Nicosia is the largest city in, and capital of, Cyprus and has been continuously inhabited for more than 4,500 years!
The British ruled from the late 1800s until 1960, when Cyprus was declared independent (There is still a couple of British military bases, and a large British presence, both as expats and as vacationers. They also drive on the left side of the road/right side of the car.) Since 1974, the city (and the island) has been embroiled in conflict and divided into two different sections, the southern Greek Cyprus and the illegally occupied northern Turkish Cyprus.
This means that the island, and especially her capital city, is a very interesting hodge podge of cultures. Ledra Street is probably the most popular street in Nicosia, and on this street alone, you can experience the United Kingdom, Greece, and Turkey.
We went to Nicosia with an interest in passing through to the Turkish side, just to see what it was like. We showed our passsports first to leave Cyprus and walked through about 100 feet of demilitarized zone (known as the “Green Line”) and showed our passports again to enter what Turkey (and Turkey only) calls the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The southern part of Nicosia was very familiar – Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, Marks & Spencer, TopShop, tons of restaurants, bars, and shops – but the second you pass into the northern part of the city, the difference is DRAMATIC.
Gone were the shiny sushi restaurants and coffee shops. The streets were filled with small bodegas and stalls selling every sort of counterfeit items you could image, mostly high-end handbags.
We hurried past (keen to find REAL artists) and made our way to Büyük Han, an ancient hotel of sorts revived into an artist’s haven, with a courtyard in the middle and several workshops.
We then walked over to Selimiye Mosque, and around the small side streets beside it. Jeremy made friends with a tiny kitten, while my mom and I made ourselves at home in front of a fan in a (failed) attempt to cool down.
There was one street stood out. Instead of looking brown and drab, it was lush and colorful, the top lined with dozens and dozens of umbrellas. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to see a street like this, and was absolutely shocked to see it in Turkish Nicosia.
We stayed to hear the afternoon call to prayer, then walked back through Turkish passport control, across the DMZ, and through Cypriot passport control. Right after the DMZ, there was this tiled sign that said “PEACE”.
My heart broke to think about this gorgeous island, so divided, and hoped that one day they can stop all the fighting and unite once again.