Cyprus is a paradise island, immensely popular with tourists from all over Europe who come for the steady sunny weather, azure blue sea and magnificent mountainous countryside. Traditionally also Russians and businessmen from the nearby Middle East have major interests in the flourishing local economy. Despite its friendly atmosphere the island has a long history of conflicts and occupations. In the past, it belonged to the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans and even the English until 1950. Present-day Cyprus and even its capital Nicosia are split by, what they call, the Berlin Wall 2. The Republic of Cyprus, member of the EU since 2004 and part of the Euro zone since 2008, has formally sovereignty over the entire island. But in reality the island is divided into two main parts: the area under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus, located in the south and west, and comprising about 59% of the island's area; and the northern part administered by the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, covering about 36% of the island's area.
Another nearly 4% of the island's territory is part of the UN buffer zone. The Northern part is only recognized as an independent state by Turkey and the occupation is viewed as illegal under international law. The official statement of international authorities is that Cyprus is under Turkish occupation and the conflict is in a state of a ceasefire. But despite the troubled times and the recent financial crisis, which hit Cyprus’s economy quite hard, the island and its inhabitants demonstrate a lot of resilience. Younger generations seem to care less about the past and animosity all that much, and just like the Irish, hope for the unification of their treasured homeland.
All these cultures that rolled through Cyprus have left a little bit behind, from architecture to cuisine, or even driving on the left side of the road. The island is home to all kinds of ancient ruins left behind by those civilizations. Ancient Kourion; a Mycenaean settlement founded around 13th century BC, is the prime tourist destination on the southern part of Cyprus, also a World Heritage Site. Sanctuary of Apollon Ylatis is 2 kilometres outside of Kourion; it has been restored quite recently and is a sight to behold, with priest quarters, baths and a stadium available for exploration. It was a pilgrimage destination and a worship site for believers from all of Cyprus, apparently also for sportsmen. North part of the island has its own set of pre-Christian ruins, such as Salamis. One of the first city-kingdoms on Cyprus, Salamis is huge and even though it had its ups and downs, it has always been the centre of culture, philosophy, and prosperity for Cypriots of old. “Cypriots” sounds like a race of alien robots. It must’ve been the first mega-gym in recorded history with its pools, gymnasiums, and baths, plus a theatre for the post-workout chill. Royal Tombs of Salamis are nearby, holding remains of Mycenaean kings and treasure beyond measure! Or at least what’s left of it, after centuries of tomb raiding and grave robbing.
I know Cyprus might sound like a retirement destination. But don’t judge a book by its cover: the island is very much alive and has a lot in store besides all those dusty ruins and boring stories. The beaches are stunning, even if a bit small and crowded for my taste, but they make up for it with numbers. Ask the locals, if you don’t feel like fighting for a sunbathing spot. You just might stumble upon a beach straight out of that Leonardo di Caprio movie. You will find all of Cyprus strong assets: sun, ancient culture, vibrant nightlife, delicious local food, and much more in the divided capital Nicosia. The city split in two by a UN demilitarized zone or Green Zone in the 21st century is surreal. The two divided city parts even serve the same dishes in restaurants, sausages, for example. The recipe is the same but they use different kinds of meat, depending on which part of the city you eat them. In the northern part of Nicosia they are created from with, while in southern part they will use pork meat. It’s exactly how Nicosia feels; everything is familiar yet slightly different depending on which side of the border you will be.
The city is surrounded by Venetian Walls- virtually untouched Renaissance fortifications that were supposed to protect it from the Ottoman invasion. It didn’t work so well, the walls were breached and the city was taken, but they’re still very beautiful and remain a tourist staple. One of the most interesting buildings on the island was build under the Ottoman rule. Büyük Han or The Great Inn was built as caravanserais, an inn where travellers and caravans could make a stop and rest. The British Empire adapted it, during the colonial age, and turned the inn into a prison. Nowadays it functions as a community centre with workshops, galleries and cafés. I only scratched the surface of what this mysterious city has to offer. Delicious Turkish sweets, Greek table dancing and plate smashing, two fiery cultures clash to create something very unique. You won’t be disappointed if you’re visiting Nicosia for the nightlife either. Cypriots love to spend their long warm evenings in numerous bars, clubs, restaurants, and wineries.