We’re off to Cyprus for a couple of weeks. By far the largest Mediterranean island we had not yet been to, Cyprus is chock-full of history that we’re excited to learn more about. Given its strategic location in the Mediterranean and near the Middle East, it has been occupied by just about everyone at one time or another; settled originally by Mycenaean Greeks it has been occupied at various times by Egyptians, Persians, Alexander the Great, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, French, Venetians, Ottomans, and finally the British from the late 19th century. Cyprus gained independence from the British in 1960 but has been riven by ongoing animosity between the minority Turkish population and the majority Greeks. Of course, there’s nothing unusual about Turks and Greeks fighting; they’ve been at it pretty much nonstop since the first Byzantine and Ottoman clashes in the 14th century.
Here, the Turks and Greeks started at it again big time in the 1950s, with the Turks (making up about a fifth the population) wanting the northern part of the island to become part of Turkey. The rest of Cyprus resisted, but things got worse in 1974 when Greek Cypriot nationalists staged a coup with aid from the Greek military junta of the time. Their goal was enosis, or incorporating all of Cyprus into Greece. That was too much for the Turks so in July 1974 Turkey invaded and captured the northern third of the island. Some 200,000 people were displaced with most Greek Cypriots moving south and most Turkish Cypriots moving north. While the international community considers the island a single country and the Turkish military presence illegal, in practice today Northern Cyprus functions independently; Turkey is the only country in the world that recognizes North Cyprus.
We are starting our two-week trip here in Nicosia, the capital and economic hub of Cyprus. (Similarly, North Nicosia, separated by a fence, border crossing, and UN demilitarized zone, is the capital of North Cyprus.) It is an ancient city, having been continually inhabited for over 4,500 years and the capital of Cyprus for over a thousand years. Today the old walled city is a labyrinth of winding passages feeling very Middle Eastern to me, but it had at least one nice bar where the head bartender made excellent cocktails and a couple of good restaurants. One thing I loved about the bar was that it was named The Gym. So you could leave in the afternoon and tell your partner “Hey, I’m going to the gym” and then just go get wasted. How good is that! And let’s just say the prices at The Gym and the various restaurants we went to were a fabulous surprise after nearly three weeks in Paris and Vienna.
To be honest we didn’t see a heck of a lot of Nicosia. We stayed at a Hilton that was further away from the center of the city than we normally would. The good part there was that it had a great pool that, in a city where the daytime temperatures were in the low 90s, was welcome relief. So we explored the old town a bit, and one day crossed the border into the Turkish side of the city, but we didn’t see as much of it as perhaps I would have liked.
And sadly, I will remember Nicosia as the place my iPad Mini died. I shouldn’t be too surprised; it was the same iPad I left Boston with in 2013 and I’ve used it intensively. The bad news, though, is that it will be months before we’re in a city with an Apple store. What am I going to do??