Restoring the Heart of Nicosia

Nicosia as depicted in a 16th century map

"We are not going to solve the Cyprus problem, but we are building bridges. They are always useful. I wish more were being built by others "

- Lellos Demetriades Representative of the Greek Cypriot Community of Nicosia

"We know certain parts ofthe Master Plan can only be realized when an overall solution to the Cyprus problem is achieved. But for a realistic, viable and lasting solution, it is necessary to establish areas of co-operation between the two sides. The Nicosia Master Plan is one of the very rare instances of such co-operation. It is for this reason that we look forward to the implementation stage of this unique exercise. Iet us begin. . . . Who knows? The beginning may prove to take us halfway along the path."

- Mustafa Akinci, Representative of the Turkish Cypriot Community of Nicosia


Around every corner in Cyprus is a reminder of the passage of time. Terracotta idols are unearthed alongside ancient Greek amphitheatres and Rolman ruins. Brilliant Byzantine icons can be found hidden in the recesses of a modern concrete jungle. Walking along narrow streets, one stumbles into kervanserai-Ottoman inns ofthe 16th century-and colourful bazaars.

For 9,000 years this island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea has been a stepping stone between East and West, a setting for dramatic events. Backdrop for Shakespeare's Othello, gift of Anthony to Cleopatra, birthplace of :Aphrodite, Cyprus is steeped in history and has, over millennia, inspired myth, legend and the imagination.

"The island has in its midst a fair city called Nicosia, which is the capital of the kingdom, well walled, with its fine gates, which are three, to wit the gate of Paffo, of Famagusta and Cirina. That of Famagusta is the most beautiful . . . " - P. Juan Lopez (1770), Excerpta Cypria

Nearly a thousand years ago, Nicosia was established in the centre of Cyprus, on a sun-drenched flatland called the Mesaoria Plain. Over the centuries, the city has been a living legacy of the island's rich herita and contains some of its flnest examples of Byzantine, Venetian, French Medieval and Ottoman architecture.

But the amalgam of cultures that shaped Cyprus' unique identity has also contributed to its turbulent history, as reflected in its capital city. Tragic events in recent decades have culminated in the physical separation of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities. Nicosia was broken in two through its historic and cultural heart - the ancient inner Walled City. Despite the growth of Greater Nicosia, the historic c ore of its Walled City is dying.


Architectural Legacy of Nicosia

A buffer zone running east to west cuts through the heart of Nicosia. Various sugestions for use of this area have been proposed under the Master Plan, ncluding the establishment of a bi-communal university

Notwithstanding deeply felt differences, Nicosia's two communities have together forged a plan to restore and revitalize the city as a whole, both Greek Cypriot and 'lūrkish Cypriot parts, under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) . If implemented, the Plan could mean a new future for Nicosia, and carlry symbolic signifilcance for all of Cyprus.

"ln this city, by reason of its well-tempered air and healthfulness, the King of Cyprus and all the bishops and prelates of his realm, the princes and nobles and barons and knights, chiefly live. . . . And in Cyprus, the princes, nobles, barons and knights are the richest in the world " (1336), Excerpta Cypria

Once the envy of all of Europe, Nicosia has withstood the ravages of time. It has survived lootings, waves of conquests from East and West, political upheaval, devastation by earthquakes.

While much of the present-day city could pass for a dozen other modern capitals, an aerial snapshot reveals one of its oldest and most distinctive features: a massive 16th century Venetian Wall. This circular stone monument, filve kilometres in circumference, has around its perimeter 11 projecting bastions that form a many-pointed star. Within its confilnes lies Old Nicosia and memories of a vivid past: narrow, meandering streets lined with slender palms and latticed windows, medieval churches, Gothic archways and skyward-reaching minarets.

Nicosia: Then and Now

In a very real sense, Nicosia is the hub of urban activity in Cyprus. In the last century the city's role as administrative, commercial and cultural centre ofthe island has been strengthened. Since the 1930s the total population of the existing two parts has risen filve-fold to nearly 200,000, from one-tenth to one-third of the population of the island .

An Aerial view of Nicosia

The Nicosia Master Plan reflects thc courageous vision of Lellos Demetriades and Mustafa Aklncl - representatives, respectively, of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities of Nicosia. While both leaders look forward to a common solution to the political crisis, they believe that no time should be lost in dealing with the immediate problems of today, reversing the decay and centrifugal growth of the city.

A market scene from the northern part of Nicosia, in front of the Bedestan

With funding from UNDP and technical support from the UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), Master Plan teams of urban planners, architects, sociologists and economists from both sides have met routinely in the UN-patrolled buffer zone since 1980. In this respect, the project has been one of the few continuous links between Greek and Tūrkish Cypriots.

Interior of the Chrysaliniotissa Church. Revitalization of the surrrounding neighbourhood has started under the Master Plan.

Finding one's way in the labyrinthian heart of Nicosia is no easy matter. Seemingly at every turn, and providing some sense of direction, are the sandbags, soldiers and blue UN flags of the buffer zone, running across the city, east to west. Straddling either side of the zone, in the centre of the city, are two hauntingly beautiiul neighbourhoods - Arab Ahmet on the north and Chrysaliniotissa on the south. They seem deserted except for a few stray cats, a flight of swallows or the occasional wizened face that appears unexpectedly through a window. Many of the buildings have fallen in on themselves, their crumbling plaster exposing mud and straw brick structures. Weathered, painted doors, decorated with iron filigree, hang loosely on their hinges. A look inside reveals inner courtyards, wildflowers springing up through the floorboards.

Doorways in the Walled City

The Nicosia Master Plan not only represents an extraordinary effort in bi-communal co-operation. It is also a bold departure in urban planning for Cyprus.

While the city is blessed with a dynamic private sector, this has failed, so far, to provide the impetus needed to restore Old Nicosia's economic base, protect its cultural legacy, or enhance the quality of life for its inllabitants. The strength and challenge of the Master Plan is that it goes beyond traditional, more or less reactive, urban development controls. Rather, it relies on the initiative of the public sector to actively shape the future direction of the city.

Saving a City:What is Required

But without strong local support and large-scale assistance from the international community, the Nicosia Master Plan will remain an exercise on paper. If that occurs, the old Walled City will most certainly continue on a path of decay until it becomes an empty shell of its former self, and the vision of the two communities will never be realized.

A karvanserai in the Turkish Cypriot side of Nicosia, restored with local funds

The Nicosia Master Plan: Investment Schemes

Priority Projects in the Walled City:...........Estimated Cost (US$)

Chrysaliniotissa Area...........................4,000,000

Rehabilitation of one of the oldest and most historically signifilcant areas of the Walled City, involving the restoration of homes, the redesign of a public garden and other open spaces, and the creation of a market, community centre and other facilities.

Arab Ahmet Area.................................2,500,000

Restoration of dwellings of historic and architectural value, the creation of community facilities, and the redesign of open spaces and traffilc and pedestrian patterns.

Selimiye Area...................................5,820,000

Environmental improvements and restoration of the most im- portant collection of historic monuments in the Walled City.

City Walls, Bastions and Moat...................2,400,000

Restoration of the 16th centul-y walls and bastions encircling Nicosia and the development and landscaping of the bastion and moat areas.

Mula Bastion Open-air Theatre...................850,000

Construction of an open-air theatre to serve a variety of cultural functions.

Famagusta Gate Open-air Theatre.................850,000

Construction of a modern version of a classic Greek or Roman theatre on the bastion near Famagusta Gate.

Ledras-Onasagorou Streets.......................1,750,000

Combination of traffic management, parking, pedestrian and landscaping schemes in the commercial core of the Walled City around Ledras and Onasagorou Streets.

Kyrenia Avenue..................................860,000

Mixture of traffilc, landscaping and road improvements in the Kyrenia Avenue area, which connects a central square with Kyrenia Gate at the northern edge of the city walls.

Other Investment Projects:......................Estimated Cost (US$)

Eleftheria Square...............................2,500,000

Expansion and redesign of a central square into an open piazza, linking the Walled City with a modern shopping district.

Central Business District (north)...............25,600,000

Development of a modern business centre outside the city walls, funded as a commercial venture.

Central Business District (south)...............4,000,000

Improvement of traffic management and general environmental conditions in the main commercial centre outside the city walls.

Pedieos River Landscaping.......................500,000

Development of a public park and recreation facilities along a section of the Pedieos River, to the west of the Walled City.

Stassinos Avenue Realignment....................1,000,000

Realignment of a section of a major road that runs parallel to the city walls and the creation of parking facilities.

Tripoli Bastion Farking Garage..................4,000,000

Construction of a major parking facility in the most congested part of the central business district adjacent to the Walled City.

Other Walled City Schemes.......................1,600,000

Cluster of traffic, landscaping and road improvements in the eastern sector of the Walled City.


Funds are being sought to transform Eleftheria Square into an open piazza
- UNDP Resident Representative in Cyprus

A preliminary study has generated interest from the Italian government and the City of Venice in restoring the walls and bastions of Nicosia, built by the Venetians some 400 years ago