The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus has been ruled by many over the centuries and the Romans, Persians, Crusaders and Venetians have all left their indelible marks across the country. The Romans’ legacy lies in Salamis Port and the Vouni Palace. Medieval Cyprus is rich in heritage with a multitude of both Crusader and Venetian castles dotted about.
The border between north and South Cyprus has been somewhat relaxed allowing travellers to explore the country as a whole. Familiarise yourself with the best of both worlds and the stories from both sides.
For travelers interested in Cypriot history, there is Kyrenia which has a 5000 year-old shipwreck and a past influenced by Ottoman, British and Turkish rule. The town’s location is within the Kyrenia Mountain Range and there is much for architecture and heritage buffs to see. Its icon museum is of particular interest. Base yourself here in Kyrenia for the duration of your holiday as most sights are within easy reach.
There are also several notable castles in the region, including Buffavento Castle, aka “Defier of the Winds” due to its situation 950 meters above sea level. Buffavento along with the 10th century St Hilarion Castle and Byzantine Kantara Castle were all built as protection from Arab raids. Stroll around the romantic Bellapais Abbey and village where famous writer Lawrence Durrell wrote his novel ‘Bitter Lemons’. Then there’s the visually stunning 16th century Venetian Kyrenia Castle located at the very tip of the harbour, which looks impressive all lit up at night. Take an authentic Turkish lunch at the picturesque Kyrenia harbour but check the menus and prices first as some are real tourist traps.
History enthusiasts can take a trip to the western region to visit the site of the ancient Vouni Palace near Lefke. Vouni was built around 600BC and today the site offers fantastic sea views and well as important archaeological remains.
In the eastern region of north Cyprus you can visit ancient Salamis, an ancient Greek city-state which lies about 6km north of Famagusta. Salamis was founded by one of the heroes of the Battle of Troy and was actually being excavated until the Turkish invasion of 1974. Today the site is accessible on foot to view the Roman remains of baths, a theatre and also an amphitheatre.
The city of Nicosia is the only remaining divided capital city in the whole of Europe (following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification). Enjoy a day out here to experience two different worlds. Take in the ancient St. Sophia Cathedral, aka Selimiye Mosque, built in 1209 A.D and still standing after sustaining damage during several major earthquakes. Browse the covered bazaar, The Bandabuliya, which was the main trade and religious center of Nicosia during the Lusignan and Venetian rule. Sadly the bazaar underwent extensive refurbishment and when it reopened in early 2012 there were rumours that much of the original character had been lost.
Travellers can also visit the Büyük Han caravanserai and the Ottoman mansion, Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios Mansion, which is the only remaining, and therefore incredibly important, urban architecture of Ottoman rule.
Famagusta walled city with its lively nightlife. Here you can explore St. Nicholas’ Cathedral which goes by several different names such as The Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque and also the Ayasofya Mosque of Magusa. Now officially a mosque following the Ottoman rule when the cathedral was converted into a mosque in 1571. Whatever the name, this is the biggest medieval structure in Famagusta and was built around 1298. Wander Othello’s Tower, a medieval citadel that guarded the town and harbour in years gone by. The name Othello also features within a Shakespeare play who was inspired by the same man as gave the name to the tower.
As you depart the Famagusta region it’s worth a stop-off en-route at the St Barnabas’ Monastery and the attached Icon Museum located near the Royal Tombs which are between the village of Tuzla and also Salamis. Here there is an ancient church which is an icon museum, a monastery which features an archaeology collection and an on-site chapel which contains the remains of Saint Barnabas himself who was one of the priginal founding fathers of the independent movement of the Greek Orthodox Church. St Barnabas is also the patron saint of Cyprus.
The Royal Tombs are also nearby and became famous in the 1950s thanks to important archaeological finds made on the site. Sadly the site was pillaged and damaged by treasure hunters until recently when scientific excavations have taken place. There are various funerary tombs on the site with important cultural finds.
Varosha Ghost Town in Famagusta
For a really eerie experience get a local guide to take you to the Varosha boundary with Famagusta town. Varosha is the famous ‘ghost town’ area that still occupies a quarter of the Cypriot city of Famagusta. The Varosha district lies within Northern Cyprus and was until 1974 actually the main tourist destination of the city, with many large hotels and resorts still visible. Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 the area was hastily departed and still lies totally untouched to this day. Nearly forty years later visitors at the boundary fences can still see washing blowing on a line and cars lined up. Very eerie indeed.