Nicosia | Peace & Love & Division

“Imagine there’s no country” – John Lennon

Nicosia (or Lefkosia, as it is known locally), is the capital of the Republic of Cyprus, and sadly, is also the last divided capital city in the world; with that division being in place since August 1974. The division resulted from the invasion of Cyprus by Turkish forces, and the subsequent capture and occupation of around 40% of the Northern part of island – the line, or border, that separates the two parts is known as the ‘Green Line’. The northern part refers to itself as The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, although unsurprisingly, with the exception of Turkey, no country recognises this territory as an independent country.

There are numerous accounts online about the background and events that lead up to the invasion, but for the visitor, the result some 44 years later is that the division is still very much in place, and in order to pass from the southern side of the green line, to the northern side, passport checks are required.

Nicosia has 3 crossing points, one by Ledra Palace, one in the suburb of Ayios Dometios, and the third, which we made use of, is located on the busy shopping thoroughfare of Ledra Street.

A poignant sign, located above the administration offices of the Cypriot border control

The crossing process is quite simple and painless for anyone with an EU passport; first it is necessary to show your passport to the Cypriot border guard, then walk some 50 metres in ‘no-mans land’ which is a UN controlled buffer zone, before presenting your passport to the Northern Cypriot border guard. I’ve read online accounts that say the Northern side will stamp your passport, but in our case this didn’t happen. Returning is just as easy, and you can cross as many times as you like, if the fancy takes you, and this crossing point is open 24 hours a day.

The Cypriot side of  the Green Line crossing point in Ledra Street, staring into ‘no-mans land’

Ledra Street – a gateway to two worlds

Experiencing the division of Nicosia is more than just crossing a border, it’s witnessing two very different parts of the same city. On one side, a modern, thriving, busy metropolis exists, and on the other, it almost feels like a time capsule, with many buildings, and the pace of life appearing to be much as they were at the time of the invasion.

Ledra Street – a busy shopping location
A Cypriot restaurant where we ate the night before – no idea what the name is, but the food was delicious! Notice the border crossing in the distance
A cafe living with the division – the oil drums and sandbags mark the green line
Ledra Street at night – cafe culture!

After enjoying the delights of Ledra Street, curiosity more than anything, encouraged us to cross the green line, walk through no mans land – and explore the Northern part of the city.

From the moment you leave the border check, everything looks very different, it’s difficult to believe you have just walked no more than 100 metres.

Exploring just beyond the Northern border check

The streets feel very dated, the abundance of low hanging telephone and power lines, give the impression of a place in need of modernisation; but our exploration continued – we found it an amazing place to walk around, as you never really knew what would be around the next corner.

A reminder that along with the jurisdiction, the primary religion is different
Dated the buildings may be, but they were exciting to photograph
Interesting to see the hotel – quite different to where we were staying. I loved the green door!
The green door – what’s that secret you’re keeping?
My favourite photo – the contrast between old and new(er)
An example of the ‘simply amazing’ street art
My Turkish is no better than my Greek!
I just loved this row of terraced houses

Perhaps one of the highlights of our exploration was discovering Selimiye Mosque, a stunning piece of 14th century architecture, which was once a gothic Cathedral, in honour of Saint Sofia.

After some 2 hours of walking in the baking sun (it was around 32 degrees), we decided to return to the Cypriot side of the border, and head back to our hotel. Whilst I very much enjoyed discovering this part of the city, I couldn’t help but feel a big sense of sadness at the political situation that is at play here. Any division is wrong, and I truly believe that in time, it will disappear, just as it did in Berlin; but whether we have the politicians in place today that have the will to make it happen, only time will tell.

The photo at the beginning of this post was taken on the Northern side, and the image of that concrete wall of division, decorated in graffiti with the words ‘Peace & Love’ was for me, very powerful. It resonates well with this final image, from the Cypriot side.

One day, hopefully @ Ledra Street Information Office

7 thoughts on “Nicosia | Peace & Love & Division

  1. This is fascinating. There is certainly a distinct feel to a divided city, but also each has its own unique circumstances. The first time I felt it was in Belfast, and it feels like this largely unseen tension that is somewhere beneath the surface. I spent more than my planned amount of time in Belfast because it was spring of 2010, and an ashcloud from an Icelandic volcano grounded flights throughout Europe. My flight home after over 3 months of travel was among the very first cancelled. I walked all over the city. While in the city center, Belfast seems to celebrate its diversity, there are unhealed wounds on full display when you walk from neighborhood to neighborhood.
    In 2012, I visited Mostar and Sarajevo, in Bosnia & Herzegovina. In many ways in Mostar, cultures are segregated. Few people interact between the ethnic-Bosnian and ethnic-Croatian populations. There are many murals on the Croatian side of the city that would suggest they think of themselves as full Croatian. I heard a story of ethnic Bosnians from Mostar visiting Sarajevo and thinking the shopping malls impressive and commenting on escalators, but there are big shopping malls with escalators in their own town… just on the Croat side of town.
    I find cities like this fascinating in a lot of ways. Thank you for your write up on Nicosia.

  2. Thanks so much for your comments. Despite being British, I’ve never visited Belfast, but I do understand what you mean about the ‘unseen tension’. My only similar experience was on a school visit to Berlin in 1974, when we had the opportunity to cross through ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ – although it was so long ago, I still vividly remember the drabness of East Berlin, when compared to the Western side, and feeling so sad when seeing graves of those who had tried, and failed to escape from the East. And now we have a sitting US President using the term ‘Build a wall’ – how backward can we get as a civilisation?

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