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Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, is the last divided capital in Europe. The militarised UN buffer zone - the so-called ‘green line’, named after a line drawn on a map by a UN official – passes through the heart of the city and separates the ethnically distinct Turkish north from the Greek Cypriot south.
Despite its divisions and all the challenges that come with living in a divided city, many parts of Nicosia are prosperous and easy-going, including a cosmopolitan new town and an architecturally sublime Old Town.
Surrounded by ancient Venetian walls laid out in the shape of a star, the oldest areas of the city are criss-crossed by labyrinthine alleys. They continue to harbour traditional artisans like blacksmiths, cobblers and coppersmiths.Read more
The rest of the city is liberally adorned with mosques and Byzantine churches, old tavernas and palm trees. Nicosia is over a millennia old and has changed hands many times, passing through distinct Hellenistic, Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian, and Ottoman phases – the shifting social and cultural history of Nicosia is well-charted in the city’s award-winning Leventis Municipal Museum.
Predictably, the treasures of Nicosia’s Old Town are many. They include three well-preserved city gates – the Famagusta gate served travellers to and from the east of the island and is the most impressive – and a trove of structures on Faneromeni Square, including churches, mausoleums, and a library.
The Hamam Omerye is a stone-built 14th century Hamam now restored to its former glory. Designed by as a bath complex dedicated to the Caliph Omar, it remains a place to experience a traditional Turkish bath alongside modern health and spa treatments.
Nearby, the 18th century House of Hadjigerogakis Kornesios is the former home of Nicosia’s Dragoman, who acted as an interpreter between the Ottoman governor and Greek-speaking citizens. Besides concealing a plethora of fine antique furniture, arched ceilings, carpets, religious relics and artwork, it retains much of its painted decoration. Like the Hamam, its renovation has won awards and offers a glimpse of old Cypriot splendour.