recognized only by Turkey and which the international community has recognized as Cypriot territory under Turkish occupation since the Turkish invasion in 1974.

Even though it's a divided city, it has made progress. In terms of per capita income, Nicosia is the fifth wealthiest city in the world. It's both the island's financial capital and its main international business center.

Continuously inhabited since the beginning of the Bronze Age, Nicosia later became a city-state known as Ledra, one of the 12 kingdoms of ancient Cyprus. During Byzantine times the town became Lefkousia. And during the Crusades, King Richard I of England invaded Nicosia on his way to the Holy Land, conquering it and selling it to the Knights Templar, who were eventually driven out by the city residents. By the 15th century, the Venetians had taken control and built walls around the city. In 1570, the Ottomans took over. When the newly settled Turkish population arrived they generally lived in the north of the old riverbed while the Cyriots lived to its south.

You'll find most of Nicosia's museums and churches in and around the Old City, surrounded by a picturesque star-shaped city wall whose moat has been converted into a pleasant park. A great many of Nicosia's hotels are also to be found in this neighbourhood.

In the middle of the walled city is Ledra Street. From it, narrow streets, lined with shops, bars and art-cafes, lead in all directions. In 1974, a buffer zone, running through Ledra Street, was established across the island along the cease fire line to separate the northern Turkish controlled part of the island, and the south. To get an overview of the city and its dividing Green Line, head to the top of the Ledra Observatory Museum on Archbishop Kyprianou Square. You can't miss the building stand out since it's 12-story height rises above other buildings in the neighborhood.

Before 1974, Faneromeni Square, to the east of Ledra Street, was the center of Nicosia. A number of historical buildings and monuments, including Faneromeni Church, Faneromeni School, Faneromeni Library and the Marble Mausoleum, stand along its perimeter. The Mausoleum holds the bodies of the archbishop and the other bishops whom the Ottomans executed during the 1821 revolt. You'll find the Palace of the Archbishop at Archbishop Kyprianos Square. Although it seems very old, it's an imitation of one built in 1956 in Venetian style. Next to the palace stands the late Gothic Saint John Cathedral with its picturesque frescos.

With the walls lies the city's historical center, but beyond lies the modern city. Presently, the main square of the city is Eleftheria or Freedom Square, with the city hall, the post office and the library. The square connects the old with the new city and the primary shopping streets — the prestigious Stasikratous Street, Themistokli Dervi Avenue, and Makarios Avenue.

Nicosia is also known for its fine museums. Inside the former Archbishop's Palace is a Byzantine museum containing the largest collection of Orthodox icons on the island. Leventis Municipal Museum is the only historical museum of Nicosia and revives the old ways of life in the capital from ancient times up to our days. Other interesting museums include the Folk Art Museum, National Struggle Museum, and the Handicrafts Center.

The Cyprus Archaeological Museum in Nicosia is the biggest archaeological museum in the country and home to the richest and largest collection of Cypriot antiques in the world. The exhibits have been stored in the same building outside the city walls of Nicosia ever since the establishment of the museum in 1882 by the British administration ruling the island at that time.

The Ethnographic Museum of Cyprus, in old Nicosia, is not only a great example of Ottoman architecture but also displays Cyprus' largest collection of ethnographic artifacts from the Byzantine, Medieval and Ottoman eras, including costumes, pottery, lace, metalwork, woodcarving and paintings.

Coffee culture is a way of life here. The posh cafes along Makarios Avenue are where Nicosia residents come to see and be seen from the late afternoon to early evening. In the summer months, tables spill on to the streets.