Wherever you travel in North Cyprus, what you see brings history to life.
For nine thousand years, Cyprus has been a melting pot of many great civilisations; from the Neolithic settlements on the northern coast - to the Egyptian, Persian, Roman, Venetian, Ottoman and finally British Empires. Its strategic location at the cross-roads of East and West has bestowed the island with a rich and colourful history spanning centuries.
Someone wants said: “Cyprus is like a woman. Everybody loves her – but nobody wants to marry her!”. She has certainly been engaged many times!
During the course of its vibrant past, the island has been visited by the Romans, St. Paul and St. Barnabas (who brought Christianity to Cyprus in Biblical times), Alexander the Great and Richard the Lionheart, to name a few, each one leaving his own unique legacy. Northern Cyprus is fortunate in that 80% or more of the main historical sites of Cyprus are located within the boundaries of the Northern part of the island.
The first settlers in Cyprus
For a good sense of how it all began, the island’s museums are well worth a visit for their fascinating array of artefacts discovered in cave dwellings dating from 7000BC, when the first inhabitants of Cyprus are said to have settled.
From 3000-700 BC, Cyprus began to emerge as a trading centre, with copper mines drawing merchants from all across the Mediterranean. Attracted to the growing opportunities, settlers arrived from Anatolia and Phoenicians from Syria, bringing new Levantine architecture, ceramics and metal working to the island.
Melting Pot of Civilisations
The Persians first adopted Cyprus as a base for their wars with Greece in the 6th Century BC, lasting until 333 BC when Alexander the Great brought the Persian Empire to a sudden end. The Ptolemies of Egypt ruled for the next 250 years - a glorious period punctuated by Rome's invasion of the island in 48 BC. But, Roman rule only lasted a few years, as Julius Caesar bestowed the island to his lover, Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies as a gift of love. Only following her death was Emperor Augustus able to return Cyprus to the fold of the Roman Empire.
Between the 1st and 10th Centuries, multiple communities emerged on the island, with Muslim and Byzantine settlers coexisting in relative harmony - that is, until 965 AD, when the Byzantines took full control of the island after defeating the Muslim Caliphate’s Egyptian fleet.
Byzantine rule lasted until the 12th Century, when King Richard the Lion-Heart handed the island to Guy de Lusignan, a member of French Medieval Royalty, to finance his expeditions. The Lusignans, inhabited the island for 300 years, from the 12th Century until 1489, when the Venetians captured the island and bestowed upon it the impressive Kyrenia (Girne) Castle, as well as the celebrated architecture of Famagusta (Gazimağusa) and Nicosia (Lefkoşa), which are all well worth a visit.
The Ottoman period in Cyprus began in 1571 and lasted for more than three centuries, during which time the two Cypriot communities, Turkish and Greek, began to emerge. It was during the later years of Ottoman rule, in an agreement dating back to 1869, that the British were granted the right to govern Cyprus under the Sultan - lasting until the end of the First World War. Then, in 1960 the Treaties of London and Zurich were signed to grant independence to Cyprus as a partnership state between the Turkish and Greek Communities of the island. The guarantors of the new state were Britain, Greece, and Turkey. However, in 1963, after the departure of the British, relations between the two communities (separated by language, culture and religion), deteriorated and civil war broke out. The United Nations sent in troops in an attempt to restore peace, creating the Green Line, which effectively divided the two communities.
In 1974, Greece attempted a military coup in conjunction with the Greek Cypriot National Guard in a bid to achieve ENOSIS (union with Greece); in response to this bid - and following a consultation with the British government - Turkey intervened to protect the Turkish Cypriot community, in exercise of its guarantor powers.
The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) was formally established in 1983 and today the island remains divided. The TRNC is a fully democratic state and peace exists across both sides of the island. On 23 April 2003, the borders between the North and South were opened and it is now also very easy to get around, making North Cyprus an excellent destination for those who dream of a holiday in an unspoilt destination steeped in history – yet with the benefit of all modern facilities.