Nicosia’s past reflected in its monuments

NICOSIA – This major city in Cyprus is the last divided capital in Europe. It is also a city with a long history and a wealth of monuments recording its eventful past. Until recently, Greeks could only view the traces of its history in half of the city, though in 1979 the mayors of both sides began jointly implementing a master plan to restore the city’s most significant monuments with the help of UN funds. Though a series of delays affected the work of archaeologists, conservators and architects, the results are now apparent on the Venetian walls, city gates, churches, baths, mosques and Gothic and Ottoman monuments scattered around both sides of the divided capital. In 2003, the opportunity to visit the occupied side of Nicosia for a few hours enabled visitors to get an overview of this many layered city. At the Ledra Palace checkpoint, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots cross to the other side of the city, are the master plan offices, staffed alternately by Greek and Turkish Cypriots. A stroll through both the well-known and not-so-well-known monuments of Nicosia is the best way to piece together a mosaic of the invaders, conquerors and foreigners who left traces of their culture in Cyprus. Venetian engineer Julio Savorgnano began work on the medieval fortifications of Nicosia in 1567. The walls encircle the city, reinforced by 11 heart-shaped bastions. For some years now the Ammohostos Gate has been used as a venue for cultural events. The restored Kyrenia Gate, also known as the Porta del Proveditore, is in northern Nicosia. On the avenue leading to the Kyrenia Gate, the Tekes Mevlevi, which was used by the Dervishes, is now home to the Turkish Museum of Folk Art. Public buildings In the center of the northern part, next to the market, is Buyuk Khan, restored in 2003. A large, two-story building with porticos around a square courtyard with a small mosque in its center, it is now used for restaurants, art galleries and tourist stores. Two large historic baths, the baths of Omeriye and Buyuk Hamam, have been restored and are still in operation. The Baths of Omeriye, a late 16th-century stone edifice, was built in 1570 by Lala Mustafa Pasha to celebrate the Ottoman conquest of Nicosia. Buyuk Hamam, in the market, was a Catholic church built during the time of the Lusignans. It was turned into a bathhouse when Nicosia was taken by the Ottoman Turks. Currently under restoration is the Kumarcilar Khan, dating from the late 17th century. Aghia Sophia, the cathedral of the Lusignans, where the rulers of the Franks were crowned, was made into a mosque with 49-meter minarets by Lala Mustafa in 1570. It is one of the city’s most important monuments. Right next to Aghia Sophia is the 14th-century church of Panaghia Hodigitria, which was the Orthodox cathedral during the Venetian period. It later became a covered market or bedestan. The 13th-century Lusignan-era Armenian church in Arabhnet, the Byzantine and Gothic Cross of Misirikou, the churches of Aghios Antonios (17th century), Chrysaliniotissa (early 18th century), the restored mosque of Omeriye, and the church of Panaghia Faneromeni (early 19th century) are just a few of the places of worship within the walls of Nicosia. A short walk through the city reveals a wealth of monuments that reflect the storied past of this historic capital.

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