“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.