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Also referred to as Lefkosia, the bustling city of Nicosia in the northern interior has been the capital of Cyprus since the 12th century. It stands today as the world's only divided capital and is split in two by the Green Line, a United Nations buffer zone that divides the government-controlled Republic of Cyprus in the south from the Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus.
Elegant tree-lined suburbs surround Nicosia's modern city centre, but the favoured tourist sector is the Old Town, which is being extensively renovated. The Old Town is a picturesque fusion of 16th-century walls, pedestrian precincts, pavement cafes, and squares, brimming with charm, character, and sightseeing opportunities. There are many things to see and do in Nicosia, with a variety of museums, performance venues, cinemas, restaurants, bars and nightclubs to choose from.
The city, on the Mesaoria Plain, is the centre of the Nicosia District that includes the valleys of Solea and Pitsilia and parts of Marathasa, with its mountain villages, orchards, hill resorts, and a plethora of Byzantine churches and monasteries. These are within easy reach and make for pleasant day trips from the city.
While Nicosia doesn't have the stunning Mediterranean beaches to offer visitors, it is a great base from which to explore the mountainous regions of Cyprus, which are very beautiful in their own right and offer numerous hiking trails.
The Cyprus Archaeological Museum was established to collect, study, and display archaeological artefacts from all over the island. Located at a different site, the first museum was established in 1888 and some of the exhibits are some 8,500 years old. The museum is arranged in chronological order: the first hall contains pottery and implements from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods whilst the other rooms trace the history of Cyprus through the Bronze Age, Hellenic Period, Mycenaean times, Roman Period, and early Byzantine. A unique feature of the museum lies in the basement where several graves rest in a dark cellar, complete with skeletal remains and reconstructed adornments.
The Byzantine Museum in the Old City of Nicosia displays the largest collection of art on Cyprus. The museum contains an art gallery exhibiting oil paintings, maps, and lithographs, giving visitors insight into Cypriot culture and history. There are around 230 icons on display, dating from the 9th through to the 19th centuries and salvaged from all over Cyprus. They are beautifully preserved and make a strong impact on visitors, especially those interested in religious art and iconography. The museum also has fragments of 6th century mosaics, taken from the apse of the Church of Panagia Kanakaria at Lythrankomi.
There's plenty to see and do in Nicosia, despite the area's lack of lovely Mediterranean beaches. As one might expect from the capital of such a culturally and historically rich country, the city has a number of wonderful museums.
The Cyprus Archaeological Museum holds a breathtaking collection of artefacts from all over the country, while the Leventis Municipal Museum has a great overview of the history of Nicosia spanning ancient times through to modern day. The Byzantine Museum boasts remarkable religious art and iconography, and the Ethnographic Museum is a must for travellers who are interested in the folk traditions of Cyprus.
Some of the most incredible attractions in Nicosia are religious buildings, such as St John's Cathedral, the official state church of Cyprus. It is comparatively small for a cathedral but the interior is wondrous.
Alternatively, Nicosia's Old Town is strewn with attractions for visitors and is a good area to begin sightseeing in the city. A stroll around the old walls is a must, with the pleasant, surrounding gardens adding to the experience.
There are also relics and remains to be found a short distance beyond the city. The ancient settlement of Tamassos makes for an exciting excursion from Nicosia and offers some thrilling ruins for exploration, as well as being the location of a rich archaeological site containing a necropolis and tombs.
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