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Northern Cyprus: travel to a country that is not on the maps


The northeastern third of the Mediterranean island, constituted as a State in 1974 that only Turkey recognizes, treasures the Turkish essence between beaches, monuments and some disturbing places

Nicosia is the only capital in the world that remains divided.

Concertinas, sandbag-topped drums and military sentry boxes suddenly cut through the streets of its walled historic center to create a physical border that extends beyond the city and runs, from coast to coast, the island of Cyprus.

To the south, the Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union, where Greek is spoken and the currency is the euro.

In the northern area, the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a State that does not appear on the maps and is only recognized by Turkey, the country that invaded this part of the territory in the summer of 1974.

Here, the language and the currency are Turkish.

Until 2003, crossing what was euphemistically called "the green line" was impossible.

That year traffic was opened, although with restrictions that, little by little,

The most common point to do so in Nicosia is Ledra street, a pedestrian street that in the Greek Cypriot part is a rectilinear succession of shops and fast food establishments, among which some traditional cafes and restaurants survive.

This scenario changes when you set foot in Northern Cyprus.

The street becomes winding and is occupied by Turkish food stores, exchange houses and shops where you can buy cheaper tobacco and alcohol.

Shortly after, Büyük Han comes to pass, an old caravanserai whose galleries have found shelter for artisan shops and restaurants.

And, just beyond, the bygone Gothic cathedral of Saint Sophia, which the Ottomans, after conquering the island in the 16th century, converted into the Selimiye Mosque after adding pointed minarets and stripping it of any Christian symbology.

There are also remains of the walls;

statues of the considered father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk;

old mansions and the beautiful Rüstem Kitabevi, where you can browse second-hand books.

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Beyond its historic walls, Turkish Cypriot Nicosia becomes an impersonal city that invites you to head north towards Girne (Kyrenia for Greek Cypriots), the main tourist town in this part of the island.

Before arriving, perched on the mountain, the castle of San Hilarión claims its prominence.

It is said that its ruins, twisted by the dictates of the rugged terrain, inspired Walt Disney to draw Sleeping Beauty's castle.

On its battlements there was no prince charming, but the French dynasty of the Lusignans, who ruled these lands in the warlike times of the crusades with their sights set on the nearby Holy Land.

Büyük Han, a former caravanserai in Nicosia.Peter Schickert (Alamy)

A few kilometers later, you enter Girne through a succession of impersonal modern buildings that descend towards the coast until you reach its old port, which still retains its Mediterranean charm despite being packed with restaurants that display their tables next to the sailboats that offer tourist walks along the coast.

The tranquility that is breathed in it was assured for centuries by the resounding castle that still stands next to the entrance and whose walls strive to remember that the city was a transit area on the way to the conquest of Jerusalem or retreat after the defeat.

From here you can go west, crossing the plain, to Güzelyurt (Morfou), in whose square stands the church of San Mamés, the Christian martyr who is depicted on the back of a lion and who gives the Athletic field its name. from Bilbao.

Inside, next to the wall and under colorful wall paintings and ornate lamps, is his tomb, from which a liquid oozes that, they say, has miraculous properties.

Continuing the trip to the east, two routes open up.

The first follows the northern coastline to enter the Karpas (Karpasia) peninsula, whose 70-kilometre length draws the pointed appendage that stands out on the map of Cyprus.

It is a route dotted with beaches with crystalline waters and ancient Orthodox churches.

Alagadi beach opens up on this coast, known as the turtle bay because it is where they spawn.

If you are lucky, you can witness the release of hatchlings by conservationists at sunset.

Views of the walls of Gazimagusa (Famagusta), in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.Georg Berg (Alamy)

The other route to this part of the island goes inland and runs through the Mesaoria plain towards the east coast, where three unique places can be found in a few kilometers.

The first is the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Salamis.

Just eight kilometers to the south rises Gazimagusa (Famagusta), which still retains part of the splendor it began to treasure at the end of the 13th century after the Crusaders lost their last great fortress in the kingdom of Jerusalem and turned Cyprus into their refuge and an obligatory passage of trade in the Mediterranean.

Its defenses and 15 bastions still stand despite long sieges before it fell to the Ottoman Empire.

Not so lucky were many of the churches that dotted the city.

Of some only the skeletons of their tall windows remain.

Other temples became mosques.

This is what has happened with the cathedral, whose façade inspired by that of Reims (France) no longer leads to a high altar, but to the mihrab that marks the direction of Mecca.

Souvenir shops and restaurants offering grilled meat have sprung up around it.

Some are named after characters from the


by William Shakespeare to recall that Cristoforo Moro lived in Gazimagusa, the Venetian nobleman who, with the murder of his wife out of jealousy, inspired the English writer.

To the south of the theatrical city rises the most disturbing place on the island: the beach of Maras (Varosha).

This sandy beach was the main tourist destination in Cyprus in the mid-20th century, visited by Hollywood stars such as Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.

However, since the Turkish invasion it is a ghost town.

A fence with threatening red signs on which a soldier appears drawn reminds that he is forbidden to enter.

However, it is possible to bathe in the beaches that flank it while contemplating the nonsense of its streets, buildings and hotels abandoned for half a century.

Interior of the abbey of Belle Paix, in the town of Bellapais.Pavel Dudek / Alamy

Back in Girne, the road climbs up the Beşparmaklar (or Five Fingers) mountain range, again looking for the north coast.

Bellapais, a town famous for its construction and a writer, sits on the slope that descends towards the sea.

The first is the Abbey of Belle Paix (“beautiful peace” in French), turned into exquisite ruins.

The second is Lawrence Durrell, who lived here between 1953 and 1956, under British rule.

What was then his house proudly wears a plaque that recalls that it was there that inspired

Bitter Lemons,

in which he recalled his time on the island.

In its pages, the English author speaks of the "tree of idleness", a quality that he conferred "on all who sit under it".

Now, this literary arboreal symbol shades the tables of a cafeteria from which to contemplate what remains of the cloister and recall the words with which Durrell started his book: "Travels, like artists, are born, not made." ”.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-03-27

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