Gothic Cyprus: Nicosia

Cyprus has spent its entire history as a cultural cross-roads. In ancient days, it had a population of Phoenicians as well as a pre-Greek population who wrote in an undecipherable script. The need for merchants and others to go to Cyprus is highlighted to anyone who has read the book of Acts, where Paul and co. frequently sail along one side or another of Cyprus.

In 1191, Richard the Lionheart made his way to Cyprus and conquered it in the wake of an uprising by the Byzantine prince Isaac Komnenos who wished to cast off the rule of the Emperor in Constantinople. After raising a lot of taxes on the island, Richard the Lionheart sold it to the Templars. In 1192, Cyprus passed into the control of former King of Jerusalem Guy de Lusignan. What we should stop and note here is the island’s close association with the Crusades and the Crusader Kingdoms. I like to think that it qualifies as such.

Anyway, Cyprus remained in Lusignan hands until 1489, when the last Lusignan queen, Catherine Cornaro gave it to Venice. I’d heard that she willed it to the Venetians, but debt may have made her sell the island. The Republic of Venice ruled Cyprus until 1571 when it was captured by the Ottoman Turks.

The legacy of Lusignan-Venetian rule in Cyprus stands before anyone who visits the island in stone and mortar. In the centre of the Old City of Nicosia, on today’s North side, there is a sizeable Gothic cathedral, Saint Sophia’s (Selimiye Mosque). This is the largest Gothic building on the island, begun c. 1209, inaugurated in 1326 with renovations in 1347. It’s second tower was never finished, but it is a beautiful place of worship, transformed post-1571 into a whitewashed mosque.

Here you can see the unfinished second tower in front of the right-hand minaret.

Here you can see the unfinished second tower in front of the right-hand minaret.

Looking North through the front porch of St Sophia's

Looking North through the front porch of St Sophia’s

Central Portal of St Sophia's; the figures in the archway were plastered over in Ottoman times

Central Portal of St Sophia’s; the figures in the archway were plastered over in Ottoman times

Close-up of figural carving in archway of central portal

Close-up of figural carving in archway of central portal

This defaced angel above the central portal did not fare so well

This defaced angel above the central portal did not fare so well

The glorious heights of St. Sophia's interior

The glorious heights of St. Sophia’s interior

Right next door to St Sophia’s is St Nicholas’, which was turned into a Bedestan. It was begun in the 12th century under Byzantine rule, and was converted into a Latin priory before becoming the Metropolis church (does that mean cathedral) for the Greeks in the 1500s. When the English took over the island in the late 1800s, they wished to convert it into their cathedral but learned that its proximity to the mosque was against Ottoman law for a church, so eventually St. Paul’s was built outside the Old City walls.

St. Nicholas' north portal

St. Nicholas’ right-hand north portal

Central portal of north side of St Nicholas'

Central portal of north side of St Nicholas’

My dear friend the Green Man flanks the central portal of St Nicholas' north side

My dear friend the Green Man flanks the central portal of St Nicholas’ north side

Gargoyle on north side of St. Nicholas'

Gargoyle on north side of St. Nicholas’

So as not to make these posts completely large and ridiculous, Bellapais is next, then Famagusta.

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