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LEFKOŞA

Lefkoşa (Nicosia), the current capital of Cyprus, is of great importance to Cyprus’s history. Lefkoşa is an important Mediterranean city that incorporates Byzantine, Lusignan, Venetian, Ottoman, and English history and culture. Lefkoşa is the country’s most populous city. The north side of the city is inhabited by Turks and the south by Greeks. That makes it the world’s only divided capital.

The city is the island’s hub of transport, business, economy, politics, culture, and entertainment. The movie theaters, nightclubs, discos, and casinos are the main entertainments in the city. There are many other cafes, restaurants, and bars in the city. You may discover delicacies from world cuisines and Cypriot cuisine at the establishments there. Furthermore, several nightclubs host various events on certain days of the week.


ST. SOPHIA’S CATHEDRAL (SELİMİYE MOSQUE)

This cathedral is the largest, grandest house of prayer in Cyprus, and it is considered the most important piece of gothic architecture on the island. It is said that it was founded on top of a Byzantine church by the name of Hagia Sophia that once stood there. It was commissioned by the Latin archbishop Eustorge de Montaigu in 1208. The cathedral was consecrated and opened to worship in 1326. Because it was the most important church in Cyprus, the Lusignan kings were coronated here. The building was plundered by the Genoese in 1373 and the Mamluks in 1426. It also received damage in several earthquakes. After earthquakes in 1491, the cathedral’s eastern section collapsed. As it was being repaired by the Venetians, the tomb of an ancient Lusignan king, Hugh II, was uncovered. The pristine corpse was found with a golden crown on the head and various objects and documents. Built by French architects and artisans, the cathedral is a lovely example of medieval French architecture. The cathedral starts out with a monumental door. The carved stone windows above the door are a peerless example of gothic art. The Ottomans mounted minarets on top of the incomplete belfries on either side of the entrance. The interior of the cathedral consists of three aisles and six side segments. There are small chapels inside it. Of these, the one at the north is dedicated to St. Nicholas and the ones at the south to Mother Mary and Thomas Aquinas, respectively. The woman’s section of the mosque was used in the past as a treasury room. Several Lusignan nobles and kings are buried inside St. Sophia. Their marble tombstones are still part of the floor tiles. Because these tiles remained under rugs and mats, and because shoes are not worn inside mosques, the texts and images on them have remained intact.

ST. NICHOLAS’S CHURCH

The building was constructed in the 12th century as a Byzantine church. St. Nicholas’s Church was later expanded with a number of gothic additions built by the Lusignans. The building was given to the Greek Orthodox See in the Venetian era following some changes. With various architectural stylings, it is hybrid in its nature. Under it Ottoman rule, it served as a bazaar (chiefly selling textiles) and warehouse. The stonework on the northern door resembles that on the door of St. Sophia’s Cathedral.

DERVİS PASHA MANSION

This two-story 19th-century mansion was owned by Dervish Pasha, the publisher of “Zaman,” one of the first Turkish-language newspapers on Cyprus. The mansion is located in the Arap Ahmet neighborhood within Lefkoşa’s city walls, one of the places that have best preserved their historical atmosphere. There are two entrances to the mansion. Above the main one is the inscription of the year AH 1219 (AD 1807). The bottom floor of the mansion was built of stone while the upper floor was built of adobe. The master bedroom, an obvious later addition, has the year AD 1869 inscribed on its ornately decorated ceiling. The mansion is L-shaped and it has an expansive courtyard. The rooms on the bottom floor open up to the arcaded galleries surrounding the inner garden. The upper floor is reached by a wooden staircase sitting on top of the reservoir in the courthouse. The rooms lead to a covered sofa. After restoration work carried out between 1978 and 1988, it was decided that the mansion would be suitable for use as a library, cultural center, or office for the Department of Antiquities and Museums. The mansion is laid out with a master room, bridal room, bedroom, dining room, and pantry. Various objects used in daily life are displayed in another section of the mansion. Finally, the mansion was designated a museum house by display and arrangement, and it was opened as an ethnographic museum on March 21, 1988.

ST. CATHERINE’S CHURCH (HAYDARPAŞA MOSQUE)

St. Catherine’s Church—the most noteworthy Lusignan building after St. Sophia—is Haydar Pasha Mosque today. The historian Sir Harry Luke described it as Cyprus’s most elegant and greatest gothic building. St. Catherine’s Church was built in the 14th century. It was converted into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of the island. There are tall, narrow gothic windows between the building’s upwardly tapering columns. The upper sections of the windows are decorated with geometric shapes made of plaster. There are three entrances to the church. The gothic south entrance stands out with its fine stonework and reliefs of Lusignan coats of arms atop the doorjamb. The larger west entrance features the same architecture. Its jamb is decorated with rose and dragon motifs. The north entrance is plainer. It is decorated with a depiction of a naked woman catching fish while prone on her elbows and dragon reliefs. The church houses a choir section, a chamber where ceremonial objects are stored, a treasury room, and a small baptismal pool.

GREAT INN

Foremost among the Turkish contributions of historic and architectural value to Lefkoşa is the Great Inn (Büyük Han). It is generally accepted that it was commissioned by Muzaffer Pasha, the island’s first Ottoman governor, in 1572. The building conforms to a rectangular plan and has two stories. Chambers lined up around its expansive courtyard lead out to an arched and domed porch. The Great Inn was clearly built using stones taken from several different buildings and places. Likewise, it is probable that the marble columns holding up the prayer room in the center of the courtyard were taken from another structure as well. The hexagonal stone chimneys with the conical heads and the small domed prayer room are important elements that complete the inn’s Turkish-style architecture. The rooms on the ground floor of the inn were used as shops, storerooms, and offices. The rooms of the upper floor, each of which has an octagonal chimney, are bedrooms. Although it resembles examples frequently found in Anatolia, the inn has one distinctive quality. Such inns and caravansaries generally had one main door, whereas the Great Inn has an additional one.

LAPIDARY MUSEUM

The Lapidary Museum east of Selimiye Mosque occupies a Venetian-style building constructed in the 15gth century. It houses several lapidary specimens (crests, marble works, sarcophagi, and columns) dating back from the Middle Ages to today. The splendid stonework window across the entryway used to be in Sarayönü Square. It was brought from the Lusignan palace that was demolished under English rule. Among the most striking works are a sarcophagus that belonged to the family Dampierre and a tombstone that belonged to Adam of Antioch, the marshal of Cyprus in the 13th century. A marble lion of St. Mark is also found in the courtyard.

GAMBLERS’ INN

This is a late 17th-century Ottoman structure. Because of the shape of the carved gothic arch at the entrance and the mismatch between its proportions and that of other arches in the structure, and Ottoman architectural style in general, it is thought that it belonged to an earlier structure (likely a monastery). The structure was built to a rectangular plan. It has two stories and no mosque. Travelers would stay in the rooms on the upper floors while the rooms on the lower floors were used to stable animals and to store the travelers’ belongings.

NICOSIA CITY WALLS AND KYRENIA GATE

When the Turks were about to take Cyprus, the Venetians started building new walls in 1567 to defend the city of Nicosia. These replaced the old Lusignan walls around the city. The plans of the walls were drafted by a famous Venetian engineer named Guilio Savorgnano. Along the three-mile circumference of the walls are 11 bastions, each of which could be considered a fort itself, and a total of three gates. The walls had a thick earthen core that was sandwiched between stone bricks. The gates along the walls are, namely, Porta Del Proveditore (Gate of Kyrenia) at the north, Porta Guiliana (Gate of Famagusta), and Porta Domenico (Gate of Paphos). The Venetians knocked down houses, palaces, monasteries, and churches outside the three-mile radius and used their stone blocks to build the walls. The names of Frankish nobles and others who contributed to the construction of the walls (Rochas, Loredano, and Barbaro, for example) were given to the bastions. Before the Venetians could finish building Nicosia’s walls, they were defeated by the Ottomans. One of the three gates along the walls surrounding old Nicosia was the Gate of Kyrenia in the north. This was one of the city's most important entry and exit points. The Turks repaired Del Proveditore, the gate named after the architect Proveditore Francesco Barbaro, and added a domed room on top of it. The inscription above the door contains verses from the Koran. The seal of Mahmud II was placed on the north-facing side of the gate in 1820.

VENETIAN COLUMN, SARAYÖNÜ, ATATÜRK SQUARE

The Venetian Column in Atatürk Square was erected in 1550 by the Venetians. A lion of St. Mark used to be mounted on top of it. The Ottomans removed the column and placed it in the courtyard of Sarayönü Mosque. In 1915, the English placed the six-meter-tall column in its current location. A piece of granite of a solid leaden color, the column is thought to have been brought from a temple in Salamis. Along the bottom of the column are the coats of arms of six Italian families. The copper sphere on top of the column was added later. The buildings to the west of Atatürk Square (which are governmental buildings) are of a distinctive appearance, having been built in the early 1900s during British colonial rule. There is a fountain to the east of the buildings. There is also a platform built for the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. The governor from England used the platform, which bears the coat of arms of England, to announce the coronation of the queen.

SULTAN MAHMUD LIBRARY

This building was commissioned by Mahmud II in 1829. It is located by the eastern gate of Selimiye Mosque. The building consists of a sizable domed chamber and a portico with domes and arches. It is an example of classical Ottoman mosque and madrassa architecture, much like Arap Ahmet Mosque. There are about 1,700 books in its library, including a handwritten Koran and precious books in Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi.

GREAT BATHHOUSE (CHURCH OF ST. GEORGE

The Great Bathhouse, which is still in service today, was built on the ruins of an old Latin church. Clearly a Lusignan structure based on its ornate gothic arched doorway and stone walls, the structure used to be known as the Church of St. George. One characteristic of the structure is that the floor of the building is about two to three meters below road level.

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