Introducing Lefkosia (Nicosia)
If you get tired of the coast’s lazy, beach-bum lifestyle, and even if you don’t, make sure you spend some time in the country’s capital, known officially (and to Greek speakers) as Lefkosia. The city been labelled with the beaten cliché of ‘the last divided capital’, a reality that, although still present, is slowly changing thanks to 24-hour checkpoint crossing into its northern half. Clichés aside, Lefkosia (population 213, 500) is an attractive, enticing city and the country’s cultural heart; it’s ideal for experiencing what modern Cyprus is all about. There are great restaurants here, from dark taverns with dancing families and bouzouki players beside metres of meze, to ultramodern, fashionable joints, where young Cypriots twitch to the sounds of electronic music. The country’s best museum is here, with its extensive archaeological collection. The long, glitzy stretch of Leoforos Arhiepiskopou Makariou III (Makarios Ave) is a consumer’s heaven, with chain, designer and local shops displaying goods not for the thrifty-hearted. The Old City with its curious shape that’s been likened to a snowflake or a hand grenade is a labyrinth of narrow streets, teeming during the day and ghostly at night. It hides churches, mosques and beautiful, often dilapidated colonial houses.
Lefkosia’s high summer temperatures are both a curse and a blessing. It can be painful to traipse along melting pavements at high noon, along with mad dogs and Englishmen, but the heat rescues Lefkosia from the hordes of tourists holidaying on the rest of the island.
The city is split almost evenly between the Turkish-occupied North and the Republican South. The modern parts of (Greek) Lefkosia look like the made up, face-lifted sister of the crackly skinned, traditional (Turkish) North Nicosia, whose streets are full of crafts and faces you may think belong to three centuries ago. Lefkosia/North Nicosia as a whole reflects the story of Cyprus: its two people, divided, hoping for a future that may bring a better solution. With crossing to and fro made easier, in Lefkosia things are already looking up. And what better place to start preparing for the future than in the capital?