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The name of the capital city of Northern Cyprus dates back approximately 2,250 years to the original settlement of Ledra, which was later renamed Lefkotheon, but was also sometimes referred to as Ledron. During the Byzantine period the name changed again to Lefkon, meaning poplar grove. There were a great many poplar trees lining the banks of the Pedeios river, so the name was quite apt.

Since the seventh century A.D., Nicosia has been the capital of Cyprus (except for a brief period during the Venetian period) because the Arab raids made so many coastal settlements unsafe. Nicosia was just far enough inland to escape the worst.

Huge, thick ramparts, built by the Venetians in 1570, encircle the city; the walls are three and a half miles long and have eleven towers and three gates. Within these walls are numerous remains from the middle ages and later periods.

The present day capital of the island, it has a population of around 150,000 and it is divided into Turkish and Greek sectors by a boundary known as the `green line' which runs in an east-west direction.In the old city of Nicosia, beautiful examples of Gothic and Ottoman architecture abound - the Selimiye Mosque, the Bedestan, the Arab Ahmet Mosque, and the Great Han/ Inn, to name but a few.



The building was constructed in the 12th century as a Byzantine church (The St. Nicholas Church). It was later enlarged by some Gothic annexes built by the Lusignans. After some more changes in the Venetian period, the building was given to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis. The building with its different architectural styles is of a hybrid nature. In the Ottoman period, it served as a depot and a market where mostly textile products were sold. The masonry on its northern entrance resembles the masonry on the entrance of the St. Sophia Cathedral.

Kumarcilar Khan (The Gambler's Inn)

This small building, asymmetrical in plan, of hewn stone, is on Asmaalti Square in Nicosia, to the north-east of the Buyuk Khan. This inn, too, is typical of an Ottoman inner-city commercial inn. Its exact date is uncertain but it is believed to have been built in the 17th century. It is now privately owned. In the past the Gamblers' Inn was also known as the Himarcilar or Kemancilar (violinists' or Fiddlers' Inn) inn. It is two-stroyed, ranged around a courtyard garden and entered through an arched passage from Asmaalti Square. The main gate is not original and is a late repair. There is a second monumental carved gate inside the passage which is clearly Medieval and not of the Ottoman period, so one concludes that the inn stands on the foundations of a Medieval structure. The irregularly-shaped inner court is surrounded by rooms leading off arcades or galleries on both floors. Though the inn had originally approximately 52 rooms, the number at the present day is 44. On the ground level the galleries have stone floors and wooden beams, with pointed arched opening seated on square shafts. Segmental arched doors lead into the inner rooms. Each room has an embrasure window opening externally. A modern stair in the south-east of the courtyard leads to the upper storey, where the floor is marble. The prentice roof on wooden rafters is covered by ridge tiles. Unlike the lower gallery, the upper one has no arches but instead round columns on which the roof joists are seated. The rooms leading off the galleries have barrel vaults and segmental arched doorways. In some rooms there are fireplaces. Here too the floors are marble, and the outer windows are rectangular. Columns and arches on both floors of the wing to the south are not original, being the result of later repairs. Nor is the western front in an indiscriminate manner, the entrance doors from the courtyard at ground level were closed and external openings were substituted. In spite of these many alterations and the resulting losses, the inn is still a leading example of an old Turkish monument, both in scale and in architecture.

Lusignan House

The mansion from the 15th century, which is situated within the Lefkosa moat (ramparts), has survived to this day and attracts attention by its Gothic arch entrance door with its Lusignan era coat-of-arms as well as the Ottoman era addition of a "kosk" and decorated wooden ceilings. The mansion which has a typical inner courtyard characteristic was built from cut stone and is 2-storied with a roof but the added-on "kosk" (kiosk style) was constructed from lath and plaster. The upstairs wooden veranda is reached from the ground floor round-stone pillared veranda by a particular stone stairs. The remains of the stone arches (later on filled in), on the east wall of the rectangularly planned inner courtyards, gives the impression that the building had an eastward extension or connection. The mediaeval buildings researcher Camille Enlart speaks about this mansion in his book "Gothic Art and Renaissance in Cyprus". The Austrian Archduke Louis Salvator who visited the island in 1873, in his book, "Lefkosia, The Capital of Cyprus" writes that a Turkish family named "Kalorio Al Efendi" was using this mansion. In 1958, the mansion, which had been used by the Russian Classen family as residence and a weaving workshop, had been bequeathed by them to the Cyprus Government. The mansion, which was emptied (by the local authorities) in the 1980's, had, until then, been partitioned and left for the use of refugees. After the Antiquities and Museums Department's two years arduous restoration work, in December 1997 the mansion will be handed over to the coming generations for the revival of the local weaving craft and for the use of social activities. In the mansion, which has been furnished with authentic furniture of the Lusignan and Ottoman periods, there is also a room for giving service to the visitors.

Nicosia City-Walls

In 1567, just before the conquest of Cyprus by the Ottomans, the Venetians started to build new walls in place of the old Lusignan walls ringing the city, so as to be able to defend Nicosia. A famous Venetian engineer named Guilio Savorgnano drew the plans of the walls. The walls have a circumference of three miles, eleven bastions each like a castle, and three gates. The walls consisted of earth ramparts with a stone facing. The names of the gates were: "Porta Del Proveditore - The Kyrenia Gate" in the North, "Porta Guiliana - The Famagusta Gate" in the East, and "Porta Domenica - The Paphos Gate" in the West. In order to build the walls, the Venetians demolished the houses, palaces, monasteries and churches outside the three-mile circumference of the city and used their stone in the construction of the walls. The bastions were named after the nobilities and other people who contributed to the construction of the walls (Rochas, Loredano, Barbaro). The Venetians were defeated by the Ottomans before they had time to finish the construction of the walls.

The Big Inn

The Big Inn situated in the south west of Nicosia, made from hewn stone is two storied and rectangular in plan. The inn, which was the product of the most important Turkish era in Cyprus, was built in 1572 by the first Governor of Cyprus Muzaffer Pasha. The inn, and caravanserai has Anatolian characteristics, which are similar to those of the Koza in displayed in Bursa- Turkey dated 1489-1491. The Big Inn (The Buyuk Han) has an open roof a squared interior courtyard within a framework transverse vaults and covered colonnades opening to the 68 barrel- rooms in the eastern area, opening out to the ten single floored arched. It was possible to enter the Inn from two doors from the east and west. Presently due to the activities in the market, the eastern entrance door, once the entrance of the Big Inn is closed. In the center of the interior courtyard there is a small mosque standing upon marble columns, which is hosed under a pavilion and contain a small fountain used for ritval ablutions. Surrounding the central courtyard the upper and lower colonnades facing the courtyard have cylindrical columns, between these are double centered point arches. Due to the lower floors being used as store rooms they have windows only facing the gallery. Presently the squared windows opening outwardly, are not original and were added later. It is possible to enter the upper level of the Big Inn from the north-west and south-eastern corners of the central courtyard, using the 21 steps of the two symmetrical staircases. There are compressed arches at the entrance doors, slightly arched rectangular windows and kilns opening out to the colonnades on the upper floor. The room at the main entrance is larger than the other rooms. Up to the year 1961 poor families lived in the Inn, and also restoration began in 1963. During the restoration the south colonnade was completely demolished and the south-west corner rebuilt without any regard to its original. Due to the events of 1963, the restoration, which was not of Ottoman characteristic, was uncompleted. Presently the Inn's restoration continues with contributions at various periods.

The Dervis Pasa Mansion

The owner of this two storey mansion built in the 19th century was Dervish Pasha, the publisher of "Zaman" – the first Turkish newspaper in Cyprus. The mansion is in the Arap Ahmet region of Nicosia: this is the region of the walled city which has preserved the fabric of the historical environment most intensely. The mansion has two entrances. On the main entrance, the year 1219 of the Muslim Calendar (1807) is visible. The ground floor has been constructed of stone and the upper floor of sundried brick. The year 1869 is visible on the ornamented ceiling of the main room which is a later addition to the building. The mansion has an ‘L’ shape with a large inner courtyard. The rooms on the ground floor open to terraced pavilions ringing the inner courtyard. A wooden staircase supported by the water reservoir in the courtyard leads to the upper floor where all the doors open to a covered porch. After the restoration work between 1978-88, the mansion was opened as a ‘museum-house’ or a museum of ethnograpy on 21 March 1988. It includes a main-room, a bride-room, a dining-room, and a section where items of daily use are being exhibited.


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