As you walk into the buffer zone there is a sign that reads: “Nicosia, the last divided capital.” Nicosia, locally known as Lefkosia, is the capital city of both the north and south of Cyprus.
Lefkosia started as a small village over 2,500 years old. Originally known as Lefkothea, the city was rebuilt around 300 BC during Greek and Roman times. The city became the island’s capital around the 10th century. Up to that time the island’s three main ports, Paphos, Salamis and Laranca were the most urban cities. But as constant attack from sea threatened these coastal areas, the importance of a centrally located city like Lefkosia grew.
The city was overtaken by the Venetians in the 1500s, who built the famous city walls. These walls, which surround the entire city with 30 foot high stones, still exist today in remarkable condition due to restoration efforts.
The name “Nicosia” appeared with the arrival of the Lusignans, Crusaders from France. They either could not, or did not try to, pronounce the name Lefkosia, and instead tended to say “Nicosia.” Man-made and natural disasters further struck the city during the 19th century. Cholera hit the city in 1835, and fire destroyed large parts of Nicosia in 1857. The British Empire gained control over the island in 1878, with Nicosia serving as the capital of the new British possession.
Nicosia was the scene of extreme violence in the period just prior to Cypriot independence in 1960. Since the Greek supported coup and Turkish invasion that followed it in 1974, part of the Turkish-occupied city has been inside the boundary of a United Nations Buffer Zone. Much of the central part of the city still lays abandoned to this day, a constant reminder of the bloodshed of 1974. But despite its violent past, the city is now in relative peace. The checkpoints opened in 2004 and many Turkish-Cypriots and Greek-Cypriots work pleasantly side by side.
Nicosia became the home of the central office of PeacePlayers in Cyprus in 2008. Since then, PPI-CY has been fortunate enough to positively effect the lives of over 1000 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot young people by providing them an opportunity to play basketball while teaching them about peace and understanding.
PPI-CY has held over 100 successful bi-communal activities and basketball tournaments, many of which have been held in downtown Nicosia, in the heart of the old city – the most recent being the International Peace Day Tournament on September 25th. It always makes our events a little more meaningful knowing that you are doing something to promote peace in a place with so much history. It is our goal that through the work that we are doing, one day there will no longer be a sign that reads, “Nicosia, the last divided capital.”