There are many interesting things to do in the capital of Cyprus. Nicosia is the only divided city in Europe which occurred after the invasion by the Turkish Forces in 1974. The two areas are divided by the ‘Green Line’ which cuts from east to west. The Turkish zone in the north is far different from the more touristy area of the south.
Mosques and Churches
There are many mosques and churches but the most impressive is the Selimiye Mosque which used to be St. Sophia Cathedral which was constructed in the 13th century where ceremonies of the Lusignan kings were held. Kings were first crowned here as King of Cyprus and then crowned King of Jerusalem in St. Nicholas Cathedral in Famagusta. St. Sophia Cathedral was converted to a mosque in 1571 by the Ottomans and minuets were added on either side of the entrance. It is the largest and best preserved temple of Gothic architecture on the island. It was constructed over the Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia. The building was damaged by several earthquakes in 1491 and whilst being restored by the Venetians, the grave of an old Lusignan King (Hugh II) was discovered. The corpse was well preserved, his crown still on his head and with items of gold, plus documents in the tomb.
There are three aisles, six side sections and little chapels inside. The chapel to the north was dedicated to St. Nicholas, the ones on the south to the Virgin March and St. Thomas Aquinas. The section of the mosque reserved for women used to be the treasury. Many Lusignan nobles and kings are buried inside the edifice. Note the inscriptions and drawings on the marble grave stones which constitute some of the floor tiles.
Visiting is permitted preferably not at times of prayer; women should cover up well, leave your shoes outside. Do not cross in front of anyone who is praying.
There are several museums to visit in Nicosia but probably the most interesting and unusual is the Museum of the Whirling Dervishes/Mevlevihane. The museum is housed in a domed building and is one of the island’s finest Ottoman structures. There is a collection of gravestones with inscriptions displayed which represent the best of Ottoman stonework. The sanctuary is laid out in a square and entered by a low arched door on the east of the courtyard. Mevlana’s philosophy invites all of humanity to peace and tolerance without religious, racial or linguistic discrimination. This idea is illustrated in paintings, miniatures as well as literature which can be found in the first section. The only surviving Dervish cell is also in this section and describes Mevlevi cuisine and table settings which were an important part of Mevlevi belief. There are information panels, drawings and diorama to be seen.
In the second section there is the podium which is where the sema was performed. There are models of musicians in traditional dress. Display cases contain an original copy of Mesnevi which was written by Merlana, as well as some musical instruments.
The tomb section is on the south side of the sanctuary and contains 16 graves, covered by 6 domes that line the Girne Boulevard. There are photographs, hand-written documents and other items that belonged to those who rest in the tombs. The Mevlevihane Museum is a must for anyone wishing to become better acquainted with Mevlana and Mevlevi teachings, a philosophy which emphasized love and humanity and welcomed everyone, whoever they were or whatever they believed in.
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Shop and stroll around the Liki Geitonia
You can start a walking tour of Nicosia (Monday, Thursday and Friday – 10 am) in the Laiki Geitonia from the main Tourist Information Center, or explore on your own. The tours are free and last from two to two and a half hours. This area is the heart and soul of the old walled city and covers about 2000 sq. meters. It is far from the hustle and bustle of modern day life while actually being only 100 yards from the main square of Eleftheria. The buildings which date from the end of the 18th century have been restored beautifully. It is a pedestrian area, with narrow winding streets and used to be known as a home for various ‘dens of iniquity’. There are plenty of shops to browse in, after which you can enjoy a meal in one of the many tavernas and sample the cosmopolitan cuisine of the island.
Turkish Baths – Hamam Omerye Baths
The Hamam Omerye Turkish Baths are one of the best and well kept in the whole of Europe, situated in the heart of Nicosia. The building has been carefully restored during the Turkish occupation from an old church that was on the site. The smooth cream colored domes send up spirals of steam into the blue skies on a cold winter’s day.
This covered market bazaar of Belediye Pazari is located in the old city in the north of Nicosia, also known as ‘Bandabulya’. It was the main market during the Ottoman period and still is an interesting and lively place to shop. As well as meat and groceries, you can find handicrafts, antiques or Cypriot Delights. Be sure to join in the fun and bargain with the shopkeepers.