The foundation of the city dates back around 2250 years and it is
now the capital of the island with a population of around 110000
and was developed mainly during the Lusignan period. The city is
divided into Turkish and Greek sectors by a boundary known as the
green line which runs in an east - west direction. The ramparts,
which were built by the Venetians in 1570 to protect the city from
the Turks, are thick and high. They encircle the city and are 4.5km
in length with 11 towers. Inside the city walls are numerous remains
of the Middle Ages and later periods. Outside the walls are no remains
whatsoever of the Middle Ages since materials from building outside
of the walls have been used in the restoration of the ramparts at
various times. Inside the city walls are beautiful examples of Gothic
and Ottoman architectural forms, among which are the Selimiye Mosque
(St.Sophia Cathedral), Bedesten (covered bazaar - St. George Cathedral),
a Lapidary Museum set in an old Venetian house and an obelisk, while
belonging to the Ottoman period are the Arabahmet Mosque, the Buyuk
Han (Grand Inn), the Kumarcilar Han (Gamblers' Inn), the Sultan
Mahmut II Library, and countless other monuments. Like the other
towns of Cyprus which remained under Ottoman rule for more than
300 years, Lefkosa too is typically Turkish in character.
SELIMIYE MOSQUE ( St Sophia Cathedral )
This ancient church is the chief mosque in the northern
state of Cyprus, and the great festivals of Bayram and other Moslem
gatherings are conducted here. It was formerly the cathedral of
St. Sophia which was built in the period 1209 A.D. to 1228, over
the ruins of a previous building. Only recently, in 1976, have the
ruins of the ancient building before 1200 A.D. been discovered,
on the southern side. In style of architecture, St. Sophia resembles
the famous mediaeval cathedrals of France.
The church was severely damaged by earthquakes in 1491, 1547 and
1735 A.D. and yet, as we see it today, the cathedral has survived.
What is the reason for this? One would expect such high buildings
to be razed to the ground during those severe earthquakes that occurred
some centuries ago, for in those days, reinforced concrete and steel
girders were unknown. The builders of ancient Gothic cathedrals
always strived to make them as high as possible, to reach "up
to heaven" and so inspire both awe and solemnity. The problem
was how to do this, and, at the same time ensure that the walls
would not collapse. This was done by building stone pillars outside
to support the walls which are known as buttresses. If you live
in a "posh" villa in Cyprus, your walls should be supported
at the corners by buttresses. If there are none, then get out of
the house quickly in the next earthquake.
When you visit the Selimiye mosque, be sure to contact the English
speaking guide, Mr. Mehmet Koray, who will be pleased to conduct
your round; remember, shoes off, as it is a holy place. You will
be shown many mediaeval tombstones that help to date the church.
Noteworthy, is that of Arnati Viconti, I347, and that of a Florentine
merchant of l380. The interior of the mosque has been brightened
up with white, red and yellow candelabra. When the cathedral was
converted into a mosque in 1570, a re-arrangement was made to oriental
it towards Mecca and not Jerusalem. The granite columns of the interior
are Roman, probably from Salamis, and this indicates that there
must have been some sort of Byzantine building here before 1200
On the south side of the mosque is a Greek church built in the
Byzantine and mediaeval styles. It is called The Bedestan, meaning
covered market, and this it was, until the municipal market moved
to buildings on the other side of the road.
The Bedestan i s now preserved as an ancient monument and the interior
has many fallen marble and granite columns, probably Roman, and
it shows that the Bedestan was once a much larger church. Looking
around the church, one can still see the effects of the severe earthquakes
of centuries ago.The guide will show you a vaulted room full of
mediaeval tombstones, many having the coats of arms of crusader
knights. The best photograph to take is that of the beautifully
carved Gothic door on the northern side. It is a good ex ample of
French mediaeval stone carving. Quite a mystery is why two such
large churches were built so close together.
The two tall minarets of the Selimiye mosque form a very prominent
landmark in Nicosia. Coming down from the mountains on the Kyrenia
road, and just before reaching Gönyeli, one can pinpoint Nicosia
by these twin towers. The next time you fly over Nicosia, you will
hardly notice the mosque, but most conspicuous of all are the Venetian
encircling walls with their eleven polygonal bastions.
GREAT INN ( Büyük Han )
This is a sixteenth century inn, the name meaning, BIG INN. It is
situated in Asmalti street and is classified by the Department of
Antiquities as an ancient building.
The view of the khan from the rear, and so much of its appearance
is like a grim fortress, that in the old colonial days, the British
used this khan as Nicosia Central Prison. Windows were always high
up, and small because of marauders (rich merchants at the inn were
inevitably a source of great temptation) and in the Middle Ages,
glass was very expensive. In the interior courtyard is a picturesque
octagonal tower used for prayers and is therefore a miniature mosque
or mesdjit, with a picturesque fountain below. Around the court
and downstairs are the stables, while the merchants had their bedrooms
The building has curious octagonal chimneys; perhaps guests were
allowed to have small charcoal braziers in their rooms. In all,
about 67 people were accommodated, but without hot water, tv. or
electric blankets. The main entrance to the Great Khan is in Asmalti
Street, but you would hardly notice it, as it is so cluttered u
p with shops and stalls. This inn was built about 1570 A.D. by Muzaffer
Pasha, so ít is not a mediaeval building. If you really want
to see mediaeval inns, you must go to Tripoli in Lebanon, while
in the old Persian towns of Isfahan and Shiraz you can actually
see the old customs lingering on. "Caravans" come into
the khan yard at night, cook their meals in the open, wash, pray
and "bed" down the donkeys for the night. That's the place
for a tv. documentary film. For some time the Great Khan was used
as a builders' yard, but now all this paraphernalia has been removed
and the khan awaits restoration.
KYRENIA GATE ( Girne Kapisi )
The Kyrenia Gate in the North Cyprus is one of the three gates on
the walls surrounding the old city of Nicosia. This gate was one
of the most important entry-exit points of the city. It is also
known as the "Del Providetore Gate" after the architecture
Proveditore Francesco Barbaro. The Turks restored the gate in 1821,
adding a domed room on top of it. On the panel above the gate there
are verses from the Koran. The seal of Mahmut II was placed on the
Northern front of the gate in 1820. The cannons in front of the
gate transferred by the British for the defence of Acre against
Napoleon later fell to the hands of the Turk
DERVIS PASA MANSION ( Dervis Pasa Konagi )
The owner of this two storey mansion built in the 19th century was
Dervish Pasha, the publisher of "Zaman" – the first
Turkish newspaper in Cyprus. The mansion is in the Arap Ahmet region
of Nicosia: this is the region of the walled city which has preserved
the fabric of the historical environment most intensely. The mansion
has two entrances. On the main entrance, the year 1219 of the Muslim
Calendar (1807) is visible. The ground floor has been constructed
of stone and the upper floor of sundried brick. The year 1869 is
visible on the ornamented ceiling of the main room which is a later
addition to the building. The mansion has an ‘L’ shape
with a large inner courtyard. The rooms on the ground floor open
to terraced pavilions ringing the inner courtyard. A wooden staircase
supported by the water reservoir in the courtyard leads to the upper
floor where all the doors open to a covered porch. After the restoration
work between 1978-88, the mansion was opened as a ‘museum-house
or a museum of ethnograpy on 21 March 1988. It includes a main-room,
a bride-room, a dining-room, and a section where items of daily
use are being exhibited.
VENETIAN COLUMN ( Venedik Sütunu )
The granite column in the Ataturk square was erected by the Venetians
in 1550. It used to bear the St. Mark lion. The Ottomans removed
the column and left it in the courtyard of the Sarayonu Mosque.
The British re-erected the column in its present location in 1915.
The grey granite column is thought to have been transported from
a temple in Salamis. The insignia of six Italian families can be
seen at the bottom of the column. The copper globe at the top is
a later addition. The buildings to the West of the Ataturk Square
(government buildings) were constructed during the British colonial
rule in early 20th century. They therefore have a distinct look.
There is a fountain and a platform with the insignia of Britain
on the eastern side of the buildings. The platform was constructed
to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. The governor
of Cyprus announced the coronation from this platform.
THE GAMBLER'S INN ( Kumarcilar Han )
This small building, asymmetrical in plan, of hewn stone, is on
Asmaalti Square in Nicosia, to the north-east of the Buyuk Khan.
This inn, too, is typical of an Ottoman inner-city commercial inn.
Its exact date is uncertain but it is believed to have been built
in the 17th century. It is now privately owned. In the past the
Gamblers' Inn was also known as the Himarcilar or Kemancilar (violinists'
or Fiddlers' Inn) inn. It is two-stroyed, ranged around a courtyard
garden and entered through an arched passage from Asmaalti Square.
The main gate is not original and is a late repair. There is a
second monumental carved gate inside the passage which is clearly
Medieval and not of the Ottoman period, so one concludes that the
inn stands on the foundations of a Medieval structure. The irregularly-shaped
inner court is surrounded by rooms leading off arcades or galleries
on both floors. Though the inn had originally approximately 52 rooms,
the number at the present day is 44. On the ground level the galleries
have stone floors and wooden beams, with pointed arched opening
seated on square shafts. Segmental arched doors lead into the inner
rooms. Each room has an embrasure window opening externally. A modern
stair in the south-east of the courtyard leads to the upper storey,
where the floor is marble. The prentice roof on wooden rafters is
covered by ridge tiles. Unlike the lower gallery, the upper one
has no arches but instead round columns on which the roof joists
are seated. The rooms leading off the galleries have barrel vaults
and segmental arched doorways. In some rooms there are fireplaces.
Here too the floors are marble, and the outer windows are rectangular.
Columns and arches on both floors of the wing to the south are not
original, being the result of later repairs. Nor is the western
front in an indiscriminate manner, the entrance doors from the courtyard
at ground level were closed and external openings were substituted.
In spite of these many alterations and the resulting losses, the
inn is still a leading example of an old Turkish monument, both
in scale and in architecture.
ARAP AHMET MOSQUE ( Arap Ahmet Camii )
The most notable of the mosques built by the Turks in Nicosia is
the Arap Ahmet Mosque. The mosque, like many others, was constructed
on the site of an old Latin church. Among the marble floor tiles
of the mosque are around 25 tombstones with epitaths and drawings.
The mosque was named after one of the generals of the Turkish army
during the conquest of the island. It is a good example of classical
Turkish mosque architecture. It has an arched terrace and a dome
six metres in diameter. The garden with graves belonging to Turks
have been preserved in good condition. It is a special corner of
Nicosia with its fountain, cypress trees and graves. Among the graves
is the grave of Kamil Pasha, born in 1832 in Nicosia, who rose to
the rank of Grand Vizier in the Ottoman Empire 4 times. Kamil Pasha
died in Nicosia in 1913 and was buried in the courtyard of the mosque.
In 1927, Sir Ronald Storss, the governor of Cyprus between 1926-1931,
had a tomb made for Kamil Pasha with a panel in Turkish and English
placed on it.
MEVLEVI TEKKE MUSEUM ( Mevlevi Tekke Müzesi )
The building to the South of the Kyrenia Gate was constructed towards
the end of the 16th century by Arap Ahmet Pasha after the conquest
of the island by the Ottomans.
The commander of the conquering army, Lala Mustafa Pasha, Arap Ahmet
Pasha, and the first kadi and mufti of the island were members of
the Mevlevi order (order of dervishes founded by Mevlana Jalaladdin
Rumi, called also the "whirling dervishes").Inside the
building, there are tombs and a semahane (dervish meeting-house
for religious music and whirling). Until Ataturk banned the lodges
in 1920, it served as a Mevlevi Lodge; its last sheikh or head of
the order died in 1954. At the entrance to the lodge there is a
headdress, a panel and a fountain.
Sixteen Mevlevi sheiks are buried in the six tombs in the building.
The building which constitutes a different aesthetic sight in the
city centre is now used as a museum of ethnography.
BEDESTEN ( The St. Nicholas Church )
The building was constructed in the 12th century as a Byzantine
church (The St. Nicholas Church). It was later enlarged by some
Gothic annexes built by the Lusignans. After some more changes in
the Venetian period, the building was given to the Greek Orthodox
Metropolis. The building with its different architectural styles
is of a hybrid nature. In the Ottoman period, it served as a depot
and a market where mostly textile products were sold. The masonry
on its northern entrance resembles the masonry on the entrance of
the St. Sophia Cathedral.
The mansion from the 15th century, which is situated within the
Lefkosa moat (ramparts), has survived to this day and attracts attention
by its Gothic arch entrance door with its Lusignan era coat-of-arms
as well as the Ottoman era addition of a "kosk" and decorated
wooden ceilings. The mansion which has a typical inner courtyard
characteristic was built from cut stone and is 2-storied with a
roof but the added-on "kosk" (kiosk style) was constructed
from lath and plaster.
The upstairs wooden veranda is reached from the ground floor round-stone
pillared veranda by a particular stone stairs.The remains of the
stone arches (later on filled in), on the east wall of the rectangularly
planned inner courtyards, gives the impression that the building
had an eastward extension or connection.The mediaeval buildings
researcher Camille Enlart speaks about this mansion in his book
"Gothic Art and Renaissance in Cyprus". The Austrian Archduke
Louis Salvator who visited the island in 1873, in his book, "Lefkosia,
The Capital of Cyprus" writes that a Turkish family named "Kalorio
Al Efendi" was using this mansion. In 1958, the mansion, which
had been used by the Russian Classen family as residence and a weaving
workshop, had been bequeathed by them to the Cyprus Government.
The mansion, which was emptied (by the local authorities) in the
1980's, had, until then, been partitioned and left for the use of
refugees. After the Antiquities and Museums Department's two years
arduous restoration work, in December 1997 the mansion will be handed
over to the coming generations for the revival of the local weaving
craft and for the use of social activities. In the mansion, which
has been furnished with authentic furniture of the Lusignan and
Ottoman periods, there is also a room for giving service to the
HAYDARPASA MOSQUE ( St. Catherine Cathedral )
After St. Sophia it is the most notable Lusignan buildings in Nicosia.
Historian Sir Harry Luke describes it as the most elegant and perfect
Gothic building in Cyprus. The St. Catherine church was built in
the fourteenth century and converted into a mosque after the Ottomans
gained control of the island. Long, narrow Gothic windows have been
placed between the pedestals which get narrower as they approach
the ceiling. The top parts of the windows are ornamented with geometic
designs. The church has three entrances: the fine masonry of the
Gothic south entrance and the carvings of the Lusignan insignias
on its frame are notable features. The west entrance is larger with
the same architecture; its frame is ornamented with motifs of roses
and dragons. The north entrance is comparatively plain. It is ornamented
with the pattern of a nude woman holding a fish and dragon like
effigies. Inside, there is a chancel, a vestry and a small baptizing