Nicosia has been in continuous habitation since the beginning of the Bronze Age 2500 years BC, when the first inhabitants settled in the fertile plain of Mesaoria. Nicosia later became a city-state known as Ledra or Ledrae, one of the twelve kingdoms of ancient Cyprus built by Achaeans after the end of the Trojan War. Remains of old Ledra today can be found in the Ayia Paraskevi hill in the south east of the city. Only one king of Ledra is known: Onasagoras. The kingdom of Ledra was destroyed early. Under Assyrian rule of Cyprus, Onasagoras was recorded as paying tribute to Esarhaddon of Assyria in 672 BC. By 330 BC, Ledra was recorded to be a small unimportant town. According to tradition, the city was rebuilt by "Leucus", claimed to be the son of Ptolemy I Soter, around 300 BC or 200 BC, and named after him as "Leucoton" or "Lefkotheon". The main activity of the town inhabitants was farming. During this era, Ledra did not have the huge growth that the other Cypriot coastal towns had, which was primarily based on trade.
Roman and Byzantine times
In Byzantine times, the town was also referred to as Λευκωσία (Lefkosia) or as Καλληνίκησις (Kallenikesis). In the 4th century AD, the town became the seat of bishopric, with bishop Saint Tryphillius (Trifillios), a student of Saint Spyridon.
After the destruction of Salamis, the existing capital of Cyprus, by Arab raids in 647, Nicosia became the capital of the island around 965, when Cyprus rejoined the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines moved the island's administration seat to Nicosia primarily for security reasons as coastal towns were often suffering from raids. From that point on it has remained as the capital of Cyprus. Nicosia acquired a castle and was the seat of the Byzantine governor of Cyprus; the last Byzantine governor was Isaac Komnenos, who declared himself emperor of the island and ruled the island from 1183 to 1191.
On his way to the Holy Land during the Third Crusade in 1187, Richard I of England's fleet was plagued by storms. He himself stopped first at Crete and then at Rhodes. Three ships continued on, one of which was carrying Joan of England, Queen of Sicily and Berengaria of Navarre, Richard's bride-to-be. Two of the ships were wrecked off Cyprus, but the ship bearing Joan and Berengaria made it safely to Limassol. Joan refused to come ashore, fearing she would be captured and held hostage by Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus, who hated all Franks. Her ship sat at anchor for a full week before Richard finally arrived on 8 May. Outraged at the treatment of his sister and his future bride, Richard invaded.
Richard laid siege to Nicosia, finally met and defeated Isaac Komnenos at Tremetousia and became ruler of the island, but sold it to the Knights Templar.
The Frankish rule of Cyprus started from 1192 and lasted until 1489. During this time, Nicosia was the capital of the medieval Kingdom of Cyprus, the seat of Lusignan kings, the Latin Church and the Frankish administration of the island. During the Frankish rule, the walls of the city were built along with many other palaces and buildings, including the gothic St. Sophia Cathedral. The tombs of the Lusignan kings can be found there. The exonym Nicosia appeared with the arrival of the Lusignans. The French-speaking Crusaders either could not, or did not care to, pronounce the name Lefkosia, and tended to say "Nicosie" translated into Italian and then internationally known as "Nicosia".
Map of Nicosia in Cyprus, created in 1597
In 1374 Nicosia was occupied and ravaged by the Republic of Genoa and in 1426 from the Mamluk Sultanate.
In 1489, when Cyprus came under the rule of the Republic of Venice, Nicosia became their administrative centre and the seat of the Republic. The Venetian Governors saw it as a necessity for all the cities of Cyprus to be fortified due to the Ottoman threat. In 1567 Venetians built the new fortifications of Nicosia, which are well-preserved until today, demolishing the old walls built by the Franks as well as other important buildings of the Frankish era including the King's Palace, other private palaces and churches and monasteries of both Orthodox and Latin Christians. The new walls took the shape of a star with eleven bastions. The design of the bastion is more suitable for artillery and a better control for the defenders. The walls have three gates, to the North Kyrenia Gate, to the west Paphos Gate and to the east Famagusta Gate. The river Pedieos used to flow through the Venetian walled city. In 1567 it was later diverted outside onto the newly built moat for strategic reasons, due to the expected Ottoman attack.
On 1 July 1570, the Ottomans invaded the island. On 22 July, Piyale Pasha having captured Paphos, Limassol and Larnaca marched his army towards Nicosia and laid siege to the city. The city managed to last 40 days under siege until its fall on 9 September 1570. Some 20,000 residents died during the siege and every church, public building, and palace was looted. The main Latin churches were converted into mosques, such as the conversion of the Saint Sophia Cathedral.
Nicosia was the seat of the Pasha, the Greek Archbishop, the Dragoman and the Qadi. The Palazzo del Governo of Venetian times became the seat of the Pasha, the governor of Cyprus, and the building was renamed as the Konak or Seraglio (Saray). The square outside was known as Seraglio Square or Sarayonu (literally front of the Saray), as it is known to the present day. The saray was demolished in 1904 and the present block of Government Offices built on the site.
When the newly settled Turkish population arrived they generally lived in the north of the old riverbed. Greek Cypriots remained concentrated in the south, where the Archbishopric of the Orthodox Church was built. Other ethnic minority groups such as the Armenians and Latins came to be settled near the western entry into the city at Paphos Gate.
The names of the 12 quarters into which Nicosia was originally divided at the time of the Ottoman Conquest are said to be derived from the 12 generals in command of divisions of the Ottoman army at the time. Each general being posted to a quarter, that quarter (with two exceptions) was known by his name as follows:
- General Ibrahim Pasha.
- General Mahmoud Pasha.
- General Ak Kavuk Pasha. (This is a nickname meaning "white cap.")
- General Koukoud Effendi.
- General Arab Ahmed Pasha.
- General Abdi Pasha, known as Chavush (Sergeant) from which rank he was probably promoted.
- General Haydar Pasha.
- General Karamanzade (son of a Caramanian, other names not given).
- General Yahya Pasha (now known as the Phaneromeni Quarter).
- General Daniel Pasha (name of quarter changed subsequently to Omerie in honour of the Caliph Omar who stayed there for a night when in Cyprus).
- Tophane (Artillery Barracks)
- Nebetkhane, meaning police station or quarters of the patrol.
The names of the generals in command of the last two quarters have been lost:
Later the number of neighbourhoods was increased to 24. Each neighbourhood was organised around a mosque or a church, where mainly the respective Muslim and Christian communities lived.
Hoisting the British flag in Nicosia
|1881 ||11,536||— |
|Source for 1881–1960.|
Nicosia came under the rule of the United Kingdom on 5 July 1878 .
The old Ottoman administrative headquarters (the Saray) was replaced in 1904 by a new building containing Law Courts, the Land Registry, and the Forestry, Customs,
and Nicosia Commissioner's Offices. Adjacent was the Nicosia Police headquarters, while opposite were the General Post Office and the Telegraph Office. A Venetian Column, previously in a fenced courtyard near the Saray, was restored on a new site in the summer of 1915 in the middle of Saray Square. The Nicosia column was presumably erected in compliment to the reigning Doge Francesco Donati about the year 1550.
Just after the British Occupation a Municipal Council was constituted in Nicosia in 1882 for the general administration of public affairs within the city and for a certain area without the walls, under the presidency of a Mayor. The first municipal offices were in Municipality Square (now the central municipal market), but in 1944 the offices were transferred temporarily to the d'Avila bastion and in 1952 this was made permanent with a decision to renovate the building.
Extensions to the Nicosia municipal area
In 1923 the municipal limits were extended further (see map) and this new area was divided among several of the existing intramural Neighbourhoods. In 1938 the boundary was extended to the present limits in the west and to the boundaries of Ayii Omoloyites, Palouriotissa, Kaimakli and Omorfita. In 1944 the village authority of Ayii Omoloyites was absorbed, then, shortly after independence, Palouriotissa, Kaimakli and Omorfita were annexed to the city in 1968.
In 1955 an armed struggle against British rule began aiming to unite the island with Greece, Enosis. The struggle was led by EOKA, a Greek Cypriot nationalist military resistance organisation, and supported by the vast majority of Greek Cypriots. The unification with Greece failed and instead the independence of Cyprus was declared in 1960. During the period of the struggle, Nicosia was the scene of violent protests against British rule.
Independence and division
The reopening of the Ledra Street crossing in 2008
Scheme for new pedestrianized streets in old Nicosia implemented after 2004
In 1960 Nicosia became the capital of the Republic of Cyprus, a state established by the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In 1963, the Greek Cypriot side proposed amendments to the constitution, which were rejected by the Turkish Cypriot community. During the aftermath of this crisis, on 21 December 1963, intercommunal violence broke out between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Nicosia was divided into Greek and Turkish Cypriot quarters with the Green Line, named after the colour of the pen used by the United Nations officer to draw the line on a map of the city. This resulted in Turkish Cypriots withdrawing from the government, and following more intercommunal violence in 1964, a number of Turkish Cypriots moved to the Turkish quarter of Nicosia, causing serious overcrowding.
On 15 July 1974, there was an attempted coup d'état led by the Greek military junta to unite the island with Greece. The coup ousted president Makarios III and replaced him with pro-enosis nationalist Nikos Sampson.
On 20 July 1974, the coup d'état precipitated the invasion of the island by the Turkish army. The operation included two phases. The second phase of the Turkish invasion was performed on 14 August 1974, where the Turkish army advanced their positions, eventually capturing a total of 37% of Cypriot territory including the northern part of Nicosia. The fighting left the island with a massive refugee problem on both sides.
On 13 February 1975 the Turkish Cypriot community declared the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus in the area occupied by Turkish forces. On 15 November 1983, Turkish Cypriots proclaimed their independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
On 23 April 2003, the Ledra Palace crossing was opened through the Green Line, the first time that crossing was allowed since 1974. This was followed by the opening of Ayios Dometios/
Metehan crossing point on 9 May 2003. On 3 April 2008, the Ledra Street crossing was also reopened.
From 30 October 2016 onwards, Nicosia became the only capital city in the world to have two time zones, after the parliament of the de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus abolished standard time and decided that Northern Cyprus remains at UTC+03:00 year-round, following Turkey's example. The following year, due to criticism from the Turkish Cypriot public in the north, the Turkish Cypriot government decided to go back to standard time, following the rest of Europe.