It is time to talk about Nicosia…my charming birth town!
Greater Nicosia is probably the only area in Cyprus that can boast continuous habitation since the beginning of the Bronze Age 2500 years BC, when the first inhabitants settled in the fertile plain of Mesaoria. It is this that makes Nicosia unique among Cyprus’s Bronze Age sites, the fact that settlements in Nicosia thrived and developed, while others ceased to exist.After the Arab raids in the 6th century AD and the pillage that ensued in the coastal cities, people moved to the center of the island in the Mesaoria plain and the mountainous areas.
The last Byzantine governor of the Island was Isaac Komnenos who declared himself emperor of the island and ruled the island from 1183 –1191. Caterina Cornaro ruled Cyprus from 1474 to 1489 but was forced to cede the administration of the country to the Republic of Venice. The Venetians ruled the island from 1489 –1571. Nicosia was their administrative center and the seat of the Venetian Governor.
On July 1st 1570 the ottomans arrived on the island and on the 22nd of July Piale Pasha and his army marched towards Nicosia.On 5 July 1878 the administration of the island was officially transferred to the British Empire. In 1960 Nicosia becomes the capital of the Republic of Cyprus.
Since 1974 the people of Cyprus have been experiencing the tragedy of a divided country, with the Green Line cutting in two the heart of the capital city of Nicosia.
Nicosia in Greek is known as “Lefkosia” and is the only city in Europe which is divided in two by a green line, separating the Greek-Cypriots from the Turkish-Cypriots.
Nicosia, Internationally known with its Italian name, is the capital of the island. According to Greek mythology, Nicosia was a siren, one of the daughters of Acheloous and Pelpomeni. Built of the river Pedieos, it is the largest on the island and the seat of the government of Cyprus, the parliament, the public sector, the banks and all major companies. As such it is the farthest southeast of all EU member states’ capitals. It is the island’s financial capital and its main international business centre. It has been continuously inhabited for over 4,500 years.
The urban area (including the various municipalities) has a population of approx. 245’000. It has no airport. The nearest one is in Larnaca. The other one in Paphos.
It is the only town of the island not on the seaside. Therefore the mood here tends to be more serious, and surprisingly enough Nicosians (Lefkosiates…) are quite different from their compatriots of Limassol or the other towns! (the “others” consider us as snobs…!). Apparently, in 2015, Nicosia was the 6th richest city in the world (!!!) in relative purchasing power!
Places to visit
The Historical Centre of today’s Nicosia is located within the large medieval walls, which were built by the Venetians and a hallmark of the town. The north part is still under Turkish occupation. Eleftheria square has been under reconstruction for ages now, re-designed by the famous architect Zaha Hadid (she will never see it finished…are we?). One can walk over a temporary bridge and visit on foot the old town and sadly enough get a glimpse of the “green line”. Strolling around, you will see some remarkable examples of traditional urban architecture as well as small art workshops. In the same area, pay a visit to 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 and the majestic Phaneromeni Church.
The Cyprus Museum (also known as the Cyprus Archaeological Museum) is the oldest and largest archaeological museum in Cyprus. It is home to the most extensive collection of Cypriot antiquities in the world and is located on Museum Street in central Nicosia. Of note is that only artefacts discovered on the island are displayed.The museum collection has far outgrown the capacity of the existing buildings so much so that only a small fraction is on display at any point in time. It is really sad that even during the Golden Years of the economy, no provision (or serious effort for that matter!) was made for a decent renovation or expansion. Nevertheless extremely interesting to visit.
The A.G. Leventis Gallery boasts a remarkable permanent collection of works by European, Greek and Cypriot artists of the 17th-20th centuries. It also hosts fascinating temporary exhibitions. It is a must visit! You can read more about the gallery here.
You will also find a very good collection of works by Cypriot and Greek artists at the Loukia & Michael Zampelas Art Museum.
I honestly cannot recommend any hotel to stay at…
There are two big hotels under the “Hilton” chain. One as you enter the city, the other at the very end, in Makedonitissa area. They both leave a lot to be desired… There are a few smaller hotels but nothing worth mentioning or suggesting.
The visitors of Nicosia, if the conditions allow it, could opt to stay in one of the hotels in Limassol or Larnaca (big selection there) and drive back and forth. Its a 45 minute to one hour drive, depending on where you stay. This would allow you to take advantage of the beach as well!
Restaurants, cafes & bars
I may not currently live in Nicosia but I of course visit very often and my friends and family make sure I keep up with the food & drinks scene! I do have my favourite all time classics though!
Lost & Found Drinkery – Bar. With a vibrant atmosphere and a ranking in the World’s 50 Best Bars. Robust cocktail list with a focus on long drinks.
Il Bacaro – My cosy neigbourhood wine bar. Lots of by the glass options and bar food.
Barrique Wine & Deli – Wine bar. Extensive wine list and excellent Mediterranean food.
Silver Star – Casual and modern wine bar with a deli next door.
Vino Cultura – Bar with an impressive wine list in a warm and attractive space.
Brew Lab – Casual coffee bar & meeting spot. Serving professionally prepared TAF coffee.
Skinny Fox – Bar/Restaurant. Current talk of the town with a fusion menu, influenced by Asian cuisine.
D.O.T. – Urban type bistro. Great location opposite Famagusta Gate. Excellent brunch.
The Gym – Bar/Restaurant. Chic and imaginative decor, serving modern European comfort food. At the back of the dining area, you will find a small treasure trove in the form of a store/gallery.
Pantopolio Kali Orexi – Contemporary-style taverna firmly rooted in delicious traditional Greek cuisine with several daily specials. Excellent service. A place to see and to be seen, especially during lunch time!
Dimitris Arcade (I Stoa tou Dimitri!) – Rustic eatery, in the heart of the city, next to Saint Antonio’s market. A bastion of authentic delicious Cypriot food. A favourite lunch-meeting place of government officials, bankers and leading business people! Consistent quality, good and fast service, excellent value for money.
Odofragma – Traditional tavern at Agios Dometios. Serving mouth watering ofton kleftiko, traditional souvlaki, meats on charcoals and local delicacies. Located within a massive paved garden, it is very popular during the summer months. Do not go without a reservation! (Andrea Kariou, Agios Dometios, +35799657270).
You will find in Nicosia most of the high street brands, as well as shops with exclusive brand names, most on Makarios avenue and Stasikratous street. In the pedestrian streets of the old town there are a number of small quaint shops. Be careful though of what you chose, as lots of made in China are sold for local handmade items!
My shopping list:
The Cross Contemporary Store – 17 Zenas Kanther street.
Best homeware & furniture shop in Nicosia, featuring items by Normann, Knindustrie, Kahla and others! Great gift selection too!
Retrovi – On line or at Kult Boutique.
One-of-a-kind, beautiful bags! Just as its name suggests, Retrovi (meaning ‘rediscover’ in the Esperanto language) experiments with the traditional designs of Lefkaritiko lace and Fythkiotiko weaving, introducing new applications, while always respecting craft and tradition.
Kult Boutique – Stasikratous street.
Featuring Luxury Brands such as Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Independent Designers and my absolutely favourite Retrovi Bags!
Bleu Boutique – Stasikratous street.
Avant garde designers such as Rick Owens, Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons, Uma Wang.
Flashback – 4, Vasilissis Friderikis str.
Fun boutique with vintage clothes, bags, shoes & hats!
Phaneromenis 70 – Same address, old town.
An artistic hub, created by Kyriaki Costa, where you can find jewellery, clothing, ceramics, objets d’art and handmade souvenirs.
Moufflon Bookstore – Sofouli 38
A good stock of reading material for all interests, and for all ages. The majority of the books are in English, but books in other languages are available and can be ordered. Books are imported on a regular basis from around the world. You will find in stock a rich collection of books on Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean.
A final note…
Walk or drive through Byron and Gladstonos street…For some old time charm…
I do not recommend that visitors cross the green line to visit the occupied part of the city. Although it has become, during the past few years, very easy to do so … In fact I have to admit I do not like it when friends of mine do so… It may sound interesting or exotic, but it shows an acceptance of the status quo…
“Life is short and the world is wide!”