Nicosia is the European name for the capital of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. However, in Cyprus itself, the Turkish name of the city is more common – Lefkosha (Lefkoşa), and the Greek name Lefkosia (Λευκωσία). The city is located in the most central part of the island, at the foot of Pentaktylos. Unlike other large Cypriot cities, Nicosia has no access to the sea.
The administrative rule here is unique: part of the city is controlled by the Greek Cypriots (south), and part by the Turkish Cypriots (north). The northern part is slightly smaller than the southern one. The total population of the city is 200,000 people.
The city is literally divided into two parts: the border is guarded by the military, and you can cross it only at strictly defined points.
What attracts guests to the capital
Nicosia is the seat of the residence of the President of the Republic, parliament, other governing insular organizations, ministries and representative offices, as well as offices of large companies, banks, large shopping areas.
It is interesting that the ancient buildings, modernized from the inside, have retained almost their original appearance. Nicosia is a unique host of several architectural and geographical directions at once. A more interesting area, from an architectural point of view, is difficult to imagine.
Most of the historical sites, of particular interest to tourists, are surrounded by the walls of a Venetian fortress, the rich history of the glorious military past of which is probably known to the whole world.
The history of Lefkosha – Nicosia.
In antiquity, Nicosia was not a large and famous city. It was shaded by Kition, Salamis, Amathus, Lambuza.
But this area began to be populated a very long time ago, in the Bronze Age. The first settlement was formed along the Pedias River, which originated in the mountains, and was called – Ledra. The first mentions of Ledra are found in the Assyrian documents of the 7th century BC, which described the areas that owed tribute to the Assyrian rulers.
Somewhat later Ledra was ruled by the kings of Salamis. The city was completely destroyed during the battle between the commanders of Alexander the Great for the right to own Cyprus.
In 208 BC, King Ptolemy Lefkos restored and began to develop the city, giving it the name “Lefkoteon”, which meant “the city of Lefkas”. But the name “Lefkosha” was born not only for this reason. The city was surrounded by dense thickets of poplar forest, and in Greek, poplar – “lefkon”. When Ptolemy Lefkos had died long ago, the Cypriots renamed Lefkotheon to Lefkosia, which meant “the city of poplars”.
The full-flowing Pedias overflowed heavily in the spring, globally flooding the city. Undoubtedly, this brought a lot of problems to the locals, but the flooding of the river made the land of Lefkotheon unusually fertile.
After a while, the unharmed and beautiful Lefkosia was “looked after” by the Byzantines, who got rid of the Arab oppression during the long Arab-Byzantine wars. The city became the seat of the Byzantine governor of Cyprus, receiving the status of the capital, retaining it during the reign of the kings of the de Lusignan dynasty.
When Lefkosia was captured by the crusaders, who spoke in priority the Frankish dialect, the name of the city was born – Nicosia. The city was surrounded by walls, luxurious Christian Catholic churches and rich palaces were built in it, but the Greek architecture was preserved. Travelers of that time wrote that the Nicosians “are endless and they are all rich.”
The ethnos of Nicosia has changed a lot during the reign of the de Lusignans. The local Greek population was significantly squeezed by immigrants from Western Europe: Italy, France and others, as well as a large number of Armenians and visitors from the Levant. Nicosia, and with it Famagusta, increasingly acquired the appearance of French Provence and Northern Italy.
For long years, the capital of Cyprus grew and prospered, having suffered only twice: from the invasion of the Egyptian Mamelukes and the attack of the Genoese.
After the end of the de Lusignan dynasty, power in Nicosia was gained by the Venetians, who wished to make the capital the defensive center of the island. They tore down the walls of the city, and with them many Frankish buildings, including the abbey of St. Dominic, where the tombs of the Cypriot rulers were located. After that, according to the project of the architect Savorniani, new, more powerful walls, with bastions and fortifications, were built around the city.
In addition, a grandiose engineering plan for that time was implemented. The Venetians changed the course of the Pedias, dividing it into two branches to surround the city walls with water.
For contemporaries of the Venetians, Nicosia became an exemplary military fort. City warehouses were filled with food for two years in advance, in case of a siege. Unfortunately, all this did not save the city from the Turks, who took the fortress by attack in just 2 months, during the Venetian-Turkish war in 1570. The decisive moment for losing the war was the betrayal of the Armenians, who let the Turkish cavalry into the city gates.
In general, during the assault, about 20 thousand residents of the city were killed. At the same time, even before the start of the siege, a lot of Greeks, who did not have any special love for the Venetians, left the city. And after the end of the war, the Europeans left the city. Now only one third of the past population remained. Gradually, Nicosia was settled by Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
The Ottoman period brought with it a new wave of architectural trends. This time Lefkosia became like the cities of the Levant, with the Gothic style of the Crusader era, tightly intertwined with oriental buildings.
Lefkosa City Tour: Gateway to a City with Ancient History
It is best to start the excursion route from the old gates of the fortress. Once the road from this gate led to the city of Girne (the European name is Kyrenia). In the Venetian era, the gates were called governors’ gates – “del provitore”, and in the morning, before their opening, numerous village merchants crowded here, supplying the city with agricultural products and fish.
If you look closely at the gate and try to imagine times long gone, your imagination will draw crowds of people with horses and mules who carried carriages with all sorts of food to the city, as well as luxurious carriages of the nobility, merchants’ wagons. All this, undoubtedly, was accompanied by the polyphonic hubbub of people and animals. Everyone passing through the gate was obliged to pay the guards.
Interestingly, the project of the provincial gate is a twenty times smaller copy of the Beijing gate, which was sketched and measured by Marco Polo during his trip to China. In Venice, Marco published his sketches, and the architect Savornioni really liked them.
In memory of 1931, when the British administration expanded the entrance to the gate, at the expense of a part of the wall, the gate was decorated with engravings with the initials of Geopra V, the British monarch, and the date of rebuilding.
At present, the gaze of modern tourists is presented with an isolated arch of the gate and a guardhouse, with a preserved inscription about the repair of the gate by Sultan Mahmud II in 1821, and a quote from the Koran.
The entire Venetian marble panel has remained intact, on which the date of the gate was erected: 1562. The surviving steps lead to the wall of the fortress, and at the top of the wall there are several original British cannons that participated in the Battle of Waterloo, but then were sold to the Turks. These cannons were cast in England in 1790, under King George III, in the British arsenal of Woolwich.
Undoubtedly, Nicosia will show you many more historical sights, with the same long and unique history. Come to Lefkosa!