24 Hours In Nicosia
The capital of Cyprus is a tale of two cities
Just like the multicultural pool of people who call it home, the capital city of the small, Mediterranean island of Cyprus is friendly, welcoming and easy-going. However, scratch Nicosia’s smiling surface and you will find a much more complicated city below.Not only is the city’s dynamic young population of creative minds nurturing a thriving music, arts and culture scene, Nicosia also has a darker side, visible in the military border that splits the city right down the middle – a scar dividing the land into two very different yet intrinsically connected communities.
Separated by the ‘Green Line’ into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, Nicosia is less a capital and more two different countries, living together in one little city of just 111 square kilometres.
And, although the turbulent history of the island is still undeniably palpable, it lends an extra edge to a city where its open-minded and forward-thinking residents are working towards new cultures of acceptance, embracing their national differences and channelling their creative energy into projects that inspire dialogue between the north and south.
In and around the old walled city of downtown Nicosia is where most of the action happens. An intricate warren of winding alleys and hidden corners, the area is lined with galleries, studios, community centres and design collectives.
Start searching for evidence of counter-culture and you will find it in the windows of independent artisanal boutiques, in the buzz of animated conversation from outdoor cafés and in the vibrant pulse of Nicosia’s street life.
Referred to today as Lefkosia by the Greek Cypriots and Lefkoşa by Turkish Cypriots – after Lefkos, the son of Ptolemy I of Egypt who rebuilt the city in 280 BC – Nicosia is now a living example of the various influences that have infiltrated its chequered history.
Evidence of Byzantine, Crusader, Venetian and Ottoman rule can be seen in the canvas of various architectural styles that prevail over the old town and the ancient walls that surround it, giving the city centre’s yellow façades an atmosphere of other-worldly mystery and hidden secrets.
10:00am – Ledra Museum Observatory
Looming over what is otherwise a relatively low-rise city from busy Ledra Street in Nicosia’s old walled city, the top floor of the eleven-storey Shacolas Tower is home to the Ledra Museum Observatory.
Considered something of a landmark in the city, Shacolas Tower was once used by Greek Cypriots to peer over the Buffer Zone – no longer necessary thanks to the pedestrian crossing.
While expats, tourists and locals snap up the high-street sandals in the Debenhams department store occupying five of the building’s floors below, the modern museum – open from 10am to 5pm, seven days a week – offers a 360-degree panoramic view of Nicosia from its observation deck.
The vista stretches out for miles and not only helps a first time visitor gain some geographical urban references but encourages a different perspective on the area, painting an uninterrupted picture of a capital at once divided, and yet, at the same time, inherently interwoven.
For the voyeuristically inclined, high-zoom telescopes are provided, as well as old photographs and detailed, interactive information boards to explain the hive of streets, alleys, landmarks and histories unfurling in the city below.
11:00am – The Cyprus Dossier
Read by free thinkers, artists, designers and poets looking to indulge their intellect with meaningful and challenging content, The Cyprus Dossier has, since its launch in 2011, become a go-to publication for impartial reviews and analyses on the social and cultural issues faced by the island’s inhabitants.
The co-founding editor of The Cyprus Dossier, Peter Eramian, describes the magazine as a place for critical ideas and conversation. ‘We felt that the mainstream media wasn’t doing enough to inspire a deeper and more reflective culture of thought,’ he says.
We felt that the mainstream media wasn’t doing enough to inspire a deeper culture of thought
The journal is now distributed twice a year free of charge, both in print and online, and has become affectionately thought of by its creators as a ‘binding material’ that brings together readers from both young and mature walks of life, while representing the island’s alternative culture.
Recent events covered by the journal include ‘Uncovered Identities’, a documentation of the island’s divided communities using photography as an agent to draw parallels between the two.
Each issue of the magazine poses socially relevant questions, related to current events, history, art and culture in Cyprus; a land that, according to Eramian, has seen its arts scene bloom in recent years.
Commenting on the scene’s roots, Eramian says that, ‘The unique pre- and post-colonial history of Cyprus, and its central geographical location as the “gateway” to Europe, the Middle East and the Global South, has meant that the island’s social and cultural scenes have been exposed to – and benefited from – a rich intake of cultural perspectives and experiences.’
Independently organised exhibitions, concerts and events are taking place more than ever before. Collectives such as Xorko, Ground, Open Arts Theatre, Louvana Records, Xarkis festival, The Afro Banana Republic, Draw Collective, pick nick and galleries such as Point Centre for Contemporary Art, The Office, Neoterismoi Toumazou, Art Seen and Thkio Ppalies are all generating exciting projects and works. ‘The island is pulsating with edge and attitude,’ says Eramian.
2:00pm – Nicosia International Airport
Standing frozen in time as an eerie reminder of Nicosia’s status as Europe’s last military-divided capital, Nicosia International Airport, designed by Dorsch und Gehrmann, is an abandoned concrete graveyard of derelict aircrafts, dust-covered waiting room furniture and ghostly check-in stands from a long lost era.
Contained within the land used by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, the airport has been out of use since 1974 following the conflict of the same year, during which the building became a site of some of the heaviest fighting in the capital. Now in a state of dilapidated ruin, a mere shell of its former self, the terminal has become something of an architectural icon. Creeping around its long deserted nooks and crannies not only satiates the inner adrenalin junkie, but also provides a fascinating architectural insight into the consequences of conflict and the physicality of memory.
In its run-down and abandoned state, the real strength of the airport is its current symbolic embodiment of the memories that it holds within its crumbling walls. Describing the airport as one of her great architectural obsessions, heritage researcher and architect Emilia Siandou has dedicated significant time to studying the historical, architectural and social values of the terminal. ‘The airport terminal represents numerous tangible and intangible heritage values. These values relate to its architectural design as an airport terminal of the post-war modern period, as well as to its actual function as an airport at that time,’ she explains.
It constitutes an example of a building which has been transformed into a carrier of memory
Post-war airport terminals symbolised progress, freedom, trade and the aspirations of a nation on the international stage. The Nicosia terminal was the first international airport terminal in the Republic of Cyprus, and as such was linked to the rapid modernisation, tourist development and post-colonial nation-building which followed the Cypriot independence in 1960.
‘At the same time, it constitutes an example of a building which, due to its link to the local conflict, has been transformed into a carrier of memory, meaning and symbolism,’ says Siandou.
5:00pm – Home For Cooperation
Though Cyprus remains divided, there are increasing numbers of people and organisations dedicated to laying the ground for a peaceful future. One of these places is Home For Cooperation, a multicultural community centre that stands as a symbol of solidarity and friendship, with an aim to inspire a communal sharing of land.
Leading by example, Home For Cooperation is a concrete product of cooperation itself. Based in the neutral buffer zone between the Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish Cypriot north, the centre is run by a team of dedicated personnel from both sides of the border.
Explaining the initial inspiration for setting up the centre, board member Dr. Kyriacos Pachoulides explains that ‘the idea for Home For Cooperation was born out of a need for a meeting point – a space accessible to all people living across Cyprus, and a place which all people in Cyprus would feel comfortable to visit.’
The Home, as it is affectionately known, organises and hosts a wide range of activities and events for the public, from conferences, workshops and seminars to exhibitions, film screenings, music and theatrical events. It also houses a public library and café.
Early in 2015, the centre will be presenting ‘Having Their Say’, a photography exhibition and competition, as well as a Council of Europe conference on ‘Teaching History Through the Arts’. It will also be launching an interactive game called ‘Nicosia is Calling’, and continuing to organise various walks and bike tours across both sides of the city.
‘Our aim is to create opportunities and instigate dialogue, participation, trust building and inclusion for people from across the existing divide, bringing people together through a common interest, art or a casual social occasion,’ Pachoulides says.
8:00pm – The Weaving Mill
Coffee culture is an inherent part of Cypriot society and in response Nicosia is overflowing with a number of contemporary cafés. Once the prime meeting point for the city’s alternative crowd of artists, writer and poets, Kala Kathoumena, just off Faneromeni Square in the south, is now surrounded by a host of others. Over in the north, Rüstem Kitabevi Bookshop is not only the oldest bookshop on the island, but also serves a killer cup of coffee.
Embracing Nicosia’s prevalent and enthusiastic coffee culture, The Weaving Mill has become one of the capital’s most popular cafés since opening four years ago. ‘What started as a small thought quickly took on a life of its own, growing and developing from an idea, to a dream, to a philosophy and now a beautiful reality,’ says Nicolas Pavlou, one of the siblings who co-owns the lovingly run family business.
Sitting over a steaming cup of strong Cypriot coffee, Nicolas’ sister, Evy, says that prior to the period the family took over The Weaving Mill it was a centre for after-school activities. ‘Before that it was a weaving shop established in the 1930s. The store used to import thread from Scotland and distributed it to all of the clothing factories in Cyprus until the early 1960s,’ she says.
Nicolas describes it as much more than just a community centre or cafeteria. ‘Be it a local jazz band performing, local produce tasting or a charity event, there is always a euphoric feeling of positivity and high energy in the atmosphere,’ he says.
Open from 4pm on weekdays, the book-lined space hosts live music nights once a week, providing a platform for emerging local bands, such as Jazz Boulevard or Sound Of Thieves.
This article appears in the issue49Buy Now