WALLED LEFKOSIA (NICOSIA)- OCCUPIED AREA
IMPORTANT ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES AND MONUMENTS IN OCCUPIED CYPRUS
A. Latin Cathedral of St. Sofia (Selimiye mosque)
The Latin Cathedral of St. Sophia in the occupied part of the walled city of Lefkosia is the largest and oldest surviving gothic church in Cyprus (interior dimensions: 66 X 21 m) possibly constructed on the site of an earlier Byzantine church. The building belongs to the pure Gothic style of the beginning of the 12th century. Due to the building’s large scale, lack of money and various historical events it took 150 years for the cathedral to be built and still, it was never entirely completed since the southwest tower and the portico’s upper floor were never constructed.
Lefkosia: Saint Sofia Cathedral
The cathedral’s first construction phase began during the first years of Frankish rule (possibly in 1209) and already by 1228 the eastern part of the building was completed. By the end of the 13th century the side aisles and a large part of the middle aisle were completed. From 1319 to 1326 the Latin archbishop Giovanni del Conte or Giovanni de Polo was responsible for the completion of the middle aisle, the construction of the roof buttresses, the cathedral’s façade and the building of a chapel (which functioned as a baptistery) in the western part of the southern wall. He also adorned parts of the cathedral with frescoes and sculptures. In November 1326 the cathedral’s official inauguration took place.
Even though the cathedral was officially inaugurated, the building was still incomplete and in 1347 Pope Clement IV issued a Papal bull for the cathedral to be completed and renovated since it had been affected by an earthquake. It was during this construction period that the building’s portico and the northwest tower were constructed. The western wall’s three entrances are decorated with important examples of architectural sculpture. The main entrance’s frame bears impressive sculptures. Three of the four arches are decorated with reliefs depicting kings, prophets, apostles and bishops.
With Lefkosia’s occupation by the Ottomans (1570), the cathedral of Agia Sofia was turned into a mosque and two minarets were added onto the building’s west part. The cathedral’s rich sculptural decoration was destroyed and so were the frescoes, the sculptures and the stained glass decoration (vitraux) depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament. Funerary tombstones of various Lusignan kings and princes were also destroyed.
Lefkosia: Saint Sofia Cathedral, interior
In August 1954 the monument was renamed to Selimye mosque in honor of sultan Selim II (1566 – 1574) who ruled at the time of Cyprus’ conquest by the Ottomans.
B. Panagia Odegetria Church (Bedestan)
This monument is situated very close and south of the cathedral of Agia Sofia. The building has Byzantine and gothic architectural features. Today it is known with the Turkish word ‘Bedestan’ which means ‘covered market’ since during the Ottoman occupation the building functioned as a fabrics market and it was also used as a storage space for wheat for a while.
Lefkosia: Panagia Odegetria (Bedestan)
A Byzantine basilica of the 5th century possibly existed on this spot and in the 12th century the church complex was possibly the Orthodox Metropolitan Church dedicated to Panagia Odegetria. In the 14th century the building was renovated and additions were made to it. The large Byzantine church was altered again in the beginning of the 15th century and at the end of the 15th century the north façade with the impressively decorated gothic entrance was constructed. The dome, which covers the main church’s fourth aisle, was added during the same period. The building was badly damaged during the Ottoman conquest of Lefkosia (1570).
Lefkosia: Panagia Odegetria (Bedestan)
Some historians had identified this church with that of St. Nicholas of the order of St, Thomas of Canterbury. Today the identification is considered to be mistaken.
C. The Sultan’s Library
D. Buyuk Khan (Great Inn)
In the eastern end of the St. Sofia cathedral in the occupied part of walled Lefkosia is the Sultan’s Library, a small building with three domes which was built in 1829 during the reign of Sultan Mahmud II. The building was the library of the Buyuk Medresse (Theological School) which does not exist today. On the walls of the Library’s central hall there is a poem written by the then Mufti of Cyprus, Hasan Hilmi, and dedicated to Sultan Mahmud. The poem is written in Arabic calligraphy and it covers the interior of the walls.
The Library has an important collection of Turkish, Arabic and Persian books and manuscripts. Some of these were sent by the Sultan from Constantinople and they are considered to be fine examples of traditional Islamic calligraphy.
This large Khan is situated in the occupied part of walled Lefkosia, to the west of the Saint Sofia cathedral. This Khan was built directly after the Ottoman conquest of the island in 1570. Its construction date is possibly 1572 and it was built under Muzafer Pasha who was one of the generals who took part in Lefkosia’s conquest and later became governor of Cyprus. The building was mostly used by traveling merchants and pilgrims.
Lefkosia: Buyuk Khan
The Khan has a square ground plan with two floors and a large square interior courtyard with an octagonal miniature domed mosque with a fountain added to it in the 19th century. The khan’s entrance is in the east side of the building and it is a large marble gate consisting of architectural elements originally belonging to older buildings. The khan is a stone building with small windows in the upper floor. The interior courtyard is surrounded by rows of arches supported upon stone columns and roofed with groin-vaults. Two staircases lead to the upper floor. The khan’s roof has many stone octagonal chimneys. Apart from the dorms which are situated in the upper floor, the khan also had storerooms and shops which were in the ground floor.
During British colonial rule (1878) the khan was used as Lefkosia’s central prison until 1893. In the 20th century (until 1963) the building was occupied by poor families and there was a time when 70 families resided in it. The khan was evacuated in 1963 and in 1989 conservation work began.
E. Kumarcilar Khan (the ‘card player’s' khan)
Lefkosia: Kumarcilar Khan
This khan is situated in occupied walled Lefkosia, to the north of the Buyuk Khan. It is smaller than the Buyuk Khan but of similar architecture. The khan’s entrance consists of an interesting 17th century apse. Its difference to the Buyuk Khan is that this building’s balcony is covered with a wooden roof supported by thick stone columns whereas in the case of the Buyuk Khan the ground floor’s arched colonnade is repeated in the upper floor.
F. Mevlevi Tekke (the Mosque of the Dancing Dervishes)
This mosque is located in the occupied part of walled Lefkosia, at a close distance to the Keryneia Gate, on the road that leads to Ataturk Square. It is a late 16th - early 17th century building and tradition has it that it was built upon land that was donated by a rich lady named Emine Sultan.
The mosque consists of the mausoleum, an oblong room covered by six small domes. In this room 16 dervishes of the Mevlevi religious sect are buried in toms that bear stone representations of the Mevlevi headdress. The mosque’s main place of worship is a large room with a wooden roof supported by three arches. Every Sunday the dervishes used to dance in this room and from the wooden balcony the musicians used to play music and recite excerpts from the Koran.
Lefkosia: Mevlevi Tekke
The Mevlevi religious sect was named after the philosopher Mevlana Djelal-eddin Roumi (1201 – 1273) who was born in Afghanistan and died in Turkey. The Mevlevi sect quickly expanded and gained property and fame. The sect’s main characteristics was common prayer, a kind of litany which consisted of the repeated pronunciation of the name of god and the rhythmic moving (whirling) of the body.
Whilst in 1925 Kemal Ataturk banned all monastic sects in Turkey, this mosque functioned until 1956, since Cyprus was a British colony.
G. The Armenian Church.
The Armenian Church is on Victoria Street in the occupied part of walled Lefkosia. The church was originally part of a 14th century Benedictine monastic complex but by the 16th century it passed to the hands of the Armenian community of Cyprus. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
This is a typical Gothic building with one aisle with an octagonal apse and groin vaults. The western part is covered with an arch. In the church’s three sides there are pointed doorways that lead to the church’s interior. The belfry was erected in the northeastern wall at a later stage. The church’s floor was once covered with carved tombstones belonging to numerous members of the island’s nobility (mainly nuns and knights). Most of the tombstones are dated to the 14th and 15th centuries and some surviving ones are currently lying in the porch and have unfortunately been vandalized (the tombstone of Eschive de Dampierre was recently dug up and vandalized).
H. St. Catherine Church
The church of St. Catherine in the occupied part of walled Lefkosia is situated very close by to the St. Sofia Cathedral and it is one of Lefkosia’s most important gothic monuments. It was built in the 14th century and it follows the southern France architectural style. With the island’s occupation by the Ottomans in 1570 this church, along with many other gothic churches, was turned into a mosque and named ‘Haidar Pasha Mosque’.
The church is an elegant building comprised of a central space covered by two groin vaults. It also has an altar which ends with a three sided apse. On the apse’s northeastern side there is a two-storey building with groin vaults. On the apse’s southwestern side there is a small circular tower with a staircase. This tower has been turned into the mosque’s minaret. Of special interest are the building’s three-sided support pillars that are interrupted by oblong windows.
Three entrances lead to the church’s interior. The largest entrance is located at the centre of the west wall and the other two in the west part of the north and south wall. All three entrances are decorated with rich relief decoration and there is a round window (rosette) above the west entrance.