The Turkish Cypriot Culture is a rich and varied one with strong influences from Turkey and the surrounding Mediterranean countries.
Amongst the many delights of North Cyprus are the cultural differences. The northern Cypriots are genuinely very friendly and helpful. Their language, although Turkish, is of the Cypriot variety. Many of their customs are from a mix of the cultures which have swept through the island over the centuries.
The strategic location of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean has had an overwhelming influence on the history of North Cyprus ever since the first Neolithic settlers around 6500 B.C. These arrived from southern Turkey, and the coastal regions of Syria and Palestine and many formed settlements in the northern region at Zafer Burnu, Trulli, just east of Girne, Alsancak, Ambelikou near Lefke and on other locations in Northern Cyprus.
You can get to know the cathedrals of kings decorated with Ottoman minarets and walk the historic, mystical Ottoman and Gothic cloisters of Lefkosa. You can walk in the footsteps of the Lusignans and the Venetians in Kyrenia’s ancient harbour, in the shadow of the Besparmak mountains. Heading south, the golden plain of Maserya will amaze you and you will be beckoned by the Venetian city walls of Famagusta and the Othello Tower, to the accompaniment of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The most visited place in North Cyprus
Guarded by a powerful castle and overlooked by the Kyrenia mountains, this horse-shoe shaped Kyrenia harbour is one of the prettiest to be seen in North Cyprus and the whole of the Mediterranean.
The pages of history might tell a different story but Kyrenia now has willingly surrendered itself to tourism. The harbour now has a relaxed, inviting and calming ambience. Pleasure boats and luxury yatchs crowd around the quay side and diners fill the waterfront tables,.
From its earliest days, Kyrenia has been in the thick of the commerce and maritime trade with its excellent strategic location although it never reached the status of a major port. Ships would ply their trade down the Aegean coast of Turkey taking in some of the Greek islands like Samos and Rhodes before calling in to Kyrenia on the way to Egypt.
The ancient Roman City of Salamis
Salamis lies 9 km north of Famagusta and is the most important archaeological site in Cyprus. It is the Ancient Roman city. According to legend, Salamis was founded around the 11th century BC by the Homeric hero Teucer who, on his return from the Trojan wars, was exiled by his father, king of the Greek island of Salamis. The city slowly prospered as an independent Greek city-state to become a major trading center by the 8th century, so much so that it started to mint its own coinage around 560BC, a first for Cyprus.
The Salamis ruins, gymnasium and baths form part of the large complex encountered immediately on entering the site. These date from the 4th century AD. It is interesting to notice that the columns forming the stoas, especially at the eastern end, are a bit of a miss-match. This is the work of the Byzantines who recycled Hellenistic and Roman columns from other buildings without too much regard for authenticity.
The other major feature is the very fine Roman amphitheater built in the reign of Augustus and only discovered in 1959. With 50 rows of seats, it held a capacity audience of around 15,000 people which made it the largest ancient theatre in Cyprus.
Bellapais Monastery, one of the iconic images of Northern Cyprus
Elegant Gothic arches, impressively tall, shoulder to shoulder, silently invite entrance to the cloisters in Bellapais Abbey, also known as the Bellapais Monastery. This is one of the iconic images of North Cyprus and a must visit place on your Northern Cyprus holidays.
Bellapais village itself, 210m above sea level and is reached from the main road east of Kyrenia (Girne). Take the road signposted Ozanköy and Bellapais (also known as Beylerbey) and turn right at the main roundabout. There is paid parking in the village.
The village is very touristy thanks to the Abbey and to the popularization through Laurence Durrell’s book ‘Bitter Lemons of Cyprus’. He lived in the village here in an old Turkish house between 1953-55. His account of life here is both funny and sad but classic holiday reading. Durrell’s house now aptly called Bitter Lemons, and much enlarged and modernized, lies on Aci Limon Sokak, Bitter Lemon street.
It is not uncommon for Monasteries and abbeys to be built in spectacular locations and this one is no exception. The imposing ruins sit on a rocky projectory overlooking the sea. The abbey started life ca 1200 as the Abbey de la Faye for the Augustine monks forced out of Jerusalem. It grew in size and importance from the late 13th century until the Genoese invasion of 1373. Its power and influence faded but it finally came to grief in 1570 when it was sacked by the Turks although the church inside remained in use for worship until 1974.
There is still much to explore, the church on the south side near where you now enter; the cloisters adjacent to the church; the Common Room and the Chapter House on the east side of the cloisters and the huge Refectory on the south side. Concerts and musical events take place in the abbey from May to October and these are mostly within the refectory.
Apostolos Andreas Monastery
Situated just south of Cape Apostolos Andreas, the north-easternmost point of Cyprus
The traditional story of the monastery’s founding says that, during a journey to the Holy Land, the ship transporting Saint Andrew went off course and struck rocks here. On coming ashore, Andrew hit the rocks with his staff, at which point a spring gushed forth. The waters proved to have healing powers and restored the sight of the ship’s captain who had been blind in one eye.
Thereafter, the site became a place of pilgrimage. A fortified monastery stood here in the 12th century, from which Isaac Comnenus negotiated his surrender to Richard the Lionheart. In the 15th century, a small chapel was built close to the shore. The church of the main monastery dates to the 18th century, while the main buildings are 100 years later.
A bi-communal technical committee was created in 2008 to be responsible for protecting the island’s cultural heritage. The committee has been coordinating the restoration of the Monastery.
North Cyprus Villages
Enjoy the historical villages in Northern Cyprus
The foothills of the Kyrenia range are dotted with many lovely villages in North Cyprus. All have common characteristics and historical antecedents. They were old settlements, original hamlets of the Lusignan period or from an earlier era.
The people of Cyprus refrained from establishing civil facilities next to the sea because of terrorizing pirate raids. North Cyprus villages were located on hills or in fertile valleys in the mountains. It was a wise decision to take shelter on higher ground where the people easily observed approaching vessels. The higher altitude also meant cooler weather, better landscape, proximity to firewood and abundance of potable water. The few mud-brick houses of such villages in North Cyprus have changed into modern residences of today, as in Karmi, Lapta, Çatalköy and Karşıyaka. Please take a look at the map of North Cyprus and you will see these pearls strung along the Kyrenia range.
Karmi village has one of the oldest Bronze Age settlements in North Cyprus. There are elaborate Bronze Age tomb structures and burial chambers. A unique funerary stele was discovered here which may be the largest of its kind in the island. The excavation was carried out by JR Stewart, in 1960, of the Melbourne Cyprus expedition.
The peak of St Hilarion is visible from anywhere in the village. This might mean that both places were in close contact. An old road from the castle reached the shore via Karmi and Edremit. It would not be mistaken to imagine the knights of the Lusignan dynasty with their colorful costumes riding with their companions through Karmi. The Latin influence is evident in the medieval church of Karmi.
Karmi is one of the most beautiful villages in Cyprus. The landscape is superb, the villas and houses are in aesthetic harmony with Northern Cyprus. A predominantly Mediterranean mood can be seen in the architecture. Such a complete picture of North Cyprus and its nature gives you a striking impression of our island.
You can leave your car in the village square and start your tour. Next to the car park there is a lovely medieval church. The blue gothic door and the belfry are interesting features of this church. The walk around the village is very refreshing; the narrow streets are named after the flowers of Cyprus. You can see these flowers flowing over the fences and walls; geranium, jasmine, bougainvillea and there are water lilies growing in an old cistern. The houses and their gardens are very pretty.
The lovely atmosphere of the village is accompanied with a fresh wind from the mountains. The scenery is wonderful. The flowers, white painted houses, cypress trees, an old door; they all paint an impressive tableau in your mind.
The old cistern was full, and the water lilies were dancing on the surface. Excess water ran into a small waterway which flowed downhill towards the church. If you go down a few steps to the next street, you will find an arched passage which ends near a grocery store. There are interesting restaurants and cafes in Karmi.
Lapta or Ancient Lapithos
6 miles west of Kyrenia you will find Lapta spread to the slopes of Kyrenia Mountain Range.
Lapta, also known as “Lapithos” or “Laphetos” in ancient times, is one of the oldest civilized areas in Cyprus. Lapithos was the centre of one of the 9 kingdoms of Cyprus. The city kept its importance in Roman and Byzantine periods. In the Roman period, Lapithos became one of the four districts of Cyprus and changed its name from Lapithos to Lambousa. Today, you can still see Lambousa ruins situated about 1.5 miles north of the Lapta town. Lapithos was destroyed by Arab raids in the years of 653-654, and then became lively centre in Latin period in the 10th century, as well as in the Ottoman period (1571-1878).
Today, Lapta is one of the largest districts of Northern Cyprus. The town has one of the most beautiful coasts and is developed as an important tourism region in North Cyprus. Nearly 22.000 tourists come to the region every year. It is popular for its beaches, its hotels, its nightlife, its restaurants and its spring waters, and a preferred location for holidays and properties. The town is also a place with amazing scenic beauty. Wandering around the streets of Lapta is a pleasure.