Lefkosia (also known as Nicosia) is the largest city, capital, and seat of government of Cyprus. In the words of Lonely Planet “is a curious and fascinating mix of vibrant street life, confronting division and rich history.” We spent a full day exploring the old town, after an enriching visit to the museum.
The Cyprus Museum (or The House of Archaeological Treasures of Cyprus) is the most important attraction in Lefkosia. It contains 14 galleries of original art pieces and artifacts arranged in chronological order from the 8th millennium B.C.E. to the end of antiquity. Displays date from Neolithic times to the arrival of the Romans and Greeks. Pottery with Mycenaean, Phoenician and Greek designs reflect the trading position of Cyprus between Europe and the Middle East. Extensive excavations throughout the island carried out by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities and many foreign archaeological expeditions have enriched the collections since its founding in 1888, and particularly since Cyprus gained independence in 1960. There is so much to see here. These photos represent only a small subset. Our favourites were the clay pottery and figurines from the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.
Sanctuary of Ayia Irini
This semicircle of seventh and sixth century BC terracotta figures was found at Agios Irini in northwest Cyprus. Over 2000 figures portray warriors, war chariots, demon servants and snakes, from life-size down to 10 cm, displayed in the positions in which they were discovered. In their original location in the sanctuary in Agia Irini the figures were arranged around an altar, and were part of some cult worship practices. They occupied a room of their own, and were a fascinating highlight of our visit to the museum.
The Green Line
The Green Line is the Buffer Zone between the Republic of Cyprus (Southern Cyprus) and Turkish occupied North Cyprus. It is patrolled by the Blue Berets of the UN peace-keeping force and has been in place since 1974. We saw tourists lining up to pass through the Ledras Checkpoint near the centre of Lefkosia on the south side, to the Turkish-controlled Lefkosia on the north side. Along the no-mans-land separating the two, we saw UN outposts, sandbags, barricades, bombed out buildings, and lots of graffiti.
Shacolas Tower is the tallest building in Lefkosia, and gives sweeping views across the Green Line no-mans-land, to the north of the capital. Once used to peer over the Buffer Zone into Northern Cyprus, nowadays this is no longer necessary, as the more open checkpoints give tourists easy access to the occupied part of the city. However, the views from the 11th floor observatory are still remarkable, and detailed observation boards tell you what you are gazing down on. From here you can clearly see the gigantic (and inflammatory) TRNC flag (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) painted on the hillside to the north of the city.
Lefkosia Old Town
The vibrant cafe scene was very lively. We enjoyed a delicious brunch in one of the outdoor cafes and soaked up the atmosphere. The colourful awnings and shade-cloth canopies over the pedestrian streets help to keep the inner city cool under the hot Mediterranean sun. Laiki Geitonia is the focus of tourist Lefkosia. Pedestrianised during the 1980s as part of the Lefkosia Master Plan, the areas to the east of Lidras Street and north of the D’Avila Bastion, are a mishmash of alleys and lanes, where the tables, chairs and parasols of bars and restaurants have taken over and inhabited the spaces between the old buildings.
The old city of Lefkosia is enclosed by 15th century Venetian Walls that form a regular eleven-pointed star shape, with a bastion on each corner. They were meant to act as a defence against the Ottomans, who sacked the city in 1570.The old town of Lefkosia has so much character, especially in the way some of the doors have been painted. We loved wandering the back streets and discovering one after another beautifully preserved facade.