by William Dreghorn , B.Sc., Ph. D. (Lond.)

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It is fortunate that most of the antiquities of Nicosia are in the Turkish zone but historical events only partly explain this. It can be better explained by the fact that some groups of city dwellers have a burning desire to make money quickly in propert y deals. Beautiful ancient buildings that attract tourists, and which are a wonderful national heritage, are bulldozed down to provide space for skyscraper blocks of flats and hotels. In the end, every city will look the same; canyons of steel, glass and concrete. It is only recently, that the tourist departments of many countries have begun to realise that the preservation of ancient monuments and buildings is one of the principal assets for tourist attraction. The department of Tourism in Lefkosa is now in active liaison with the Department of Antiquities, and in the last two years there has been a great drive to preserve the ancient buildings of Lefkosa.


Historians believe that as far back as 280 BC. there was a town called Ledra in the centre of Cyprus. Then follows a gap in history for more than a thousand years, when it is recorded that a walled city stood in the Mesaoria plain and its name was Lefkosa or Lefkosia. The modern name of Nicosia arose in the 19th century when an English soldier corrupted the word, because he did not listen carefully to the inhabitants' pronunciation (so the story goes). However, the name Nicosia was used in the Middle Ages .

A quick glance at the earlier pages of the source-book, "Excerpta Cypria", will soon show the antiquity of the name Nicosia. The first reference is in the journal of the German Count Wilbrand von Oldenburg who, in the year l211 AD., wrote in good Latin an account of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land when he visited Cyprus on his return journey. In fact he did not get it quite right for he says that "Cossia" was the capital city, but this looks like the first attempt to transliterate the Byzantine Greek into Latin.

The new reference is conclusive and gives us the immense authority of Dante Alighieri, the great and extremely well-informed Italian epic poet who uses "Nicosia e Famagosta" when writing in the "Paradiso" about King Henry II of Lusignan. Dante wrote this in about 1305.

Thereafter we can quote a wide variety of writers in the 14th century, such as the Italian monk, Jacobus de Verona, writing in Latin in 1335, who uses "Nicosia"; the German priest Ludolf von Suchen who uses the slight spelling variation "Nycosia" when wri ting in 1341 also in Latin; the English knight, Sir John Maundeville, writing in French in I 356, and the Italian lawyer, Nicolai de Martoni, writing in Latin in 1394, who both use "Nicosia". There is no need to go on into later centuries, but this eviden ce points clearly to the conclusion that "Nicosia" was the standard Latin name for the city at the time when it had its closest links with the countries of western Europe before the later l9th century. And Latin was of course the language of scholarship f or those countries throughout the medieval period.

This brings up the interesting point that for the past four hundred years every town and many of the villages in Cyprus have each had three names in common usage, usually but not always versions of one another, Greek, Latin and Turkish. Fig.1

It seems to have been the policy of the British Administration between 1878 and 1960 to adopt the Latin forms as the English names and these have now become standard in English. Thus I think it is important that if we are writing in Greek we use "Lefkosia " and "Kirenia", if in Turkish "Lefkosa" and "Girne", and if in English "Nicosia" and "Kyrenia".

Fig 2.

The site appears to be the geographical centre of the island of Cyprus but it has not always been the capital. Paphos was the capital in classical times, and later, in the Byzantine period, from 395 AD. to 1191 it was Salamis.

The ancient fortifications around the city during the Middle Ages were pulled down by the Venetians between 1489A.D.and 1571. The reason for this was the invention of gun powder which meant that cities had to be defended with cannon. This required not hig h walls, but those of great width, along which cannon could be rolled up the ramps. Hence the name, RAMPART. It was necessary to have high walls and watch towers for fighting with bows and arrows and catapults.

Look at the plan of the city walls in fig. 1 and realise the mathematical problems the Venetians had of constructing a perfect circle, 1.4 km n diameter and with eleven bastions, all equally spaced. They had to divide 360 by eleven, to measure out the poi nts round the encircling walls. What a problem for a town planner! Of course, these builders were probably much inspired by that great contemporary genius, Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest civil engineers of his time. The bastions are polygonal, and the slopes of the walls are usually at two angles, just as they are in the walls round Kyrenia castle. In fact, on the south east corner of the castle is a fine replica of a polygonal bastion. Perhaps the builders of Kyrenia's Venetian walls were of the same company.

There are three gates, each coming from the 3 ports ofof Paphos, Kyrenia and Famagusta, illustrating the importance of sea trade in the mediaeval economy. The Venetian central government was weak however; in fact, the governor at that time, lived in Famag usta.

Even in these troublesome times it is possible to walk for a considerable wayround the city, by following the ramparts. The view shown in fig. 2 is taken from a bastion opposite the Ledra Palace. For hundreds of years, no buildings were allowed in the moa t space outside the walls and as the city expanded and houses were built outside the old city, the open space of the moat was Ieft. lt was not a moat in the mediaeval sense, i.e. filled with water. The Venetian canoneer needed open spaces in front of the walls to fire at the approaching enemy and so there was no cover for him. Today, the so called moat provides many social amenities for the inhabitants, in the form offootball pitches, parks, children's playground, car parks and amusement centres. If you w ant a quiet place for a picnic on a hot summer's day, there are nice spots in the public gardens between the Kyrenia and Famagusta gates. Unfortunately, one section of the moat has recenlly becume a car cemetery and "it is hoped that those fossicking type s who go searching there for spare parts, may quit and allow the authorities to extend the public gardens.

Originally the walls were faced with dressed stone blocks which were largely removed by builders. Fig. 3 shows a corner of a bastion where the removal of the stone facing has revealed the method of building. A huge mound was made of earth and rubble, and this was then faced with undressed stones arranged in lines, with alternating strings of small stones, in order to maintain a constant slope. This method of wall building is still used in the Cyprus countryside today, and has also been used extensively fo r the stone walls of the Cotswolds and Pennines in England. The final facing of dressed stone blocks was then put on. The main source of supply came from the mediaeval walls that they had pulled down.

Looking at the map, fig. 1, one could see what a wonderful ring road could have been built ail round the city. This was done in Paris, two hundred years ago, when the encircling ancient walls were demolished, to make way for the famous boulevards that no w allow cars to race round the metropolis. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately the race road for motorists around Lefkosia is not possible for it would involve tremendous destruction of fine old balcony houses that have been built very close to the inne r side of the walls.

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For more than a thousand years Lefkosa was a walled town, like most towns in the Middle Ages in Europe. Very few have retained their ancient walls, and those that have, such as Carcassonne in the south of France, regard them as show places for tourists. L efkosa has retained its walls because of their huge size, and, being just earth ramparts with stone facing, not many building blocks could be obtained by demolishing them. Before the days of preservation of ancient monuments and various antique buildings, it was common practice to build a house with stones derived from crumbling ruins of walls and towers. The ancient walls of a town became everyman's quarry.

Fig 4.

The old city of Lefkosa was inhabited by artisans and craftsmen who not only used the goods they made for themselves, but sold them in the town market. The governors were rich merchants who decided what goods could come in through the gates, and also wha t people should be allowed to enter. Some had to go out at sunset when the gates were closed, but there were plenty of wide open spaces outside the walls to camp out. The Famagusta gate was the chief one and this led to the major port of the island.

Fig 5.

Just imagine the scene in the old days, when, in the early morning, long queues of horse carts, donkeys, mules and camels waited to get into the morning market. The entrance was by a very narrow gate where taxes were often collected. There were no passpo rts; only daggers and battle axes to argue with. Fig. 4 shows the Kyrenia gate as it is today, but a photograph nearly one hundred years old shows the gate in use with the walls right up to the gate building. It was only about 40 years ago that the British demolished part of the wall on either side of the gate, to make two roads for motor cars to enter and leave. Today, every one seems to rush by the gate and not notice it as it lies as an island in a whirl of traffic.

The gate was originally known as DEL PROVEDITORE and was built by the Venetians with stones from the mediaeval walls of Lefkosa, of which not a trace exists today. In 1821 the Turks repaired the gate, and added the square building on top, surmounted by a dome. During the restoration, a stone tablet recording the building of the gate by the Venetians was found. This can be seen above the gate archway, and the details are given in fig. 5. Are there any Latin scholars here who can translate the words? It wi ll be a puzzle, because some of the letters are missing. Most people will understand MDLXII, which being 1562, must be the date of this Venetian gateway. Outside the commemorative tablet is the date 1931, and George the fifth, king and emperor; see fig. 2 . This records the date when the gaps in the walls were made to take the modern roads into the city. Above this is a small tablet with a quotation from the Koran inscribed in ancient calligraphy.

Between the gate and the Atatürk statue are two large iron cannon, seven others in the public gardens to the east, two more on the rampart on the other side, (fig. 6) and several in odd pieces along the walls. Some are very corroded with rust while other s look as though they were made recently. On some can be seen the British crown emblem and the old broad arrow indicating the origin as Woolwich Arsenal Ordnance works. These cannon were made in the reign of George 3rd, about 1790 and used in the Napoleon ic wars. Later, they were acquired by the Turks and it must be noted that it was the custom in the l9th century to mount old iron cannon by the doors of public buildings or at the portals of some rich man's mansion.

There was once a secret tunnel from the Roccas bastion, i.e. the bastion to the west of the Kyrenia gate, and it led to the Greek quarter near Ledra Palace. During heavy rains in 1965 it collapsed and was finally sealed off by U.N.F.l.C.Y.P.

Fig 6.

From a distance, the Kyrenia gate looks quite small in comparison with the huge Venetian ramparts, nevertheless it forms a good compact study for a colour slide or for the artist to paint. It looks grand in the evening sunshine, the yellow brown stone wal ls, the background canopy of trees and the Kyrenia mountains beyond. It brings back memories to the writer of the walls of Peking which one can follow for IS miles with sixteen enormous gateways; the Marco Polo gateway is about twenty times the size of th e Kyrenia gate. So, having "done" Kyrenia gate, get on the bus for Peking!

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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 th e 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 solemn ity. 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 sh ould be supported at the corners by buttresses. If there are none, then get out of the house quickly in the next earthquake.

Fig. 7 shows a massive buttress for St. Sophia cathedral, of which there are many all round the exterior walls. Notice how massive they are, and widened at the base to give added strength. Later it was found that for such high walls, these buttresses were weak and the first Gothic churches of the 11 th century often cracked and collapsed. The next improvement to be made was that of the flying buttress.

The one shown in fig. 7 is unique, for it springs from the ground level, while all the others spring from high massive pillars. There is a much frequented pedestrian walk underneath the archway here, as it leads to the bus station nearby. For many years, a well known character had his smoking kebab stall here, but not only did he sell t he roasted meat, but he himself seemed to eat it all day long. He grew bigger and bigger until he, too, needed a buttress, but alas he has now departed.

Another improvement was to make the flying buttress spring from the conventional pillar type, by raising the latter to a much greater height. This would then give support to the topmost part of the walls and, most important of all, to the roof.

Fig 7 & 8.

The roof always remained the weakest structure in all cathedrals, and likewise, it is so in your own house. This is the mass that comes down on you during an earth tremor; just too bad if the 'quake occurs during the night! In fig. 8, the high flying butt resses have been used to build a very high nave with very large windows. The makers of stained glass windows were expert craftsmen and they wanted big window spaces for displays of biblical scenes and, at the same time, a "dim religious light" was maintai ned to inspire awe and reverence. Churches were purposely kept dark and gloomy, for natural fears of the dark are part and parcel of the psychic establishment of reverence.

ln the eastern part of the church, i.e. the choir and altar section, it was always difficult to provide support, because the walls were weakened by so many windows. ln fig. 9 we can see the semi-circular arrangement of the flying buttresses which are very necessary in this part of the building owing to the polygonal shape of the apse. N otice, in fig. 8, how wide they have made the pillar buttresses from which the arches spring. This means that the weight of the massive supporting pillars is carried further away from the wall.

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 c hurch. Noteworthy, is that of Arnati Viconti, I347, and that of a Floretine 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 A.D.

Fig 9.

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 earthq uakes 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 Geunyeli, one can pinpoint Nicosia by these twin towers. The next time you fly over Nicosi a, you will hardly notice the mosque, but most conspicuous of all are the Venetian encircling walls with their eleven polygonal bastions.

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A few years ago an old resident of Kyrenia told the writer how, in his youthful days his father used to go shopping in Nicosia, and the trip took two full days. The first whole day was spent in getting there on a donkey, staying the night, and coming back the next day. That was only seventy years ago. Further back still in time, several hundred years ago, it was the practice for merchants to travel in groups of up to about twenty and this was done for reasons of safety. If you could not get into the town before the closing of the gates at sunset, then you had to camp outside the walls, and be at the mercy of brigands. This state of affairs existed in old times in all European countries, including England. Such a group of traveling merchants was called a c aravan, and on arrival in town they looked around for an inn or KHAN in which to stay. The caravan "hotel" was called the caravan serai; the word SERAl is Persian for mansion hence the name, Saray Hotel. These old inns were quadrangular in shape. and always had an inner courtyard where merchants could gather with their donkeys and bundles of precious goods. It was like going into a small castle, and once inside, the merchants had safety and seclusion, cooking and washing was always done in this inner courtyard.


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. Fig. 10 is a view of the khan from the rear, and so much of its appearance is like a gr im 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 upstairs. Notice in fig. I0, the 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, t.v. or electric blankets. The main entrance to the Büyük 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. Ifyou 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 actu ally 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 t.v. documentary film. For some time the Büyük Khan was used as a builders' yard, but now all this paraphernalia has been removed and the khan awaits restoration.

Fig 10.


A few hundred metres north of the Büyük Khan and in the same street is the Kumardjilar Khan and dates from about 1570 A.D. T here are numerous shops and coffee bars which give a fine convivial atmosphere to the place; an ideal place for tourists to saunte r and imbibe an old time memory. The entrance to the Khan with its well known Asmalti kahvehanesi is shown in fig. 11 and this view seems to be the most popular subject for visiting artists.

It was the custom in the Middle Ages for merchants to group themselves together in their respective trades, e.g. leather, cloth, jewellery, spices and household utensils. Also, merchants from some distant town would always favour a certain khan which eventually assumed the name of that town. The Kumardjilar Khan, however, me ans the inn of gamblers.

The inn has been beautifully restored, and what better place could there be to house the Department of Antiquities for the Northern State of Cyprus. Fig. 12 shows the interior courtyard and it demonstrates how beautiful a building can be, without the elab orate carving in mediaeval Gothic buildings of western Europe. This forecourt is the Moslem equivalent of the cloisters of Bellapais abbey. The visitor will notice, as is usual in these old buildings, fragments of Roman objects and carvings around the old stables. An old Roman hand flour mill can be seen in the forecourt, of which there are quite a number in Kyrenia.

The Department of Antiquities has been rejuvenated, and is now very busy restoring those places that will attract tourists, so we hope that the Büyük Khan will be on the top priority list for complete restoration, especially that fine old entrance, now camouflaged by a clutter of small shops.

Fig 11.

Fig 12.

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There are four churches and eight mosques in the Turkish quarter of Nicosia and the largest of each is all in one building, viz. The Selimiye Mosque and St. Sophia cathedral. There are two churches which at present, owing to their closeness to the green-l ine are inaccessible; they are Roman Catholic and Armenian churches, both at the southern end of Victoria Street.



This is in Kirlizade Street, about 300m north east of St. Sophia. In the 14th century, this was the second largest church in Nicosia and in 1570 became the Haidar Pasa Mosque. The building was not destroyed, but a tall minaret was added at one corner, as shown in fig. 13. There are two fine, richly carved doorways and two long lancet type windows which are worth a photograph. These large windows demand very strong buttresses as they made the wall weak, and those shown in fig. 13 are similar to St. Sophia' s. Little is known about the history of St. Catherine's.

Fig 13.


This is in Apostolos Loucas Street, east of the Dancing Dervishes Museum. It was built in I758, under Turkish administration. Readers, please note this date, because so many history books always seem to emphasize the destruction of churches by Moslems. He re we have only one of many Greek Orthodox churches built under Turkish rule. The view of the church in fig. 14 shows the typical Byzantine style of architecture. Old guide books to Cyprus describe the icons and iconostasis but these have now all vanished . What is the reason for this? In the days of inter-communal strife the Greeks who lived here, went to live in other parts of Nicosia. This happened a long time ago, so that bizonal separation of the two ethnic groups arose spontaneously. The church fell into ruin and, as in all big cities, old buildings in decay become the haunts of vagrants, the playground for children and a general dumping ground for rubbish. It is suggested that the Department of Antiquities take over this church, rail it off clear up the debris and preserve it for the sake of its architectural beauty. The vaulting inside is worth preserving, but at present the entire structure is becoming dangerous.

Fig 14.

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The number of minarets to a mosque is determined by its size. The huge Blue Mosque in Istanbul has six, while the Selimiye Mosque, the largest in Nicosia, has two. All the remaining mosques in Nicosia are small and only three have minarets. Some are so s mall, e.g. the Laleli mosque, that the visitor would hardly notice them.


This is the one which all visitors should see, not only because of its excellently designed architecture, but because the priest in charge, i.e. the IMAM, MAHMUT SEVKET GAZI, is a scholarly man, well versed in the Koran, can read the old Turkish script on the tombs and is always willing to be one's guide. The writer is very much obliged to him for not only explaining the main aspects of Islam but for allowing me to be present at the noon-day prayer meeting.

The Arab Ahmet Mosque is at the northern end of Victoria Street, and west of Atatürk Square. The view in fig. 15 shows the simplicity of design, and the intermingling of typical Mediterranean trees and shrubs adds to its beauty. The whole place is well looked after and used by the faithful every day.

The most important place inside the mosque is the MIHRAB, which is always placed in its relation to Mecca and for both Cyprus and Turkey, that is the south. It is at the Mihrab that the imam leads the Moslems in prayer, where he stands with his back to the people. Steps nearby lead up to a kind of canopied pulpit, where on Fridays and Bayram festivals the imam faces the people and delivers an oration. This part of the mosque is called the MINBER. The man who invites Moslems to prayer from the minaret is the MUEZZIN, five times a day, but these vary with the times of sunrise and sunset.

You will always see a clock near the Mihrab and the one here is an antique grandfather clock that would fetch £500 in an antique sale in London, but let us keep it here in its rightful place. There are no images of people or animals, either as pictures or as carvings. This is because the Moslem idea of God is not a person. If he were, then he must have had a father and mother. Nor do we see anywhere a portrait of the prophet Mohammed. Islam teaches cleanliness in the holy place, in the presence of God, an d so all mosques have washing places outside; you must not take dirt into the mosque with your shoes, and they are left outside the porch. The colour of Islam is green, hence the furniture is usually painted in this colour. In the desert countries of the Middle Cast, green is for paradise- for by hard work you can make the red-brown desert productive with water and it becomes green. Thus productivity and industriousness are two other aspects of Islam.

When a prayer meeting is in progress, beads are used for counting the prayer repetitions and the whole session lasts about half an hour.

The Islam calendar dates from the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina which occurred in 622 A.D. but the years are not based on the sun but on the waxing and waning of the moon. It is a lunar calendar, so it is not easy to arrive at, the Moslem equiv alent of the present year 1979 which 1 understand is 1357.

For Christian visitors to Nicosia it is essential to understand the main features of the Islamic religion in order to appreciate various mosques.

The external features of the Arab Ahmet mosque typify the simplicity of design used in all mosques in the Middle East. We see hardly any stone carving or ornamentation, except for the Minaret. Most minarets have a balcony for the muezzin near the top where he can call out over the rooftops of the town houses. Immediately belo w this balcony, the supporting brackets are often richly carved and resemble the stalactites one sees in a limestone cave. Hence the name given to this style is stalactitic and it can be seen on the minaret in fig. 15. The Arab Ahmet mosque is not an anci ent monument yet, as it dates only from 1845.

The remaining mosques are rather insignificant, and one, the Saray Onu near Ataturk Square, is engulfed by the high-rise buildings close by.

Fig 15.

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The small museum is within the walls of the city and close to the Kyrenia gate. It is on the main street leading to Ataturk square and can be distinguished by six domes surmounting a rectangular building. Since its construction in the early 17th century i t is known as the Mevlevi Tekkye, where a Moslem religious sect used to hold ceremonial dances under the command of a sheikh. These regular functions went on for several hundred years and finally ceased in 1930 but the dance floor is still preserved. In g lass cases are the costumes worn by the dancers and their musical instruments. The dervishes who danced were the Islamic equivalent of Christian friars and their gyrations were often described in old guide books on Cyprus. Other exhibits in the museum are manuscript books of the Koran and handwritten court records dating back to l590. Also on view are Turkish Cypriot dresses and cooking utensils from peasants' houses - in a sense it is really a folk museum.

A corridor leads to the tombs of five successive sheikhs who were the dance leaders since the I7th century. Each tomb has the stone figure of the camel hair hat which was their badge of office. The museum is not a mosque, so it is strange that one should be buried in one's place of work.

Outside, in the courtyard, are many marble tombstones of the Ottoman empire period and fragments of columns from Roman buildings. Old guide books mention that there was once a large marble sarcophagus of a Venetian governor, Augusto Canali, who died in 153 l, but it now seems to have disappeared. The visitor will notice th at there are very few here, as elsewhere in the island, remains of the Venetian occupation, apart from the massive walls and castles they built in Famagusta and Kyrenia. However, their period of occupation was short, less than a hundred years, - from I489 to 1571.


This is a museum of stone fragments taken from the demolition of ancient buildings. It is situated a few hundred yards from the Selimiye mosque (St. Sophia) and the building is believed to be a Venetian house or could be a renovated mediaeval building. He re one can see pieces of stone work taken from ancient palaces and Gothic churches. At present it is being re-arranged by the Department of Antiquities. The outstanding exhibit is a magnificent Gothic window from a nearby palace which is shown in fig. 16. This kind of flowing tracery is known as the flamboyant style, and was in common use in the French cathedrals of the 15th century. Mediaeval stone masons were employed by the church usually on a full time basis and they often lampooned bishops, priests, friars and fellow workmen in their stone carving. Notice the stone faces on the left and right side of this window; very often they would represent the reigning king and queen.

Fig 16.

The water spout of a cathedral is known as the gargoyle and is the throat into which the roof water pours; hence our word gargle. The sculptors enjoyed themselves in making gargoyles in the form of monsters, demons or some local character. One must remem ber that of all places in a cathedral, the gargoyle got the worst of the weather, so that after several hundred years their stone figures became even more grotesque. (See fig. 17.)

In the centre of the courtyard is a large marble carving of the Lion of St. Mark, the main symbol of Venetian rule which is so often seen on the walls of Famagusta and Kyrenia castes. Many other fragments are lying around, all taken from demolished buildings and it is a reminder that 14th century Nicosia was resplendent with palaces an d churches, so well described by Martoni, an Italian traveller to Cyprus in l394, in the book, "EXCERPTA CYPRIA". The Turkish name for this museum is, TAS ESERLER MÜZESÌ, or museum of ancient stones, but in terms of a student of architecture it could be n amed as a stone mason's laboratory.

Fig 17 & 18.


This small building is at the eastern end of the Selimiye Mosque and the exterior view is shown in fig. 18. It was built by Sultan Mahmoud in the early years of the last century and its style of architecture is that of Islam. Fig. 18 shows the contrasting styles with the lantern-like nave of the St. Sophia cathedral looming up in the background. It is a one roomed building, with the interior walls decorated with words from the Koran in gilt Arabic letters against a blue background. Here are stored many an cient books, some more than 500 years old, and those exhibited are fine examples of Persian and old Turkish calligraphy.

The vicinity is the nucleus of the ancient city of Nicosia and in the cathedral precincts are three of the oldest houses, the Lapidary Museum, the Chapter House and an old Venetian house, now empty, between the Bedestan and the Municipal market.

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In present day jargon the term "down-town" means the centre of the city where all the cafés, discotheques and "low dives" are situated in a maze of narrow streets. In all European cities, the down town-area is always found around the cathedral and is what town planners call the city nucleus. These are the places beloved by tourists and local people. Why is this? Don't they like broad wide streets and vast squares? Man is by his very nature a gregarious animal and loves that "more-we-are-together" feeling. It is only recently that town planners are beginning to learn the social value of down-town centres.

There is nothing so dreary and soulless as the vast housing estates of London and Birmingham, and also those places where the city nucleus has been demolished to make way for huge high-rise concrete boxes of flats. Such modern creations have become breed ing places for crime and vandalism. Narrow streets, thronged with human activity, are to be found between Atatürk Square, the Büyük Khan and the cathedral of St. Sophia. These contain the oldest houses, the old inns and the municipal market. A typical vie w of the down-town zone is shown in fig. 19, taken from an alleyway in Mecidiye sokagi. These old houses, with their overhanging upper storeys, are relics of the old times when you could almost shake hands with your neighbour in the bedroom on the other s ide of the street. It is a pity that these old houses, which are so picturesque, are falling into ruin. "They are slums, and must be pulled down," say the town planners. Look inside, and you will see that the Turkish women keep their places spotlessly cle an. But one occupant told the writer; "lt will cost me too much money to repair this house as it is so old. We have to keep the upstairs windows always shut, because of the fumes from cars and buses. But we like the old place. We are near to one another a nd the shops."

The answer to this problem is to do what some enlightened city councils have done in European cities. They have banned all cars from the down-town areas, making an exception only of buses. These are called pedestrian precincts and, at first, the shopkeep ers were against the idea; they said that they would lose trade. But, on the contrary, in the pedestrian precincts, more crowds than ever thronged the streets and shops, delighted with the idea of just sauntering about without the noise and menace of cars , Nicosia, by reason of its history, has CHARACTER and the reader should note that the view in fig. 19 is just the subject tourists love to photograph. This will be their souvenir of Nicosia. The three oldest houses are here - the Lapidary Museum, the Chapter House south of the Cathedral, and an old Venetian house between the Bedestan and the market. All are preserved as ancient monuments.

Fig 19.

The drinking water for Nicosia mainly comes from boreholes in the Morphou area and, in ancient times, the Romans probably brought it in by aqueduct. lJnlike many old cities, Nicosia probably did not have water sellers. This is because, for hundreds of ye ars, stone octagonal public fountains were installed at street corners. Many are still in use today, such as the one shown in fig. 20, Tanzimat sokagi, where a series of brass taps are distributed round the panels. They all seem to have stone tablets with words from the Koran written in ancient Turkish script. "lsn't it very troublesome having to fetch water every morning and evening?" the writer asked a woman. "Yes", she replied, "it is, but I like to meet the neighbours at the tap centre just for a goss ip." With or without gossip these ancient fountains should be preserved.

Fig 20.

Further out, but still within the walls, old houses were demolished in the last century and replaced by a grid system of streets with the houses of straw clay bricks but, nevertheless, the old octagonal towers were preserved. A public water tap in this area in Saban Pasha street, is shown in fig. 21 - another magnet for gossip, but i t should teach town-planners an elementary lesson in humanity; people must have neighbourhood centres. From about 1880 to 1920 the idea of the balcony-house came in. This originated in old European spa towns such as Bath and Cheltenham, where houses in town streets, with little or no back garden, had the alternative of an overhanging balcony where they co uld sit on summer evenings to gaze on asserts-by below. Those were the days of horse and cab traffic. The best example of these Victorian balcony houses is in Tanzimat sokagi where they overlook the Venetian ramparts right across to the Ledra Palace. The view, in fig. 22, shows what a picturesque cluster they make with their ornamental brackets and balustrades. Under modern conditions, the balcony house has no future. Motor vehicle fumes have destroyed its social value. In fig. 22 the terrace of houses is only on one side of the street, as the other side is exposed to the ramparts, and looks across to the Ledra Palace where in the days of communal strife Eoka bullets sped across, and many of the houses bear the scars of bullet holes today.

Fig 21.

Today, the problems of intercommunal strife have been solved. Once again the old Victorian houses are good for habitation. Victoria Street is another 19th century down-town area, but more about this in a later chapter. In sitting for a few hours at street corners in the down-town areas, the writer has picked up much interesting historical information about Nicosia. Old inhabitants can relate anecdotes about the life of a hundred years ago, and also tell hair-raising stories of the 1963 and 1974 street fighting.

Fig 22.

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If you want to show off to your neighbours how rich and important you are, you cruise round the streets in a Rolls Royce or Cadillac. This was not possible in the days of horses and carts and the only way you made this sort of gesture was to have an impos ing front door to your house. Way back in Roman times, two thousand years ago, the house entrance would be constructed of marble columns with decorated capitals making it appear like the entrance to a small temple. In Nicosia, during the Middle Ages, it was nearly always possible to retrieve marble columns from ancient Roman buildings for use in domestic architecture. in some old buildings, e.g. the Büyük Khan, you can see Roman columns embedded in the walls or use d as doorjambs. Many Byzantine churches made good use of Roman marble columns as can be seen in St. Sophia, Bedestan, Bellapais and the I lth century church within Kyrenia Castle. And of course, very conspicuously placed, is the tall granite column markin g the centre of Atatürk square. In the Middle Ages entrances to churches and houses were built in the gothic style, with pointed arches and much elaborately carved stonework of flowers, fruits, leaves and human figures.

The Gothic entrance to the Turkish Baths in M. M. Irfan sokagı shown in fig. 23. Although the arch is semi-circular, the intricate stone carving is similar to that of the beautiful ornamental porch to tile Bedestan, which is l4th century. It is obviously a mediaeval building, converted into a bath house, when the Turks arrived in Nicosia in I57I. Why has it sunk so low'' For thousands of years, new towns were always built on the debris of old ones, and so the ground rose higher and higher. Below, are the stratified layers, in chronological order, of th towns, much to the delight o f the modern archaeologist, who digs below the modern houses to "read" the history of the city. Modern London is about six feet above Roman London. In the case of the baths in fig. 23, it is likely that the debris around this building was not cleared, or it might be local subsidence on account of earthquakes. The writer listened to much gossip about this building, but written records are non-existent. It cannot be Turkish, i.e. after 157l, because Islam forbids the portrayal of plant, animal and human lif e in decorative work.

Hundreds of years later, the idea of the Gothic arch was revived to become the neo-Gothic style, and this idea was used in school buildings in England in the I9th century. An example is the doorway, shown in fig. 24 in Beligh Pasha sokagi. lt is probably I 7th century, and this long wall formed part of an ancient palace. T his doorw av led to the stables, the 5(special feature; being the high circular windows shown in fig. 24. The palace is now non-existent and behind this wall is just a wilderness of trees and bushes. Further along the wall, and in the same street, is an interesting doorway designed in the style of the Ottoman Empire period. It is difficult enough to park your car within the walls of Nicosia, but what a problem it must have been in the days of horse traffic. All the traction animals had to be housed and fed within t he town, so stables were important buildings.

In the 18th and I9th centuries there was a revival of the architectural styles of ancient Greece and Rome. This neo-classical style was used in such public buildings as the British Museum in London and also in domestic architecture. Doorways had flat stone imitations of Roman columns and these were called pilasters. Above the door was a balcony of decorative ironwork supported by ornamental brackets. This style reached its peak in the Victorian period of British history, and was introduced into Nicosia at the beginning of the British occupation in 1878. There are many fine examples of this style in the aptly named Victoria street, a general view of which is given in fig. 25.

Fig 23.

The balcony type of house continued to be built for the more prosperous type of town dweller right up to late Edwardian times, and it was customary to inscribe the date in decorative ironwork above the porch, using the Arabic type of numerals. The best ex ample is no. 73 Victoria st., the house of Mr. Basaran and the sketch, fig. 26, shows the highly ornamental character of the front entrance. Even the door knocker is a decorative piece of metalwork in the form of a hand. The date on the iron tracery above the door is l923.

Fig 24 & 25.

Decorative ironwork tracery is frequently seen on the facades of 19th and early 20th century private houses in the area around Victoria and Tanzimat streets. lt was a hangover from the days when huge ornamental iron gates were built for such palaces as Versailles and Hampton Court. In Nicosia, the work was done by local blacksm iths who were very skillful, but today, their workshops have become garages for repairs; the artistic craftsmanship has gone for ever.

Should all these old Victorian buildings in Nicosia be preserved? In England they are known as the Regency type of building and came into vogue much earlier,from I760 to 1850. There are grand examples of "Regency" streets in the "spa towns" of Bath, Cheltenham and l.eamington, and there, the city councils have issued orders for th eir preservation.

This is because they represent a classic phase in the history of these towns. Likewise for Nicosia; we should preserve Victoria and Tanzimat streets from speculative builders.

Fig 26.

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It is very likely that Paleolithic Man arrived in Cyprus a few hundred thousand years ago, but up to the present no definite sites have been located. About eight thousand years ago the Neolithic people came to the island probably from an area between sout h eastern Turkey and Syria. They led a settled life and were the first to build villages in this island. A few thousand years later, some Bronze age folk had a small settlement on the banks of the Pedhios River near Nicosia, but of course the only records are in the form of pottery and artifacts. About 800 B.C. mention is made of a town called Ledra in central Cyprus, although there is no archaeological evidence. Towns were established on the coast, but inland, the sites were on river banks at good crossi ng points. The river which flows through Nicosia is not a perennial one and it is better described as a wadi. There are no rivers in Cyprus which flow all the year round.

Fig 27.

Fig 28.

Nicosia lies in the geographical centre of a vast plain called the Mesaoria, meaning between the mountains, i.e. Kyrenia and Troodos mountains. We see this plain today as an almost treeless prairie and it is very difficult to believe that as late as the f ifteenth century, it was well forested. Records of the 1340 period describe the great sport of hunting done by the kings and nobles who lived in their NICOSIA palaces. What did they hunt'? Probably deer, wild goats and the mouflon.

By the I 16th century, most of the wild animals were hunted to near extinction, but the mouflon escaped by retreating to the Troodos mountains. The forests were now cleared for agriculture, chiefly for the growing of grain. In classical times Cyprus expor ted wheat to Greece. lt is well known that forests attract rainfall, and so with their disappearance, the Mesaoria became a semi-desert, but along with this interference by Man there has been a change of climate.

Descriptions of Nicosia by a traveler in I2I 1 A.D. reveal that the city was a great religious centre, the seat of an archbishopric, had a strongly built castle, many palaces, and, most surprising of all, the walls had a circuit of seven miles. It must have really been a very large village, very spread out because of the large garde ns that everybody had in many parts of old Nicosia today, there are houses with unusually large gardens, when one considers the narrow streets, and so we have here a relic of the M idle Ages. All the mediaeval houses were pulled down and the only ancient monuments of those times are the Selimiye mosque, (St. Sophia), the Bedestan and the Hadiar Pasha mosque. (St. Katherines). Buildings come and go, but gardens go on for ever.

In I 565, military engineers from Venice began preparations for the defense of he town by artillery, for at this time the old castles of the Lusignian period were of no use against cannon. The city was reduced in size, for the new walls with their eleven bastions were given a three mile circuit. All the nld castles and intervening spaces were demolished to provide a free field of fire for the artillery on the ramparts. These walls form the largest ancient monument in Nicosia. This was the end of the long period of the Middle Ages known to historians as the Lusignian regime.

When the Turkish soldiers arrived at the walls of Nicosia in 157I, they found that instead of bashing at the gates, they could obtain entrance to the city by capturing a bastion. These enormous bastions proved to be points of weakness in the defenses. The Turks converted the churches into mosques, built khans and generally abolishe d the feudal system by introducing a new method of taxation. Collection of taxes was "tarmed out" to the highest bidder, and later, this led to much trouble.

Earthquakes seem to have occurred several times, every few hundred years, and a severe shock in 1741 caused one of the minarets of St. Sophia to tumble down. Many buildings of the Lusignian period still show the scars of the shocks, for we can see huge cr acks and windows and doors out of alignment. The Bedestan is a good example.

The history of Nicosia in the last two hundred years can be obtained from Turkish archives plus chats with residents who live in houses, occupied by the same family for generations. The house of Dr. Rassim at no. 5 Kamil Pasha street has been with the fam ily for seventy years and Mrs. Rassim related to the writer much historical detail about her home. It is a large house with a large garden with a very high wall and containing its own well, a legacy of the Middle Ages, perhaps going back five hundred year s. In 1878 the house became the first archdeacon's house when Cyprus came under British administration. One large room became a kindergarten and another, with a fine carved ceiling became a chapel. This beautiful wooden ceiling is probably several hundred years old and her description of events within the family is a microcosm of the history of Nicosia for the last century. Mrs. Rassim gave a vivid story of the days of intercommunal strife when the Eoka gunmen fired from the roof tops of the Ledra Palace on to the Rocca bastion nearby. Those days are gone for ever.

The sketches show some rough sequence in Nicosia's chequered history. Fig. 27 is the Chapter House, the oldest domestic building in Nicosia, and probably dates from the Lusignian period, i.e. 14th century. Fig. 28 is a Venetian house between the Sultan's library and the Bedestan, and the high window on the left with its columnar mullions, resembles the domestic architecture of l6th century Florence in Italy. The main entrance to the Büyük Khan is shown in fig. 29 and this dates from about I600 A.D. When t he Turks arrived in I57I quite a number of inns or khans were built. Houses with large gardens were selected because it provided the space for the inner courtyard. Like the old inns in England, there was always an inner yard to provide accommodation for h orses and donkeys.

So far, little has been said about the social history of Nicosia and this will be dealt with in the next chapter. In a tour of Nicosia, the visitor is bound to see the old churches of the Middle Ages and the Venetian walls and bastions, but rarely do tourists ever peep into the gardens of some houses in the old quarters, which seem to bristle with antiques, old wells, Roman columns, carved wooden doors etc. They form deIightful subjects for the wandering artist and at the same time are really the relics of ancient Nicosia, more than six hundred years ago the medieval garden city.

Fig 29.

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The best guide is a map; it is also the cheapest. Unfortunately, there are some people who can't read a map, and this is indicated by the way they push the map into their cases and never bother to look at it en route. Take two days to "Do" Nicosia, the fi rst day see the historical sites, mark good shops for hand-made goods and on the second day do the shopping. Avoid parking your car within the walls, except on Sundays. A good area is outside the Kyrenia Gate. All the places are within easy walking distan ces unless you are over 90.

The Kyrenia gate is the main entrance to Turkish Nicosia and the main road leads direct to Atatürk square which is the main centre. The tall granite column was erected by the Venetians about 1560 and it came from some Roman temple of about 300 A.D. in Salamis. Just think of hauling this huge chunk of stone the 38 miles from Fama gusta by only horse and cart. There is no granite in Cyprus, so the column could have come from Greece or Italy. At the base are some marble plaques with Latin inscriptions done by the Venetians. In and around this square one can take in many hundreds of years of Nicosia's history. Going back some 300 years, is the rather inconspicuous octagonal fountain on the southern side of the square by the railings of the police station. The balcony type of house belonging to the early part of this century is typifi ed by Barclays bank building and is representative of the period of British colonial rule from 1878 to 1959. In marked contrast, is the high rise building of the Saray Hotel in concrete and steel, and, wedged in between the Victorian and the ultra modern, is the beautiful Saray Önü mosque, built in the pure Islamic style. The view of this corner of Atatürk square is shown in fig. 31 and in the porch of the mosque are seats where the visitor can have a peaceful half hour.

Fig 30.

A maze of narrow streets leads to the `Büyük and Koumadjilar khans and to the Selimiye mosque. On weekdays this is a very busy area where the numerous small shops hum with the noise of electric drills and lathes. They are all making furniture, shoes, household utensils, clothes and leather work. This is the legacy of social his tory of the Middle Ages, when the various trades were grouped as the street of the carpenters, the street of the jewelers etc. In places this custom still lingers on, in spite of the competition of factory-made goods. Why does this aspect of social histor y survive? The answer was given to the writer by a local man, "Ours is a family business, like most of the others. The only thing that keeps us going is the Black and Decker Electric Drill. With electric hand tools we can make things even better than a fa ctory." (We are not agents for Black and Decker! ! !)

Many of these craftsmen's' shops are between the Khans and the Selimiye mosque. However, furniture makers prefer the quiet back streets, e.g. Victoria St. area where the glued up joints in wood can be put out into the road today. If you have a taste for t his sort of craft shop, then you must go to Shiraz and Isfahan in Iran, and here one street will ring with the noise of hammers on copper pots and another will hum with carpet weaving machines.

It is indeed strange for the Westerner coming from big cities, heavily stocked with mass produced goods in Woolworths and departmental stores, to find he can have his feet measured for a hand-made pair of shoes, ready within a week or furniture made to hi s own requirements. In a similar way in England today, the family man likes to do his own repairs with a DO IT YOURSELF KIT OF ELECTRIC TOOLS.

What are the blank areas on the map, fig. 30? They are sectors where the working classes live which resound with the cries of street hawkers and traders. You may see a man grinding knives or repairing pots and pans and some have a chanting street-cry for their wares, all reminiscent of old London one hundred years ago.

Fig 31.

This concludes the chapters on Nicosia except for an appendix on the relationship between calligraphy and architecture. The writer does not wish to bother the reader with such details as dates of battles lost and won, the intrigues of rich merchant families, the family squabbles of the Lusignians in 1347 or whether Lady Ha ran was killed in the year dot by a fall from a mule. When you go back in time, five hundred years or more, much of history is semi-mythology. The only things we see today from ancient times, apart from buildings, are the craftsman's shops and a few large gardens of some city houses. Of course, when you come to the history of the last two hundred years, it becomes genuine history because living people today can recall events in their life-time or remember what grandad did a hundred years ago. There will b e no mistake about the bullet holes on the walls of houses in Tanzimat street, because their inhabitants can tell you what happened.

people visited Cyprus , since 15th Sept, 1995