Discovering North Cyprus – Part II
North Cyprus remains one of the few unspoilt holiday destinations in the Eastern Mediterranean, and its beautiful landscapes are not its only appeal. In Part II of our guide to discovering the north, we take a sneak-peek at the islands split capital, a real-life ghost town and some of the most incredible wildlife in the world.
The Split Capital of Nicosia
Described as the last divided capital, Nicosia was split by sectarian conflict in the 1960‘s. Whilst a truce was brokered in 1974 by the UN, the Turkish and Greek communities remain separated by what’s known as the ‘Green Line’. That said, visitors and locals alike can easily cross the border at designated checkpoints, sampling both sides of the capital. Home to roughly a third of the North Cypriot population, the northern half of Nicosia (or Lefkoşa to the Turkish Cypriots), blends ancient history with the hustle and bustle of modern city life. It is a labyrinth of old narrow streets, dotted with ancient architecture and pavement cafes. Potter around the recently restored Büyük Han, an ancient Ottoman inn that today is used as a cultural, social and retail centre, or be pampered at the fascinating historic Turkish baths known as the Büyük Hammam.
The Karpas Peninsula
For something more remote head east to the Karpas Peninsula. Created by a continuation of the limestone ridge from the Kyrenia mountain range, this long panhandle strip of land stretches across from the easternmost tip of the island out towards the Turkish coast. Home to Karpas Peninsula National Park, much of this sparsely populated region has been declared a conservation area. 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. Needless to say, this unique wildlife attracts conservationists and nature enthusiasts worldwide. You can actually witness turtle hatchlings breaking out of their ping-pong sized eggs and racing across the sands to the moonlit surf. The Karpas Peninsula is also home to picturesque villages, a scattering of early Christian churches and ancient archeological sites. At the farthest extent of the peninsula is Apostolos Andreas Monastery, to this day a site of mass pilgrimage with its miraculous holy well. The combination of fascinating ancient history and unparalleled natural beauty make the Karpas Peninsula one of the few places in the world where man and Mother Nature truly compliment one another.
Between Kyrenia and the Karpas Peninsula, along the north east coastline, is the Esentepe region. Whilst Esentepe itself is an old hillside town and its pebbled beaches are not as golden as those further east, it is still a haven for visitors given its proximity to the Korineum Golf Course. The north is now home to a fabulous 18 hole championship course, the first of its kind on the island, courtesy of the Korineum Golf and Beach Resort (www.korineumgolf.com). Located at the foot of the Kyrenia mountains, the Korineum boasts all the features of a top class golf club together with a luxury boutique hotel to rival any international five star resort. The Esentepe region is also the site of the newly proposed Port Cyprium Marina and, in the mean time, yachting enthusiasts can take advantage of the facilities at the Karpaz Gate Marina just an hours drive away (www.karpazbay.com). Tucked away on the Karpas Peninsula, Karpas Gate is the regions first ever luxury marina with a stylish promenade, restaurant and beach club.
The Old Walled Town of Famagusta
Located on the eastern coast, Famagusta (Gazimağusa to the Turkish Cypriots) boasts an atmospheric old town surrounded by fortified Venetian walls. Within the walls the old town is a maze of churches, historic architecture and tree-shaded cafés popular with tourists and historians alike. The main cathedral was converted into a mosque, and a minaret added, during the Ottoman era. Formerly known as Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque was renamed in honour of the commander of the 1571 Ottoman conquest. Built during the French Lusignan period, it bears a striking resemblance to the gothic art masterpiece, the Notre Dame de Reims Cathedral in France, although the minaret was added later. The Lusignans were also responsible for Othello’s Tower, a name bestowed by the British to the huge citadel tower built by the Lusignans in the 14th century to protect the harbour. To the south of Famagusta lies the ghost town of Varosha, once the heart of Famagusta’s tourist trade in the 1960s and 1970s, now spookily barricaded off and frozen in time by the Turkish invasion of 1974. To the north, the area still thrives, with miles of beaches that line Famagusta bay, as well as a clutch of historically important sites, not least the Royal Tombs and above all ancient Salamis.
The Roman Remains of Salamis
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.
The north of Cyprus has so many fascinating places to visit, and they all waiting to be discovered.