“Same island, two different countries”

Nicosia Crossing the Border between North Cyprus and South Cyprus

There is something appealing about experiencing two different cultures with such ease, as you may in Cyprus. So says the popular travel website, Vagrants of the World.

Crossing the border is a fascinating exercise

Crossing the border is a fascinating exercise, especially in Nicosia. While the landscape and architecture do not vary all that much, there is an instant awareness of being in a vastly different place. It is, says writer Kate O’Malley,  a wonderful and rare opportunity to visit two countries within one city. 

In Lefkoşa (Nicosia) Greek and Turkish societies share a walled city divided by the infamous Green Line

Green Line

In Lefkoşa (Nicosia) Greek and Turkish societies share a walled city divided by the infamous Green Line, which cuts through the historic centre, enclosed by walls erected by the Venetians in the 16th century. On either side of the border within the walled city, lovely medieval streets end abruptly at a strip of no more than 30 metres, inhabited by the UN.

Cyprus has been invaded, conquered and changed rulers so many times throughout history; it is not surprising that influences from other cultures shine through. The southern Republic of Cyprus has a strong Greek influence. We have often referred to Cyprus as a diluted Greece, says the website.

The appeal of the southern side of Nicosia lies mostly in exploring the narrow lanes lined with quaint tavernas and traditional Cypriot lace stalls. Or, immerse yourself in the emerging arts scene.

Crossing the border is a relatively straightforward process that seems to be becoming more relaxed as time goes by, Vagrants advises, but you will require your passport or ID card for EU citizens.

If you are crossing from north to south, it would be wise to check any visa requirements for entering the EU. These are, after all, two different countries on the same island.

On the North side, those who have visited Turkey will quickly recognise the Turkish influences on the streets, in the medina-style stalls and kebab houses. 

There are some beautiful mosques and churches in North Nicosia. The Selimiye Mosque is the city’s most prominent landmark, visible from both sides. Part mosque, part French Gothic church, this building has a fascinating history. The mosque is still a place of worship but can be visited daily outside of prayer times.

In the 14th century what is now The Buyuk Hamam stood the church of St George the Latins. Like so many buildings in Europe, the Ottomans repurposed the church into something more useful. In this case a Turkish Bath House.

The entry, with the original church door, lies several feet below the street giving a lovely close-up view of the ornate carvings. The bathhouse is still operational so treat yourself to a traditional Turkish experience for a fraction of the cost of a spa treatment. Just check opening hours.

The bath is closed on Monday as are most of the museums. There are also designated bathing times for men, women and open tourist bathing.

Head to the Büyük Han (Great Inn) to experience an excellent example of a 16th-century Caravanserai, a place where travellers and traders during the Ottoman period could find accommodation and stable their horses.

The central courtyard was used to socialise and trade goods with fellow travellers. Restored in the 90s it is again the centre of the Old City, bustling with traditional craft studios, medina-style stalls and cafes.

There are many more sights to see in this northern part of the small city, according to the website. The Venetian column, the Kumarcilar Han (Gamblers’ Inn), the Mevlevi Shrine Museum, The undercover Bazaar, and the Dervish Pasha Museum to name a few. 

Related Articles