Nicosia (Lefkosia), the capital of Cyprus, one of the oldest cities in our part of the world, today is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan place in the Eastern Mediterranean, rich in history and culture, combining its historic past with the amenities of a modern city.
The heart of the city, within the 16th century Venetian Walls, has a number of interesting museums and art galleries, Byzantine churches and a number of mediaeval and neo-classical buildings while the narrow streets retain the romantic atmosphere of the past.
Much of the charm and beauty of Nicosia is to be found in the old city with its labyrinthine alleyways and elegant courtyard houses. Outside the Walls, the new city with its modern facilities is a cosmopolitan center of a modern European capital.
Top 10 Nicosia Sights
The Medieval Walls
The first walls surrounding Lefkosia (Nicosia) in the 14th century were built by the Franks and enclosed a much larger area than the 16th Venetian Walls that still surround the old town. When the Venetians occupied Cyprus, they decided to demolish the Frankish Walls because they were old and did not offer adequate defense against new weapons such as artillery. The Frankish Walls were also too big to be manned by the Venetian army and too close to the hills in the east and southeast of the city.
Forming a circle, the walls built by the Venetians were fortified by eleven heart – shaped bastions and protected by an 80 meters wide moat. They were built of mud – brick, with the lower part only buttressed by stone. When the Ottomans occupied Lefkosia (Nicosia), they repaired the walls and covered the upper part with stones. The moat around the walls now has many different uses, serving as sports fields, public gardens, an open – air sculpture exhibition, car parks etc.
Famagusta Gate, the most significant of the gates of Venetian Lefkosia (Nicosia), opened onto the road that led to the most important harbour town of the island, hence its name. It was originally known as ‘Porta Giuliana’ in honour of Giulio Savorgnano, the engineer who designed and erected the Venetian walls.
The gate has an impressive façade and consists of a large vaulted passage with a large domed room in the middle, 10.97 metres in diameter. On either side of the passage are oblong rooms for the guards.
Pafos Gate was one of the three gates in the walls built by the Venetians around Lefkosia (Nicosia). The road beginning immediately outside the gate led southwest to the town of Pafos (Paphos), hence the name. It was also known as Gate of San Domenico, because it replaced an earlier gate of the Frankish walls, called ‘Porta di San Domenico’ after the nearby abbey of San Domenico. The gate is a simple affair, an opening in the wall roofed by a barrel vault. During British occupation in 1878, part of the walls between the Gate and the Roccas Bastion was demolished to create a new opening. Pafos Gate Police Station is just above the original gate.
Laiki Geitonia is a traditional neighborhood inside the city walls. Houses have been restored to remind the traditional, old Nicosia. It is a pedestrianized area with buildings date from the 18the century and a combination of residential houses, art shops and tavernas.
A religious, national and political monument, the Old Archbishop’s Palace is an 18th century two – storey building in the heart of Lefkosia (Nicosia) that is closely associated with modern Cypriot history. Next to it is the new Archbishop’s Palace, a two – storey stone building in Neo – Byzantine style housing the offices of the archdiocese and the residence of the archbishop. It was built by Archbishop Makarios III between 1956 and 1960 and also houses the Byzantine Museum and the Library of the Archbishopric. Since the completion of the new Archbishopric, the Old Archbishop’s Palace has housed the Folk Art Museum and the National Struggle Museum.
The Archontiko of Axiothea
The Archontiko of Axiothea (mansion) is one of the most characteristic examples of urban architecture of the 18th century. It is located in the Old Town of Lefkosia (Nicosia), close to the Green Line and took its name from the road on which it stands. The two – store rebuilding was built in a Π – shape with a north-south orientation, and originally occupied a much larger area. The main entrance is located on the east side of the house and leads to the inner courtyard. On the west and south is a kind of portico defined by a row of arches that separates the courtyard from the rooms that surround it. There are three big halls, two smaller rooms and two auxiliary rooms on the ground floor. There are three more halls and two smaller rooms on the upper floor.
Today, the “Archontiko of Axiothea” serves as a center for cultural activities, exhibitions and literary seminars for the University of Cyprus.
The Liberty Monument is on the Podocatro Bastion of the city walls, close to the old aqueduct and a couple of minutes walk from the Famagusta Gate.