The name of the capital city of Northern Cyprus dates back approximately 2,250 years to the original settlement of Ledra, which was later renamed Lefkotheon, but was also sometimes referred to as Ledron.

During the Byzantine period the name changed again to Lefkon, meaning poplar grove. There were a great many poplar trees lining the banks of the Pedeios river, so the name was quite apt.

Since the seventh century A.D., Nicosia has been the capital of Cyprus (except for a brief period during the Venetian period) because the Arab raids made so many coastal settlements unsafe. Nicosia was just far enough inland to escape the worst.

Huge, thick ramparts, built by the Venetians in 1570, encircle the city; the walls are three and a half miles long and have eleven towers and three gates.
Within these walls are numerous remains from the middle ages and later periods.

Outside, there is no trace of the mediaeval settlement that once existed as as materials from those buildings were used at various points in time to restore and maintain the walls.

During the Ottoman period, the 19th century traveller Archduke Louis Salvator of Austria noticed that "Nicosia is not divided into districts in the usual sense of the word; the only divisions that could be drawn would be by the different populations of the town. The Turks for instance, occupy the parts about the Gate of Famagusta, near the mosque of Tahta Kale, and especially those between the Gates of Kyrenia and Paphos. The Greeks have chosen principally the district between the episcopol residence and Ayia Sophia for their dwelling-place, but are also sprinkled amongst the Turkish population between the Gates of Kyrenia and Famagusta. The Armenians are mixed up everywhere with the Turks".

The present day capital of the island, it has a population of around 150,000 and it is divided into Turkish and Greek sectors by a boundary known as the `Green Line' which runs in an east-west direction.

In the old city of Nicosia, beautiful examples of Gothic and Ottoman architecture abound - the Selimiye Mosque, the Bedestan, the Arab Ahmet Mosque, and the Great Inn, to name but a few.

The recent years have seen a renewed interest and efforts for the urban regeneration of the old city of Nicosia. EC and UNDP's UNOPS have been instrumental in this drive which has seen many ancient, mediaeval buildings sympathetically restored and renovated. Some of these include: Bedestan, Samanbahçe quarter, Bandabuliya (green market), Selimiye quarter. 

 HISTORY:

St Sophia Cathedral is regarded as one of the most important Gothic works of architecture in Cyprus. Its foundation stone was laid in 1208 on the site of an earlier Byzantine building which was probably named Hagia Sophia, or Divine Wisdom. It was finished in 1326. The Lusignan kings were crowned in this cathedral. It was plundered by the Genoese in 1373, and by the Mamelukes in 1426, and suffered several earthquakes.

The edifice begins with a monumental entrance above which a magnificent traceried window is placed. The two towers which flanked the entrance porch were never completed and the bell towers served as the foundation of the minarets added by the Turks after 1571. Two rows of six massive columns separate the nave from the aisles. Their capitals are from the Byzantine era. The four granite columns of the apse carry early Byzantine or Gothic capitals and are thought to have been brought from Salamis. Along either side of the aisles galleries are raised.
The apsidal chapel in the north side was consecrated to St Nicholas. In the southern chapel which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary a mihrap by which the Moslems find the direction of Mecca stands. The chapel next to this was dedicated to St Thomas Aquinas.
This 17th century building was used as the Tekke, or monastery, of the Whirling Dervishes, an order founded by the mystic poet Jelal-ed-din Roumi Mevlana in the 13th century, until 1920, when Atatiirk banned the monastic orders. After this period the dances of the dervishes were allowed only as a cultural event. In Cyprus the tradition lived on until its last sheikh died in 1954.


The Latin church of St Catherine was built at the end of the 14th century and converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest. Its external architecture features trapezoidal represses alternating with tall and narrow Gothicwindows. The openings of windows are filled with slabs of gypsum perforated with geometric designs.


The monument has three entrances. Access from Ae south is gained by an ornate Gothic portal. It carries a deeply carved hood ending with a finial. The figures of the corbel supporting this have not survived. Above the lintel, there are the reliefs of The three Lusignan shields. The arch and lintel are supported by groups of carved capitals on the two sides. The detached middle column of each group is of white marble. The larger western entrance was similar in design. Its finial has not survived. Its lintel is decorated by a frieze of roses and dragons. The door in the north wall leads directly to the cloister. It is simpler than the other two entrances. Nevertheless, its corbels, one showing a naked woman holding two fish by the tail and the other a dragon are interesting.
The interior of the church does not have aisles. Pillars incorporated into the walls support a cross ribbed ceiling. The thrust exerted on the walls is shared by steel ceiling ties. At the end of the nave a polygonal choir and a small sacristy are placed. The double flower, which decorates the keystone of the vaulting, is repeated all along the main body of the building. Above the sacristy there is the treasury with a window opening into the church. On the right is a small basin which must have held baptismal water.


Bedestan, or 'covered market' is a building originally built as a Byzantine church in the 12th century. In the 14th century during the Lusignan rule it was enlarged by the addition of its Gothic elements. The last group of alterations took place during the Venetian rule when it became the Greek Orthodox Metropolis. Its main portal on the north side is elaborately carved like that of St Sophia. During the Ottoman period it was used as a textile market.


Kyrenia Gate
This was one of the main gateways of the city called 'Porta Del Proveditore' after its architect Proveditore Francesco Barbaro. A Latin inscription inside the gate gives its date as 1562. The Arabic inscription above the gate reads: 'O Mohammed, give these tidings to the faithful: victory from God, and triumph is near. O opener of doors, open for us the best of all doors.'
Atatürk Square and the Venetian Column The grey granite column which stands in the middle of the major square of Nicosia is thought to have been brought from the ruins of Salamis by the Venetians. Originally it bore a lion on its top. Its base is decorated with Venetian coats of arms. The Ottoman Turks overturned it after the conquest in 1570. In 1915 the British re-erected it this time with a copper globe at its top.


Buyuk Han, or the Great Inn, was built in 1572 by the first Ottoman governor of Cyprus, Muzaffer Pasha. Its architecture is similar to numerous hans encountered in Anatolia: a courtyard surrounded with rooms arranged on two floors. The lower rooms were used as shops, storage rooms and offices. The rooms on the upper floor served for lodging and each is fitted with a fireplace which has an octagonal chimney. In the middle of the courtyard there is a domed octagonal mosque resting on eight columns with a fountain for ablutions under it.
Kumarcilar Han, or the Gamblers' Inn was built at the end of the 17th century. The arch inside the entrance passage may point to the existence of an earlier building on the site. It has no mosque or ablution fountain.


Turunclu Mosque
This was built in 1825 by the Ottoman governor Seyit Mehmet Aga. It has a wooden roof which rests on four arches. The wooden private gallery for women is in the north-east and stands on wooden columns with decorated capitals.
Iplik Pazar Mosque
The 19th century edifice is named after the old cotton market which once existed here during the Ottoman period. Its knot shaped minaret is thought to belong to a former mosque built on the same ground.
Arap Ahmet Mosque
The mosque which was built in 1845 carries the name of the Turkish governor at the time that it was erected. In the construction of its floor, stone lids from nearby Lusignan graves were used as building material.
This is a 19th century mansion of two storeys which was recently restored and opened to the public as a folklore museum. Dervish Pasha, who once owned the mansion or konak was the publisher of the first Turkish newspaper 'Zaman', or 'Time in Cyprus.


The Latin church of St Catherine was built at the end of the 14th century and converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest. Its external architecture features trapezoidal represses alternating with tall and narrow Gothicwindows. The openings of windows are filled with slabs of gypsum perforated with geometric designs.
The monument has three entrances. Access from Ae south is gained by an ornate Gothic portal. It carries a deeply carved hood ending with a finial. The figures of the corbel supporting this have not survived. Above the lintel, there are the reliefs of The three Lusignan shields. The arch and lintel are supported by groups of carved capitals on the two sides. The detached middle column of each group is of white marble. The larger western entrance was similar in design. Its finial has not survived. Its lintel is decorated by a frieze of roses and dragons. The door in the north wall leads directly to the cloister. It is simpler than the other two entrances. Nevertheless, its corbels, one showing a naked woman holding two fish by the tail and the other a dragon are interesting.


The interior of the church does not have aisles. Pillars incorporated into the walls support a cross ribbed ceiling. The thrust exerted on the walls is shared by steel ceiling ties. At the end of the nave a polygonal choir and a small sacristy are placed. The double flower, which decorates the keystone of the vaulting, is repeated all along the main body of the building.
Above the sacristy there is the treasury with a window opening into the church. On the right is a small basin which must have held baptismal water.