Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus for around one thousand years, is the island’s largest city. It is the administrative, commercial, cultural, educational and religious centre of our country, and is also geographically at the centre of the island.
The city’s roots date back to the Chalcolithic Age. From ancient times and until the first centuries AD, it was known as Ledra. The historical Old Town lies within massive 16th century Venetian Walls, and is home to important museums, Byzantine churches, medieval and neoclassical buildings, crowding along narrow roads that crisscross the town’s old quarters.
Unfortunately, Nicosia remains the last divided capital in Europe, with the ‘Green Line’ dividing the city in two. One of the world’s oldest cities, Nicosia was the center of an independent kingdom as early as the 7th century BC. Known in ancient times as Ledra, it came under Byzantine rule in the early 4th century AD and passed to Guy of Lusignan, the Latin king of Jerusalem, in 1192. The Lusignan kings held Nicosia until it was captured in 1489 by the Venetians. The city passed to the Ottoman Turks in 1571 and to the British in 1878. It was made capital of British-ruled Cyprus in 1925. Nicosia became the capital of independent Cyprus in 1960. Nicosia is the capital of Cyprus, a status it has enjoyed for 1000 years since the 10th century, though its beginnings date back 5000 years to the Bronze Age. It lies roughly in the centre of the island in the Mesaoria Plain, flanked by the beautiful northern range of Kyrenia Mountains with its distinctive ‘Pentadaktylos – the five finger mountain. There are various suggestions as to the origin of the name Nicosia – or ‘Lefkosia’ In Greek – but the most likely one is linked to the popular tree, the tall ‘Lefki ‘ which once adorned the city.
Within the large area encircled by the strong bastion walls that served to protect the town for centuries are many places of great historic interest.
Nicosia is the seat of Government, Diplomatic headquarters and cultural centre of Cyprus, the capital presents two distinct faces: the old, original part of the city, surrounded by sturdy Venetian walls over 400 years old, and a busy modern metropolis which has a population of 171.000 together with the suburbs
Nicosia’s bid for the 2017 European Capital of Culture award has just been boosted with Larnaca and a number of municipalities in greater Nicosia now backing its candidacy.
“Today marks the beginning of our efforts to claim the cultural capital title … since we are given momentum with the participation of more municipalities,” Nicosia Mayor Eleni Mavrou said at a news conference on the occasion.
The central Eleftheria Square links old Nicosia with the elegant modern city that has grown up outside the walls, where hotels, offices restaurants and gardens blend happily with the fine old houses and colonial buildings of this cosmopolitan city.
The old town has become a picturesque fusion of 16th-century walls, pedestrian precincts, pavement cafes and squares, brimming with charm, character and sightseeing opportunities. The walls that completely encompass the Old City date from the Venetian occupation in the 16th century, and have a circumference of three miles (five km). Eleven heart-shaped bastions are interspersed along the walls, which have only three gates, in the north, south and east. One of the gates, the Famagusta Gate, has been restored and serves as the Lefkosia Municipal Cultural Centre, used for exhibitions, conferences, lectures and occasional performances. The gate’s vaulted passage leads on to the moat encircling the Old City, which has been planted to create a garden.
The heart of the city is Eleftheria (Freedom) square with the city hall, the post office and the library. Adjacent Ledra Street leads to the liveliest part of the old city with narrow streets, boutiques, and cafés.
Nicosia is also known for its fine museums. The Archbishop’s Palace contains a Byzantine museum where you can admire the largest collection of religious 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 (witnessing the rebellion against the British administration in the 1950s), Cyprus Ethnological Museum (House of Dragoman Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios) and the Handicrafts Centre.
Nicosia is important commercially, with many shops, three modern shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment. Nicosia was internationally ranked as the wealthiest per capita city of the Eastern Mediterranean. The city hosts the headquarters of 5 Cypriot banks. There are over 15 hotels in Nicosia district. The city is currently ranked 185th most expensive place in the world for expatriates to live, out of 300 international locations. The city is a trade centre and manufactures textiles, leather, pottery, plastic, and other products. Copper mines are nearby. Nicosia is the seat of the University Of Cyprus (UCY) and four other universities. Cyprus Airways also has its head offices in the city.
Motorways link Nicosia with other major urban areas in Cyprus. The A1 connects it with Limassol in the south with the A6 going from Limassol onto Paphos. The A2 links Nicosia with the south eastern city of Larnaca with the A3 going from Larnaca to Ayia Napa. The A9 is currently under construction and would connect Nicosia to the Troodos Mountains.