The capital of Cyprus, lies in the north central part of eastern Mediterranean island. Its population is 186,000. It houses the main government offices as well as the headquarters of many major local and international companies. The Presidential Palace is in Nicosia which is a busy commercial centre today. Nicosia is a trading center for the surrounding Mesaoria Plain, where wheat, olives, almonds, and fruits are grown. Light industries manufacture machine tools, textiles, tobacco products, pottery, and leather goods. Tourism is important. Landmarks include the Church of Saint Sophia--now a mosque--which was begun in the 13th century, and the 15th-century Venetian walls, which were constructed by the Venetians to withstand an expected invasion by the Turks(1571). Nicosia is also the archepiscopal seat of the autonomous Church of Cyprus. Known as Ledra in ancient times, it was first mentioned in the 7th century BC. Nicosia was ruled by the Byzantines (330-1191), Lusignan kings (1192-1489), Venetians (1489-1571), Turks (1571-1878), and the British until 1960, when Cyprus became an independent republic.
During the Venetian expansion eastward in the 1500's, Nicosia (Lefkosia) was fortified with imposing stone walls and massive gates. The famous Famagusta Gate still stands today, proudly protecting the still ancient town within from the modern city without. Through the Gate lies Laiki Geitonia, an old section which has been lovingly restored. Wend your way through narrow stone streets where crimson flowers cascade from window pots and the aroma of traditional baking wafts through open doorways.
Explore jewellery and handicraft shops, dine in charming tavernas, marvel at churches centuries old. Those engrossed in history and art will make their way directly to the Cyprus Museum, which holds the island's priceless treasures from the first stirrings of the Neolithic Age through the Roman period. At the Byzantine Museum, encounter a dazzling collection of early-Christian icons from the Mediterranean's Golden Age. The State Collection of Contemporary Art takes a newer prospective, focusing on Cyprus' modern artists, some of whom have gained note on the international market.
Come full circle in time and visit the Cyprus Handicraft Center workshops, where traditional arts are practiced today much the same way they were in ages past. Relax and enjoy a splendid Cypriot meal, accented by one of the island's famous wines. Later, the night life beckons near Famagusta Gate, giving expression to the Cypriot's legendary spirit of celebration.