An A to Z of Northern Cyprus (Part 3)

An A to Z of Northern Cyprus part 3. Takes you from the hustle and bustle of the capital city to the remote northernmost tip where donkeys roam wild and birds flock in their millions. And from the skies to the bottom of the sea, we will guide you through the North and back through time:

North Nicosia, the split capital – enjoy the Northern side of Nicosia for the day…

Described as the last divided capital, Nicosia was split by sectarian violence in the 1960‘s. The Green Line as it became known was established when a British military commander divided up the city on a map with a green pen. The Turkish military invasion in 1974 formalised the division between the two halves of the city and a truce was ultimately brokered by the UN. Whilst this unique capital city remains divided, it is now easy for visitors and locals alike to hop across the border at designated checkpoints between the North and South.

Home to roughly a third of the North Cypriot population, the North side of the capital blends its rich history with the hustle and bustle of modern city life. Potter around the Buyuk Han, an ancient Ottoman inn today used as a cultural, social and retail centre, or be pampered at the Buyuk Hammam, Turkish baths also dating back to the Ottoman era.

Ottoman & other amazing architecture – be inspired by the architecture of ancient civilisations…

North Cyprus boasts a wealth of architectural gems dating back to Roman rule (BC). The ancient Roman ruins of Salamis are so impressive they deserve a solo spot below. Fast-forward several centuries (AD) and the spectacular defences of Kantara, Buffavento and St.Hilarion castle (Part 1 of our A to Z) showcase the skills from the Byzantine era. Whilst Kyrenia castle (below) is also thought to have Byzantine origins, it was significantly added to by both the Lusignans and Venetians who built over the original Crusader fortification. That said Bellapais Abbey (Part 1) is indisputably top of our Lusignan list and the Venetians can be best credited for remodelling the magnificent Kyrenia horseshoe harbour. For a complete guide through the architectural ages start out at the Buyuk Han (the Great Inn) in North Nicosia, one of the most important 16th-century buildings of the Ottoman period and the perfect place from which to map out your tour of the North.

Panhandle Karpaz peninsula – go wild, literally, in this remote part of the North…

North-east of the island lies the panhandle or Karpaz peninsula. This remote region stretches for approximately 80 kilometres to the northernmost tip of Cyprus and is home to the North’s national park. Arguably one of the most untouched and unspoiled areas in the Mediterranean, this peninsula is rich in wildlife. Its deserted beaches offer nesting grounds for sea turtles, its mountainous passes provide trails for wild donkeys and its bright blue skies paint the backdrop for millions of migrating birds. But we don’t want to spoil it by saying any more so get your backpacks ready to explore for yourself!

Quality ornithology & bird-watching – get your binoculars out for documentary-style bird-watching…

The predatory swoop of birds of prey and the lively chatter of the resident Cyprus Warbler bring the North’s skyline to life. Northern Cyprus is an important migratory crossroads for birds flying between Africa and Eastern Europe. It is host to nearly 350 species of birds including almost 50 native birds. Undoubtedly the best time to go is during spring or autumn.

That said migration starts early in North Cyprus with the Hirundine arriving in mid-February, the Wheatear and Great Spotted Cuckoo putting in an appearance by the end of the month, quickly followed by the Swifts, Larks, Wagtails and Bee-Eaters in their swarms. And after a long hot summer come the birds of prey, from Buzzards and Harriers to Osprey and Eagles soaring across the clear autumn skies.

Roman ruins of Salamis – think again if you thought that Roman statues were meant to be headless….

The ancient ruins of Salamis will transport you back to the turbulent times of 1100 BC. Founded by the son of the King of Salamis, a hero from the Trojan war, and once the Roman capital of the island, the impressive excavations are spread across a square mile of sandy coastline.

The site is incredibly well-preserved, having been buried in sand for over a thousand years and includes Roman baths, an amphitheatre and gymnasium.

The many marble statues that remain are all, without exception, headless – historical vandalism against Roman paganism after Christianity became the state religion. That said, the Romans had long persecuted Christians in Cyprus, most notably Catherine, who was martyred on a wheel strung between two columns, and hence the macabre name for the Catherine Wheel firework. Her vaulted tomb, aka St Catherine’s prison, is located adjacent to the site along with the royal tombs.

The ruins of Salamis and its burial grounds are both must-see historical spots.

Starship shipwreck & museum – learn all about the nautical ways of the Greeks…

When Alexander the Great was conquering the world over 2,300 years ago, a ship with a crew of four sank in a storm in open waters just a mile off the coast of Kyrenia. Rediscovered in the 1960’s, the ship and its contents were brought to the surface and are now Northern Cyprus’s star exhibit. This is the only preserved ship from the Greek classical age and possibly the oldest ever trading vessel to have been recovered from the sea.

Located within the ramparts of Kyrenia castle, the shipwreck museum houses the 47ft hull including, amongst other things, the cargo of perfectly preserved almonds and 400 wine amphorae (greek jugs). These and other fascinating exhibits tell their own story.

Or for an adventure of your own, although we’re sticking to dry land, try mountain trekking in Part 4 of our A to Z of Northern Cyprus!