Established in the middle of the wide Mesaoria plain on the Pedieos River for defence purposes, Lefkosia has always been the country’s capital. The city was originally known as Ledra, the name kept by one of its major streets, and grew extensively during the Byzantine period. The Venetians, who briefly held Lefkosia from 1489, built the stone defensive walls around the city. But these did little to keep the Ottomans out in 1570. Life in Lefkosia under the Ottomans saw little growth, and only when the British took control in 1878 did the city begin to spread beyond its walls.
Violence inspired by the Ethniki Organosi tou Kypriakou Agona (EOKA; National Organisation for the Cypriot Struggle) against the British in the 1950s and then the Turkish Cypriots in the ’60s saw considerable carnage on the streets of Lefkosia. Intercommunal disturbances between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in 1963 brought a de facto partition of the city. The so-called ‘Green Line’ came into being at this time when the British military defined the Greek and Turkish areas using a green pen on a military map. The name has stuck to this day. The Turkish invasion of 1974 finally divided the city and it has remained so ever since, chaperoned by the watchful but increasingly weary eyes of UN peacekeeping forces. In 2003, crossing the Green Line was made easier, and now numerous Turkish Cypriots from the northern side of the city come to work in the southern side of the capital. Many protests take place in Lefkosia for the abolishment of the Green Line and the buffer zone, but so far to no avail.