An island in the Mediterranean Sea, in its far south-eastern corner bay between Turkey
It was formerly a British
territory and gained independence only in 1960. Not soon after clashes between Greek
Cypriots and the minority Turkish Cypriots turned into war resulting in the partition of the island. For decades the country has been divided along the so-called Green Line, including a UN
-controlled buffer zone.
The northern one third of the island is the self-declared "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", which is not internationally recognized as an independent state except by Turkey
– but effectively it is indeed very dependent on Turkey. Others, especially the Greek Cypriots consider Northern Cyprus an illegally occupied territory.
The southern two thirds is the independent Republic of Cyprus, recognized internationally and a member of the European Union, with the Euro adopted as the currency in the south (whereas in the north it's the Turkish Lira, again nothing's independent here in monetary terms either).
The dark attraction of the place is of course precisely this division. This is nowhere more palpable than in the capital Nicosia
(or Lefkosia). This is the world's last divided capital city
, with the Green Line and buffer zone slicing straight through it in a manner not dissimilar to the way the Berlin Wall
did during the Cold War
. OK, there's also the marked difference that the Green Line is UN
-controlled, rather than by fierce Warsaw Pact
border guards and minefields, but still.
Recent improvements in relations between North and South have made it quite possible to cross this border as a visitor. EU citizens should have no problems at all, others should enquire beforehand. It can be expected that things will ease down even more. There's also talk of reunification, but presumably it will be a long time before the politicians on both sides manage to get that far …
For the time being, you can still see the border fortifications – and in the no-man's land of the buffer zone along the Green Line you can see abandoned derelict buildings still riddled with bullet holes and mortar shell scars from the fighting all those decades ago. Although the course of the Green Line may be difficult to make out precisely, you can get a bird's eye look at it and over to the north from the south side by going up to the observation deck of the Ledra Observatory Museum
at the Shakolas building – a 12 storey edifice towering over the rest of the otherwise low-rise city.
There are now several border crossing points, including two for pedestrians in Nicosia: one at Ledra Palace, a former hotel and since the separation the UN headquarters, or at Ledra Street itself. At the latter, the road block where the Green Line crosses the street used to be the starkest reminder of the country's precarious political situation for over 40 years. A few years ago it was finally dismantled (but passport checkpoints remain).
Getting to Northern Cyprus from abroad requires a stop-over in Turkey
and is generally a little more complicated, but it is easy to get into Southern Cyprus. Nicosia airport has been closed since the separation, but Larnaka International Airport in the south-east handles international flights from a plethora of departure points. From there you can get a shuttle bus for the 30 min. drive to Nicosia.
Most mainstream tourists rather flock to the beaches, where most of the tourism infrastructure is concentrated (these days featuring a large Russian
presence), whereas Nicosia is distinctly non-touristy. While that may be an attraction in itself, it has the drawback of accommodation options being comparatively limited and/or expensive. It pays off to plan well ahead.