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Things to do and see in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey
Things to do and see in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey
Evgenia Bravo
Author: Evgenia Bravo

The part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey (the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) is a self-declared state (recognised by Turkey only) formed in 1983. This part of Cyprus was separated during the constitutional crisis of 1963, when relationship between Greek and Turkish Cypriots worsened. After 11 years of continuing conflicts, in 1974, a military coup lead to Turkish invasion and resulted in partitioning of the island. 

In 1975 Turkish Federated State of Cyprus was declared and attempt to submit a relevant amendment to the constitution was made. But idea to treat this part of Cyprus as a federated Cypriot state was (and still is) rejected by both Republic of Cyprus and the United Nations. 8 years of failed negotiations followed. In 1983 the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus finally declared its independence.

Political status of the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey makes it a special place for tourists and not the easy one to get to. If you want to take a plane, you will have to land in Turkey first. If you are already on the island and have a valid Cypriot visa, you can use one of seven Passport Control Points on the borders between Northern and Southern Cyprus.

Visitors of the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey also get insert card type visas (unlike more common sticker ones).

The official language of the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey — is Turkish, established religion is Islam. Even mobile operators are Turkish.

Nicosia is the only divided capital in the world: one part of the city is located on the territory of the Cyprus Republic, the other is in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey. There is a checkpoint in the city where one can get from the Southern to the Northern (occupied by Turkey) part.

The part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey is a popular tourist destination known for its clean beaches, luxury hotels at affordable prices and restaurants serving diverse cuisine, in which Turkish, Greek, Cypriot, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern traditions are mixed. History lovers can explore several architectural landmarks (such as Kyrenia Castle and the Saint Hilarion Castle), archaeological sites (an ancient city of Salamis) and old monasteries in the Northern part of the island.

Want to know more and find out what to do in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey? Keep on reading.

The Kyrenia Castle

The Kyrenia Castle was built in the Kyrenia harbour in the 16th century. The first fortifications were created here by Byzantines as early as in the 7th century; later Lusignans added a chapel, a grand entrance, corner towers and a royal residence; Venetians, in their turn, reinforced and modernised walls and towers of the castle.

The castle was never defeated in a siege (though it suffered several attacks), but in 1570 it surrendered to the Ottomans (who changed the fortress into a military base). The British used the castle as a police station.

Since 1974 the Kyrenia Castle has been housing a museum where visitors can see archaeological finds and icons. Scenes from the life of prisoners are exhibited in the basement.

There is also the Shipwreck Museum on the territory of the castle. It features the remains of one of the oldest vessels in the world, that had sunken in the 4th century BC.

Bellapais Abbey

The Bellapais Abbey is located in the village not far from Kyrenia. Canons Regular built a monastery in the 13th century and called it «The Abbey of Peace». A piece of the Life-giving Cross and 600 Roman golden coins were kept here. In the 13th and the 14th centuries, the monastery was rich and popular, which lead to its expansion. In the end of the 14th century, the Genoese raided Kyrenia and devastated the abbey. The Ottomans damaged it in 1570.

In the years that followed the only living part of the once rich monastery was a small chapel, that was officially given to the Church of Cyprus. Other buildings were either damaged or used as cowsheds.

Nowadays monastery ruins are a popular touristic attraction and a place where the annual musical festival is held.

Admission fee is charged.

Varosha — an abandoned city

Varosha is an abandoned touristic quarter of Famagusta, which was especially popular in the end of 1960s. Modern hotels, night clubs, rich villas and shops were built on the three kilometres long beach.

In 1974, when the Turkish army invaded the city and Greek citizens were evacuated, the quarter was enclosed. People who had to leave their homes were sure it was not for long: they left all their belongings and furniture there. But neither Greeks nor Turks settled in the abandoned paradise. It remains an occupied territory preserved by the United Nations.

A Swedish journalist, who attended Varosha in 1977, wrote that the place reminded him of a ghost city: everything there was left untouched.

Unfortunately, since 1977 Varosha has been several times attacked by prowlers and lost most of its ghostly atmosphere. Nevertheless, a lot of tourists keep coming to the wire fence to have a look at the abandoned city.

Please keep in mind that the penalty is charged for entering the enclosed area of Varosha.

An ancient city of Salamis

Salamis is an ancient Greek city-state situated in 6 kilometres from Famagusta. This important archaeological landmark represents the ruins of the Hellenistic city. Excavations at the site has begun in the middle of the 20th century.

Salamis was founded after the Trojan war and involved in the trade relationship with Egypt, Cilicia and Phoenicia. The city was, de facto, a capital of Hellenistic Cyprus. After many years of prosperity, it was abandoned during the Arab invasions of the 7th century. Inhabitants of the devastated city moved to Famagusta.

Today there is an open air museum on the territory of ancient Salamis. Most of the uncovered buildings can be traced back to Roman and early Christian times. Visitors of the museum can explore the ruins of the Temple of Zeus Salaminios, the gymnasium (1st century AD), the theatre, Roman baths, ancient city walls and other buildings.

Ancient royal burial caves are also located on the territory of Salamis. One of them, called «Saint Catherine’s prison» was later changed into a Christian chapel.

Saint Hilarion Castle

The Saint Hilarion Castle is located between Nicosia and Kyrenia. The road that will take you here branches from the highway between two cities and goes through the Turkish military base.

The castle was founded by a monk named Hilarion who chose the spot for his hermitage in the 4th century BC. Hilarion’s hermitage turned into a monastery, which turned into a fortress, which turned into a summer royal residence.

When army left the castle, it started to lose its significance and fell into decay; soon, it was only used by the nobility to spend the night during the hunting season.

The castle is 700 meters above the sea level, and views from its observation deck are truly stunning. Remaining buildings help to imagine how the castle used to look before: there was a military station at the lower level, a church and a palace at the middle level and a royal residence at the upper level.

The Prince John tower sits on the neighbouring cliff. John Peter the Second's uncle, the underage king of Cyprus, who, as the legend has it, was thrown out from the window by rebels.

Admission fee is charged.

Othello Castle in Famagusta

A castle in Famagusta was built by the Lusignans and later reinforced by the Venetians. It has a shape of a regular quadrangle with four round towers at the corners.

The south-eastern tower is called the Othello’s Tower. It is believed that the plot of the Shakespeare's play might have connections with the castle and Cristoforo Moro, the Venetian doge, who lived here many years ago.

Now there is a historical museum on the territory of the castle. Observation decks on tops of the towers overview the city port.

Church of Saints Peter and Paul

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul (now — Sinan Pasa Mosque) is situated in Famagusta city centre, opposite the Venetian Palace. Presumably, the church was built in the 14th century when the Lusignans were in power.

During the first years of Turkish occupation, all the church wall-paintings and decorations were damaged, and it was changed into a Mosque.

The British used the church as a grain storage. In the years of independence, the building was changed into an administration office and even a city library. Nowadays it functions as a mosque again.

The Cathedral of Saint Nicholas

The Cathedral of Saint Nicholas is a church in Rayonnant Gothic style built in the 14th century. The Lusignans used to be crowned here.

When Ottomans attacked Famagusta in 1571 the cathedral was converted into a mosque. From 1954 it is called the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque after the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire who helped to capture the city in 1571.

Selimiye Mosque (Cathedral of Saint Sophia) in Nicosia

The Cathedral of Saint Sophia is a former Roman Catholic cathedral in Gothic style that was built in Nicosia in the 14th century. Cypriot kings used to be crowned here before the period of Ottoman occupation.

The cathedral was seriously harmed after destructive earthquakes and riots of the Genoese in the 15th century. When the Ottomans captured Nicosia in 1571, the church was transformed into the Selimiye Mosque.

Even with two minarets, the mosque remains the largest and oldest Gothic building on the island. Admission is free, excursions for visitors are offered.

An ancient city of Soli

Soli, an ancient Greek city, is located not far from Morphou, on the territory of the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey. It is believed that the city was named after Solon, a Greek philosopher and public official.

Archaeological excavations, that has begun on the territory of the city in 1920, revealed an ancient basilica with mosaic floors, a Roman theatre dating back to the 3rd century BC, rich ancient tombs and other objects. Sculptures of the goddess Aphrodite that also have been found here are now on display in the Cyprus Museum.

Other castles of the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey

The Buffavento Castle stands in the Kyrenia mountain range, 950 meters above the sea level. The name of the castle can be translated from Italian as «a wind shelter». The lower part of the castle was built during the time of the Venetian rule, while additional fortifications were added by the Lusignans in the 15th century.

As other beautiful castles of the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey, the Buffavento had gradually lost its status: it was used as a prison and later demolished.

The Kantara Castle was built by the Venetians to protect the area from the Arab invasion. It is located in the eastern part of the Kyrenia Mountain range 630 meters above the sea level.

A small chapel next to the castle reminds of the old monastery that existed here a long time ago.

Monasteries in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey

Saint Barnabas Monastery (non functioning nowadays) is situated in 3 kilometres from Salamin (where Saint Barnabas was born, as the legend has it).

Barnabas was the first Levite who adopted Christianity. Along with Paul, he disseminated Christianity in Cyprus, which made Jews of Salamin so mad, that they martyred him in AD 61. Barnabas’ body was thrown into the sea, but many years later archbishop Anthemius miraculously discovered it, as people believe. The first monastery church was built upon this spot.

The buildings we can see today can be traced back to the 15th century. There is a historical museum that features antique objects and Christian art on the territory of the former monastery.

Apostolos Andreas Monastery situated in the Karpass Peninsula is one of the most important orthodox relics on the island. It is considered to have been founded in BC 1, after Saint Andrew’s visit to the island.

As the legend has it, when Saint Andrew hit a rock with his staff, a healing spring gushed from it.

Not much is left of the very first buildings today. The new church was built and sanctified in 1867.

In 2003 the Easter liturgy was held at the monastery, and in 2004 a massive pilgrimage headed by bishop Nichifor took place here.

St. Panteleimon Monastery (non functioning) is also located in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey, not far from Chamlibel village. We also recommend visiting St. Fanourios’ cave (in 3 kilometres from Kyrenia on the seashore) and the Bellapais Abbey.