The now divided city had a common history … until the ethnic clashes from 1963, when Turkish Cypriots were targeted by Greek Cypriot EOKA militia and fled from their southern enclaves to the northern half of the city. The UN-controlled buffer zone (Green Line
), established in 1964, then kept the two sides apart.
A decade later came the Turkish
invasion of July 1974, triggered by a right-wing nationalistic Greek coup that was aimed at ensuring ‘enosis’ (unification with Greece
). Since the Turkish minority would not have welcomed such a move, the Turkish invasion is seen in the north rather as a “rescue operation” and a “liberation”.
In any case, the truce line along the buffer zone agreed in August 1974 cemented the division not only of the capital city but also of the entire island. In 1983, North Nicosia became the capital of the unilaterally declared “independent” state TRNC
North Nicosia has since then become even more Turkish in character, with Turkish the main language spoken (though English is widely understood too), the Turkish lira legal tender (though these days the euro is also widely accepted) and shops and restaurants selling Turkish goods and serving Turkish cuisine (though there are many overlaps with Greek Cypriot cuisine).
The opening of the border crossing points between 2003 and 2008 has brought more transparency and mixing, with plenty of cross-border traffic now perfectly normal. Many North Nicosia residents go to work in the south, and many South Nicosia residents go for day trips to the northern part (also because prices there are markedly lower).
Note that the Turkish name for Nicosia is Lefkoşa (so almost identical to the Greek name of South Nicosia
: Lefkosa), but Nicosia is also widely used.
What there is to see: The north of the city also has a couple of fairly significant dark-tourism sites, two of which have equivalents in the south too, so comparing them with those is interesting:
In addition there are a couple of monuments to the TMT, the Turkish Resistance Organization (see National Struggle Museum) formed in response to the Greek Cypriot EOKA (see Cypriot History, Museum of the National Struggle and Kokkinotrimithia).
Among the many graffiti to be found in the Old Town alleyways in the north I spotted one calling for a “United Cyprus”, which contrasts sharply with the goals of the TMT (and the TRNC
). Maybe it was left by a visiting Greek Cypriot?
In some places you can still see evidence of violence and war, namely in the form of buildings’ walls riddled with bullet holes and some bigger holes from shelling.
On a mountainside to the north of the city a giant static TRNC
flag has been created (from painted rocks) next to the slogan “Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene”. The latter is a quote from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (founder of the modern republic of Turkey
) meaning something like ‘happy is the one who is a Turk’. This seems to be aimed less at the TRNC populace but directed as a propaganda message to the south. I saw it from my South Nicosia
hotel room balcony. At night the flag is even illuminated! And at 1500 by 700 feet (450 by 220m) it is truly enormous.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs:
easy enough, even on foot from South Nicosia
; noticeably cheaper than the south.
The largest number of visitors that North Nicosia gets come in on foot from South Nicosia
via the Ledra Street pedestrian border crossing (called Lokmacı on the Turkish side). If coming from further away within the TRNC
, say from Ercan airport, you can either get a bus service or taxi to North Nicosia (or hire a car – but parking in Nicosia can be tricky). Note that non-EU citizens who’ve entered North Cyprus
at the airport (or the ferry ports at Famagusta/Gazimağusa and Kyrenia/Girne) may be refused entry to South Cyprus
, as the Republic of Cyprus regards these as illegal entry points.
Getting around is easy enough on foot, certainly within the Old Town. Otherwise there are taxis that charge affordable fares.
If you want to stay overnight in the north there are a few accommodation options within the Old Town, especially in the northern quarter east of Girne Kapısı (Kyrenia Gate), where some renovated historic buildings have been turned into charming boutique hotels, whose rates are comparatively modest. Some more can be found in the Arabahmet quarter in the south-west of the Old Town. In the New Town there are also some bigger international-style hotels (with far less character, it has to be assumed).
As for food & drink
, there are plenty of options at lunchtime catering for the many day trippers from South Nicosia, but in the evening, the options get fewer, yet are still sufficient.
In the New Town I found a decent enough Asian restaurant serving adapted Thai and Chinese dishes (though with a marked reduction in spiciness); and in the Old Town just behind the Selimiye Mosque a pleasant mishmash of a place serving Spanish tapas and huge plates of pasta proved very popular indeed.
There are many cafés and even alcoholic drinks are not difficult to obtain, despite the TRNC
being a predominantly Muslim country (albeit not a very strict one). Standard lager beer is ubiquitous but beer drinkers with a more demanding palate should seek out The Walls Inn pub that serves locally brewed craft beers at very good prices (about half of what you’d pay in South Nicosia).
Time required: for just the things listed above a day or two could easily suffice. If you want to dig deeper into North Nicosia’s non-dark-tourism potential you’d probably need a couple of days longer.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
I used North Nicosia as a springboard to drive to Famagusta/Varosha
as well as to the abandoned copper loading facilities at Gemikonağı
(Karavostasi) harbour. For this I hired a vehicle at Sun Rent-a-car just north of the Old Town, one block up from Girne Kapısı (Kyrenia Gate).
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Some of the principal historic sights of the Old Walled City of Nicosia are in fact located in the northern half.
This includes the grand Selimiye Camii (mosque) that was converted to its present function from a Gothic cathedral dating back to the 13th/14th century (which used to be the Agia Sofia Church). When the Ottomans conquered Nicosia the inside of the cathedral was stripped of its Christian decorations, which were replaced by Islamic ones, but the architecture as such remains typically Gothic. From the outside it’s only the two tall minarets that were stuck on top of the twin church tower stumps that solidly indicate a mosque. The loudspeakers on these minarets that spring into action at prayer time issue the loudest calls to prayer I’ve encountered anywhere in Cyprus. You can clearly hear them in the south too. When I was in North Nicosia, the building was undergoing extensive refurbishing work, so much of the Gothic facade and the towers were hidden behind scaffolding. But that work should be completed before too long.
Another architectural highlight is the Büyük Han, a former caravanserai-like inn for travelling traders dating back to 1572, now a touristy cluster of arts and crafts shops as well as cafés and al fresco restaurants. A stone’s throw north is another, smaller such ex-caravanserai, the Kumarcılar Han.
A very pleasant part of town to stroll around in is the Arabahmed quarter. Despite the name this used to be the Armenian quarter until the Armenians were displaced during the inter-ethnic clashes of the early 1960s that resulted in the partition of Nicosia – and subsequently all of the island (see Cyprus history). Thus the recently renovated Armenian Church of Nicosia doesn’t actually have a local congregation any more.
The main artery road in North Nicosia is Girne Caddesı, which runs from near the pedestrian border crossing point at Lokmacı/Ledra Street all the way to the northern end of the Old Town at the historic Girne Kapısı (Kyrenia Gate – once one of only three gates through the Venetian Walls, today it’s bypassed by widened tarmacked roads).
Less than half the way up is one of the few squares in the Old Town, called Atatürk Meydanı
(you can also spot a large poster of the man, the founder of the modern republic of Turkey, atop one of the adjacent houses). In the centre of the square stands a tall historic column said to have been brought here from Old Salamis (see under Varosha > combinations
). Just to the west of the square is a large post office from the British colonial days.
Further north is the semi-hidden Samanbahçe quarter, a quiet oasis of peace, an ensemble of four double rows of single-storey whitewashed and green-shuttered houses along narrow pedestrian alleyways. This was once the result of a social housing programme of the early 20th century. But it looks like it must be many centuries older.
The New Town of North Nicosia is blander than its counterpart in the south, though the main arteries of Mehmet Akif Caddesı, Bedrettin Demirel Caddesı and Şehit Ecvet Yussuf Caddesı feature plenty of eateries, cafés and bars as well as some of the north’s larger hotels.
- North Nicosia 01 - flag and Atatürk gazing
- North Nicosia 02 - Girne Street
- North Nicosia 03 - column from Old Salamis
- North Nicosia 04 - colonial-era post office
- North Nicosia 05 - Selimiye mosque
- North Nicosia 06 - semi-scaffolded minarets
- North Nicosia 07 - small mosque
- North Nicosia 08 - Büyük Han
- North Nicosia 09 - amphora
- North Nicosia 10 - souvenir vendors
- North Nicosia 11 - mausoleum
- North Nicosia 12 - old hamam
- North Nicosia 13 - pretty town house
- North Nicosia 14 - somewhat shabbier part
- North Nicosia 15 - very thin three-story house, partly abandoned
- North Nicosia 16 - totally ruined
- North Nicosia 17 - refurbished
- North Nicosia 18 - in the Arabahmed quarter
- North Nicosia 19 - narrow alleyway
- North Nicosia 20 - Samanbahce quarter
- North Nicosia 21 - peaceful oasis
- North Nicosia 22 - TMT monument with patriotic slogan
- North Nicosia 23 - optimistic graffiti
- North Nicosia 24 - war scars
- North Nicosia 25 - yet more bullet holes
- North Nicosia 26 - museum
- North Nicosia 27 - market
- North Nicosia 28 - piles of sweets
- North Nicosia 29 - Armenian church
- North Nicosia 30 - narrow street near Girne gate
- North Nicosia 31 - evening
- North Nicosia 32 - Büyük Han at dusk
- North Nicosia 33 - evening shopping
- North Nicosia 34 - nighttime shopping
- North Nicosia 35 - by night
- North Nicosia 36 - Girne Gate by night
- North Nicosia 37 - modern mosque in the new town
- North Nicosia 38 - looking across from South Nicosia