After our 2 days in Larnaca, we embarked for the world’s last divided capital city (since the fall of the Berlin Wall) of Nicosia:
The most southeastern reach of any of the European Union’s capital cities, Nicosia has been continuously inhabited for over 4,500 years and has remained the capital of the island since the 10th century.
In early 1964, following the Cyprus crisis of 1963–64, the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities of Nicosia split the city (and island) into South Nicosia and North Nicosia respectively. This segregation then exacerbated into becoming a militarized “Berlin Wall” between the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus after Turkey occupied north Cyprus in 1974.
The Turkish army will remind everyone of this piece of history on the northern hills:
Officially today North Nicosia is the capital of Northern Cyprus, a state recognized only by Turkey and otherwise considered as occupied Cyprus by the international community.
So today we went to explore. After a 45 minute morning drive from Larnaca, we reached our lodgings at Central Park Residences about a 10 minute walk south from the city center.
Don’t say I don’t treat my monsooners well:
We freshened up for 20 minutes and treated ourselves to brunch at the memorable Elysian Plant Blased Kitchen Bar:
We then entered into central Nicosia with 10 minute walk north past Eleftheria Square, which was designed by the late Zaha Hadid:
To explore the atmospheric walled city of central Nicosia is a must. So we immediately hopped onto the main Ledra Street, a major shopping thoroughfare that links both sides of Nicosia.
From 1955–1959 this street was nicknamed “The Murder Mile” in reference to the frequent targeting of the British military by nationalists along its course
Then after much time and negotiation, the world’s last “Berlin Wall” eventually loosened up to (with a quick passport check) most tourists up until the pandemic, after which this border crossing was essentially entirely shut again to the world. It seemed all hope was lost for our group for a visit to the northern side of Cyprus until the respective authorities that be had made a sudden announcement 5 days ago (last Friday!) that they were reopening the border again. Although set rules exist regarding who can cross regarding COVID-19 precautions, it seems that our group of 11 arrived so soon after the reopening last Friday that the border guards of both respective sides weren’t entire sure how or who to let through.
And at the time of posting, the border guards on both sides essentially let all 11 of us USA passport holders through back and forth multiple times on both sides today, as long as we provided a paper copy proof of a negative PCR result for COVID-19 within the past 7 days (we used copies of our PCR tests we obtained back in the USA prior to the trip). The only issue was quickly explaining how the the month and day is switched in the USA (so that a test performed 5 days ago on June 4th is not April 6th) by showing the date of the email that contained my PCR result.
The crossing was so much easier than expected that when 4 of us were forced to walk back to our apartments to retrieve their paper copies (as the guards did not accept digital copies on our mobile phones), I did a double U-turn by crossing the border 3 times back and forth to give part of my group the apartments keys without so much a nod and an eye roll from the guards on both sides of the border.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing: when one of us was given a really hard time on the final return back to the southern side of town — even though everyone else in our group was allowed back through to the south by that point — we found out later what they really needed was a paper copy proof of a negative rapid antigen test with an official “stamp” (see below). None of the guards we had — except the one at the end who definitely did his homework — seemed to have been aware of this. However, by the time we found that out, the damage had been done and we already had explored nearly all of the northern side of Nicosia hours after the fact.
We hope this accidental honest oversight on their part didn’t get anyone in trouble!
After this border kerfuffle we even promptly headed back to the lower part of Eleftheria Square for this specific rapid antigen COVID-19 test and get that stamp that the border guards’ had unknowingly needed.
The rapid antigen test at the square is free and takes 15 minutes to process on site. Just bring your passport as an ID to match. It’s open from 7:30am-7:30pm.
Anyways, let’s roll it back to our pre-border shenanigans: if you’re sticking to the southern side of town before heading to the border, don’t miss the Greek Orthodox houses of worship Panayia Phaneromenis:
and the adjacent, smaller, Arablar Mosque:
But no matter how long you stay on the south side, the border will draw you near as it literally is the elephant in the city.
Other than with the aforementioned appropriate proof of negative COVID-19 test to get to the northern side of Nicosia, make sure your passports also work: For a visit less than a month, visas are not required for any nationality except for citizens of Armenia and Nigeria. Visas are otherwise acquired at international representative offices in London, Washington D.C., or NYC before travel.
It’s simply a walk across no man’s land for a few feet:
You’ll know it when you see the pin on the Google map:
And surprisingly at the time, nobody cared about us taking photos or video:
You’ll know you’re in the northern side of town when you see ads everywhere for Efes beer . . .
. . .and a photogenic pentagonal convergence of multiple pedestrian streets.
Büyük Hamam lies immediately past the border, which is still running and open to the public to this day:
…and Büyük Han will be to your right: a place to shop for eclectic crafts, dine, people watch, or take in live music under the incredible architecture of a building constructed back in 1572.
A few more paces north will lead you to Ataturk Square (Sarayönü), a landmark square marked by a Venetian Column placed in 1915 and the Judicial Building.
Directly north of the square are the Samanbahçe Houses that exemplify photogenic Turkish Cypriot architecture.
If you’re lucky, the 13th century fortress/mosque hybrid Selimiye Mosque — the centerpiece of Nicosia’s landmarks — will be done with its renovations and finally reopened to the public:
We also headed off to the deserted side streets . . .
. . . just to peek at Lusignan House, a mansion built in the 15th century as a residential building for Latin nobles during the Lusignan period. They were so caught off guard by our presence they turned on the power and opened the small museum inside for 5 minutes just for us.
You’ll reach the northern limits of the walled city when you see Girne Kapisi, a Venetian built 16th century gate and Ottoman watchtower:
After about a few hours exploring northern side of the border, we walked back across the UN Buffer Zone:
…and then totally vegged out pretending we were back in Miami in our own private sauna/spa at our residences.
1 hour later: