Cyprus’ diminutive size is greatly disproportionate to the wealth of treasures that you will discover during your visit to its capital. Dating back to the Bronze Age, Nicosia is perhaps the only area of Cyprus that has been continuously inhabited since the Chalcolithic Era (3000 B.C until present day), with its first inhabitants settling in the fertile Mesaoria Valley. Nicosia’s illustrious history and geographical uniqueness have made it a crossroads for some of history’s most important civilizations. Imprints left by greats such as the Ptolemies, Romans and the Byzantines, the Franks, Venetians, Ottomans and finally the British may be encountered in one’s travails through the Old Town area of Nicosia.
It may surprise some to discover that Nicosia was not always the impressive capital that one encounters today. Historians believe that that it was built over the ancient city of Ledra, a small town that existed around 7th – 8th century B.C.
It was only when the monarchical institutions fell at the end of the 4th century that Nicosia was able to take advantage of its natural resources and geographical position at the centre of the island. Cyprus’ last days as a monarchy ended with the Franks when Catherine Cornaro, the last queen of Cyprus, was forced to give the island to Venetians. Old Nicosia is surrounded by the Venetian Walls, behind which one may discover the city’s historic past unfold into a magical labyrinth of museums, old churches and medieval buildings. The Nicosia Walls were built by the Franks in the 16th century after the Lusignan kings arrived on the island. The Venetians realized that the walls did not offer adequate protection from invaders and tore them down, replacing them with the walls that remain until present day. The Ottomans repaired the Walls and covered them with stones during their occupation of Nicosia. Until today, the Walls are the most well – preserved construction in the city.
Do not forget to take a walk through Laiki Geitonia, where you have the opportunity to see some remarkable examples of traditional urban architecture as well as other small art workshops. In the same area, one will also encounter the Leventio Museum with its collections of architectural findings, medieval armours and other documentation of Nicosia’s evolution. Seek out Trypiotis Church that dates back to 1695, Phaneromeni Church and the Cross of Missirikos, an old Byzantine church with gothic Italian elements that was converted into Araplar Mosque in 1571. Also noteworthy is the Armenian Church and Monastery (Notre Dame de Tyre) that was originally a nunnery during the 13th century. This particular church also has architectural elements from the 14th century, since renovations taking place were never completed the Ottoman siege. The Church only took on its present form after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Omerie Area lies at the heart of the inner wall city and includes important examples of urban architecture, including the notable landmarks Omerie Mosque and Baths. While you are in Laiki Geitonia, stop by the Nicosia Local Market which is located next to the Arts Centre and the old inns. This area once made up the socioeconomic centre of the inner – wall city and continues to be a meeting point for Nicosia’s multi-cultural citizens.