From ancient ruins to spectacular mosques, Cyprus has much more to offer than sun-soaked stretches of sand
Away from the beach cocktails and laughing tourists enjoying a relaxing holiday in Cyprus, the ghost town of Varosha, Famagusta presents an eerie reminder of the traumas that happened in the past.
Standing silent, the town was once a popular, vibrant holiday destination with the port considered to be a transportation hub.
Now, however, the city is left to crumble as it does not receive any form of development and growth after a Turkish invasion in 1974.
History of Famagusta
Situated on the east coast of Cyprus, Famagusta was one of the most glamorous resorts in the Mediterranean and housed nearly 40,000 residents.
However, following the invasion of Cyprus in July 1974, the Greek Cypriot army withdrew its forces to Larnaca. As people fled, the Turkish army advanced, creating a border between the two communities.
When the Turkish Army gained control of the area during the invasion, they fenced it off and admittance is now only allowed to Turkish military and United Nations personnel.
As stated previously, while you can freely walk around Famagusta, you cannot enter the Varosha ghost town and you can only look at it from a distance. Additionally, you are forbidden from taking photos at the barbed-wire boundary.
The best way to view the ghost town is by visiting Palm Beach.
If travelling from Larnaca, there is an Intercity bus route that goes from Larnaca to Famagusta. Catch the bus from Finikoudes Bus Stop, Larnaca and disembark at Saint George – Central Station, Paralimni, Famagusta. The journey takes around 1 hour. A daily single costs €1.50. Click here for times etc.
To get to the beach, walk along the coast road (Havva Sentürk Caddesi) to the Palm Beach Hotel. Go past the hotel and take the small alleyway signposted for the beach.
Walk towards the barbed-wire area and you’ll be able to see hotel ruins with blown-out windows. At the southern end, you’ll see wire and metal poles that run into the sea and a soldier stationed in the watchtower. You must stay behind the wire and do not swim over it in the sea.
Located in the ancient port city of Famagusta, Palm Beach is a really nice, offering warm waters and sandy beaches.
A sun bed costs €1-2 per person. An umbrella costs the same.
If you have a spare day while in Cyprus, taking a day trip to the capital is a great way to understand the country’s culture and history more.
Nicosia is the largest city and seat of government of the island of Cyprus and is a great mix of vibrant street food, shopping and religion.
The capital is rich in mosques, with some built from churches and monasteries that incorporate the intricate details and sculptures from Christian buildings.
By plane: Nicosia International Airport (NIC) was the principal airport of Cyprus. As a result of the Turkish Invasion in 1974, NIC lies directly in the UN Buffer Zone separating the occupied areas from free areas of Cyprus. NIC Airport has been inoperable since 1974 and currently is under the control of UNFICYP, serving as the force’s headquarters.
Subsequently, Larnaca International Airport is the closest airport to Nicosia. There are up to 30 daily bus shuttle services that run between the airport and Nicosia, non-stop and cost approximately €5.00.
By bus: If travelling from Larnaca, catch the 425 bus from Foinikoudes (Larnaka Marina). The journey takes around 1 hour 15 minutes. A single ticket costs €4.00. A daily ticket costs €7.00. See times here.
Things to see
In Nicosia, Ledra Street is a major shopping thoroughfare in central Nicosia. Here you can visit one of the many coffee shops or buy anything from sun hats to handbags.
It is also where you can cross the border, so-called Green Line, into Turkey. Pedestrians can cross at Ledra Palace (the oldest crossing just outside the walls of old Nicosia) and Ledra Street. The main crossing point in Nicosia is Agios Dometios where cars and pedestrians can cross. You must take your passport with you otherwise you will not be allowed to cross.
Waiting times can vary, but allow around 20-30 mins for the queues just to be sure.
Once you pass the crossing, you’ll now find yourself in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus!
At the beginning of the 20th century, Nicosia had no fewer than 26 bazaars across the city, but the number have dwindled over the years. Now, the main shopping area in North Nicosia is around Arasta Sokagi. Here you can haggle for clothes and jewellery. You can also find cafes and restaurants offering deals on food, such as a beer and calamari for around €5.00
Cyprus’ best-preserved example of Ottoman caravanserai architecture, this 16th Century Inn is situated in Asmaaltı Street.
Used in the past by the British as Nicosia Central Prison, the building has octagonal chimneys and is now used for arts and crafts and has an inner courtyard restaurant.
North Nicosia’s most prominent landmark, the mosque was formerly the cathedral of St Sophia that was built in the period 1209 AD to 1228, over the ruins of a previous building.
The cathedral was converted into a mosque in 1570, with the interiors inclduing white, red and yellow candelabra.
On the south side of the mosquee is a Greek church built in the Byzantine and mediaeval styles. Called The Bedestan, it was moved to buildings on the other side of the road. Today, the Bedestan is now preserved as an ancient monument.
This neighbourhood is one of the few parts of the walled city of Nicosia, containing narrow alleyways hugging along the Green Line.
Almost 90% of its inhabitants were Turkish-Cypriot refugees forced to leave their villages and settle in the area following the Greek-Cypriot attacks between 1963 and 1974.
Look out for the mosque, situated in the western Arab Ahmet Quarter of North Nicosia. Renovated in 1845, it is rectangular and the only mosque in Cyprus to exhibit a typical Turkish dome.
St John Cathedral
This Greek orthodox church in Nicosia was built by Archbishop Nikiforos in 1662 and is single vaulted without a dome. Its long walls are covered with frescoes that were created during from 1736 until 1756.
The paintings are inspired from stories of the Bible. The cathedral is the only church in the capital that contains internal wall paintings that have survived in their entirety.
Other things to see
If you have time, a visit to the ancient ruins of Salamis is a must!
Situated in Famagusta, the ruins used to be an ancient Roman city going back as far as 1100 BC.
The site extends over an area of one square mile extending along North Cyprus’ coast and inland and while much of the area still awaits excavation, you can see a 50-row theatre, baths, marble columns and numerous polychrome mosaics.
Saint Barnabas Monastery
Near Famagusta, this old monastery is dedicated to the patron saint of Cyprus, St Barnabas but is now museum housing a stunning collection of Cypriot artifacts dating back as far as the 7th Century BC which are kept in the monks’ old cells.
Items included in the exhibition are from the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age The tomb of Saint Barnabas laid undiscovered for over 400 years until the 5th Century AD.
The monastery was built with three domes but due to the lack of foundations and soft soil, one of the domes collapsed. Around 100 yards from the monastery, you will find St. Barnabas mausoleum, built on the spot where his remains were discovered.
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