Nicosia - The Last Divided Capital City in the World

Nicosia – The Last Divided Capital City in the World

Stefanie Konstanta

Stefanie Konstanta

Stefanie Konstanta is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Cyprus).

Geia sas! I am Stefanie and I will be your local guide in Cyprus.
My ultimate goal in life is to travel around the world. When I am not traveling, I am organizing my next trip.
Even though Cyprus is small, I am here to prove that it's actually a rich and diverse country! You can also follow my adventures at Stef's Journey.
Stefanie Konstanta

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Numerous barrels and a barb-wire separate the South from the North Cyprus.  On one side you have the Greek Cypriots and on the other the Turkish Cypriots.  In between there is a buffer zone, an area that looks like a screenshot from the Call of Duty.  The buildings stand mute as they had for decades, their doors have rotten away from the passing years.  The area has been protected by the United Nations since 1974.  Welcome to Nicosia – the world’s last divided capital city.

Historical Background

During its long 10,000 years of history, Cyprus had been conquered and colonized numerous times.  The strategic location between Europe, Middle East and Africa has made Cyprus the bone of contention.  It wasn’t until the 1960s that it finally gained its independence from Britain, which had an inevitable effect on both its national composition and the cultural development of the island.

Through the hundreds of years, vast majority of Cypriots have adopted to the Greek education and culture.  However, during the three centuries of the Ottoman Empire many Turks have settled on the island, while many Greeks have converted to Islam.  Since that time people were classified as either Greek or the Turkish Cypriots, based on their religion and language.

If we take a look back in time, just before the separation, we’ll see that people from the two groups used to know each other.  After centuries of co-existence, Turkish and Greek Cypriots molded a singular cultural identity and had developed many things in common, like the local traditions, customs, a friendly hospitality, as well as the warm Mediterranean smiles.

The differences were obvious of course, but they were respected by both parties, as by now both were used to living in such a diverse country.  It was also very common to establish really good friendships among the locals which shows that cultural identity was not a barrier that could separate the two.

The Village of Lefkara: Traveling Back In Time

I remember my grandmother telling me fondly how she used to share a cup of coffee with her friend Emine, every afternoon.  Emine used to have her own farm with her husband, Mustafa.  They never had the reunion they were hoping for since when my grandparents could finally visit their side of the island, they found out that the couple had passed away.

Ledras Street – the historic centre of the old city

After the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the island was divided into the South and North.  For years, the crossing points between the two were completely closed off.  A few entry points were finally opened in 2003, and then in 2008 the Ledras Street was finally re-opened as well.

Ledras Greek part, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookLedras Greek part, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookLedras is probably the most important street in the old city.  It played a major part in our history and culture.  One cannot even fully comprehend the division between the two communities, until one crosses the Ledras Street.

If you didn’t know this before – the Southern part of Cyprus is recognized internationally as the Republic of Cyprus, while the Northern part has declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state which is only recognized by Turkey.

Crossing Point, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookGetting there:

One certain cross point is only accessible to the pedestrians.  Taking a stroll around the old city centre will get you to the other side.  It’s not a very big area, and you don’t have to walk a lot.  On your way back from the South, you can also observe the typical life of local Cypriots, like doing some shopping, walking around, talking to each other – in other words, living their busy lives.

Ledras Greek part, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookLedras Greek part, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookCrossing the border

It is fairly easy to cross the border.  All you need is an official identification such as your ID (if you’re from Europe) or your passport.  First, you will pass one police checkpoint and then you will do the same when crossing the other side.  I must say – it feels really unnatural for me to have to show my passport in my own country!

Crossing Point, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookCrossing Point, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookThe Buffer Zone

As mentioned before, between the two parts in Cyprus there is a buffer zone.  It is a neutral area, the so-called “No man’s land”.  On the Greek side, we call it the “dead zone”.  It was set up by the United Nations temporarily but it’s still there.  It’s protecting one side from the other in case of any possible attacks.

Buffer Zone, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookBuffer Zone, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookBuffer Zone, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookWelcome to the other side

The moment you cross the border, you will notice the striking differences between the two communities.  All of a sudden, you are in a different world!  People speak Turkish and they use Turkish lira as their currency.  As if to emphasize the point better, a muezzin call to prayer can be heard echoing from one side to another.

Twelve Days of Christmas With the Scary Goblins, Kalikantzaroi

Shops are spread all over the streets selling fake luxury bags and jewelry.  Though, if you decide to buy something here, the Cypriot police will forbid you from bringing it in to the South, since you are not allowed to import anything.

Turkish part, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookTurkish part, Nicosia, Cyprus - Global StorybookHome for Cooperation

Located in the buffer zone, the Home for Cooperation has been in operation since 2011.  The aim of this nonprofit is to develop “empathy and critical thinking” in both sides.  The location of this place itself could be perceived as symbolic, since it’s standing in a neutral zone, allowing anyone on the island to come in and interact with each other in a more informal and relaxed atmosphere.

Moreover, Cyprus’s Home Café brings together the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to participate in a variety of cultural activities, such as language exchanges, musical performances, sport events, art exhibitions, as well as movie screenings.  It encourages people to cooperate with each other, beyond the constraints of the dividing lines.

On the International Day of Peace, a rooftop event was once held here, and I decided to attend.  I was really surprised by the way people just blended in and it was really hard to tell the two sides apart.  By the end of the night I whispered to myself: “There’s still hope!”.  Hope in change; the change that will bring unity to the island.

In conclusion

The weight of history hangs heavy in the air in Cyprus.  Some people have already moved on, accepting the current situation as it is, not wanting to complicate it further.  For decades, the most famous symbolic barrier in the World was the Berlin Wall.  It separated the city for 28 long years, though in the end – the people’s will and the strong desire for a reunion brought down this concrete monster to its knees.

Sadly, Cyprus didn’t have the same luck as it’s been divided for the last 43 years.  In any case, Nicosia is a really interesting city on both sides, and is definitely worth a visit if you want to have an ultimate cultural experience on your trip to Cyprus.

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