Museums in Northern Cyprus

Museums in Northern Cyprus are generally extremely inexpensive to visit – and really well worth doing so.   They represent a staggering array of subjects, from displays of ancient archaeological remains to modern day documentary evidence of the recent past of North Cyprus.  If you want to leave Cyprus more educated about its rich history and culture than when you arrived, don’t miss the chance to select from this list.

Kyrenia (Girne)

The Kyrenia Museum Of Folk Art

This museum overlooks Kyrenia Harbour and was opened in 1974. It is a fine example of a traditional Cypriot home. Such buildings traditionally had two floors – with their main entrances opening onto the harbour. Traditional Cypriot items are on display. On the ground floor, there are items such as oil-mill, plough, agricultural instruments, large earthenware fan, and workbench.  In the upper floor there are examples of specially selected hand worked items: (including crochet work, materials embroidered with coloured or silver threads, bedspreads, table covers, head scarves, pillow cases, woollen socks, bowls etc.)

The Shipwreck Museum (inside Kyrenia Castle)

This is the oldest shipwreck on display anywhere in the world.  The sunken ship exhibited in this castle museum was built in 389 BC and was 80 years old when it met its demise! About 400 Amphoras (ancient wine vessels), 29 millstones and preserved food including almonds were found in this shipwreck that was thought to be a cargo ship from the Hellenistic period following the death of Alexander The Great. Around 300 pieces of lead found inside the ship show us that the ship was also used for fishing.  It was found 1.5 km from Kyrenia, at depth of 18 m and was found by sponge fisherman in 1965. Experts from Pennsylvania University were involved in the salvage operation. The Icon Museum

The former Greek Orthodox church of Archangelos Mikhael now houses the Kyrenia icon museum, which is located on the West side of the harbour.  The large collection on three levels offers an assortment of 17th to 19th century examples, rescued from unspecified churches in the district.

The church was built in 1860, and its bell tower, which can be seen from all over Kyrenia, added about 25 years later. The church was restored, and opened as an icon museum in 1990. There are three levels of exhibits, thanks to the use of the former women's gallery of the church.  The most artistically noteworthy include Saint Luke with his emblematic ox, and the beheading of John the Baptist, a  grisly scene with Herod's feast in full swing just above.

This ancient form of religious art used to be seen in churches all over Cyprus, and a trip to the icon museum gives a good insight into the skill and craftsmanship of their creators. Sadly, many churches were looted of their icons after 1974, and the icons sold on the international black market for religious art. It is estimated that after 1974, over 20,000 icons and dozens of frescoes were taken from North Cyprus churches by unscrupulous looters and sold on the international art market.

The Icon Museum preserves local icons that were saved, as well as those which have been reclaimed from abroad after this looting, and it is important that these works of art remain protected in their homeland of North Cyprus for future generations to enjoy.

Famagusta (Gazimaguza)

The Canbulat Tomb & Museum

As a place of pilgrimage for Turks, this tomb ranks second in Cyprus only to the shrine of Hala Sultan Tekke at Larnaca.

Canbulat the Bey (a provincial governor in the Ottoman empire), came to Cyprus with the conquering Ottoman troops in the 16th Century. As he was extremely successful during the capture of Nicosia, he was appointed to the Ottoman force which laid siege to Famagusta, then under the control of the Venetians.

Initially, the Ottomans tried to dig under the walls, but the Venetians blasted the tunnels, causing their collapse. It is also said that the Venetians placed sharp blades on a turning wheel at the entrance to the bastion to ensure that any attack there would lead the attacker to be cut to pieces.

Legend has it, that in order to stop the wheel and allow the Ottomans through the castle entrance, Canbulat rode his horse into the wheel when allegedly his head was cut off, and he undaunted continued to fight for the next three days with his head under his arm!  This apparently motivated the Ottomans to continue the fight and take the castle.  In fact, historians believe that what actually went in to the rotating wheel to stop it were simply bales of wool. The date of his actual death is unknown, but there is documentary evidence that he was still alive in March 1572.

Canbulat's tomb was placed in the passageway of the bastion, the name of which was changed from Arsenal to Canbulat in his honour. Supposedly a fig tree grew up alongside his tomb, the fruits of which promoted fertility in any woman who ate them. The building was restored in 1968 and the front section was turned into an Ethnographic and Archaelogical museum.

The Dungeon And Museum Of Namik Kemal

Known as the Shakespeare of Turkish literature, the writings of Namik Kemal are primarily famous in Cyprus as a source of inspiration for Kemal Ataturk – founder of modern Turkey.  Namik Kemal  spent 38 months of his life in this building, which is now a museum and located in a corner of the ruined Venetian Palace in Famagusta.

Namik Kemal was born  in 1840 near Istanbul. From an aristocratic family, he was educated privately, and became a distinguished writer.  However his political opinions upset the establishment of the day and in 1867 he and some colleagues fled to London, moving later to Paris and Vienna.   He was allowed to return to Istanbul in 1871, but his play Vatan Yahut Silistre was the last straw for the government (as it seemed to promote nationalism and liberalism at a sensitive political period) and he was eventually exiled to Cyprus in 1873 – being housed in the dungeon in question.

Although described as a dungeon, it is not underground, although is still very bleak.  In 1876, Namik Kemal was pardoned, and he returned to Istanbul. However, he continued to suffer a form of exile, being appointed to government posts in the distant islands of Lesbos, then Rhodes, and finally Chios. He continued his writings and died on the 2nd December 1888 in Chios.  The two storied building was opened as a small museum in 1993

Salamis Area

The St. Barnabas Icon & Archeology Museum

Many of those people who live in North Cyprus have no idea that this Church marks the site of the burial place of St. Barnabas, who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.  Barnabas was actually born in Cyprus, near to the site of this Church – now an Icon and Archaeology Museum but still a very sacred site to Orthodox and other Christians.

In 45AD Barnabas returned to his birthplace of Cyprus on a missionary journey, accompanied by his cousin and follower John Mark, and by St, Paul.  They managed to impress the Roman governor of the island, Sergius Paulus, to such an extent that he adopted the faith. Cyprus, therefore, became the first country in the world with a Christian ruler.

During a second visit to the island in 75AD, Barnabas was arrested and imprisoned in a Salamis synagogue. The same night, a mob of Syrians stoned him to death. His remains were wrapped in a sheet and hidden in some marshland, prior to being disposed at sea.  However, John Mark and some converted slaves from the local temple retrieved Barnabas' remains. They secretly buried them in a tomb beneath a carob tree to the west of Salamis, John Mark placing a copy of Mathew's Gospel on his cousin's chest.

In 477AD, Bishop Anthemios had a dream in which he saw the location of the long lost grave.  After his dream, the Bishop ordered the opening of the tomb. Amazingly they found a body, which was identified as Barnabas by the Gospel of St. Mathew lying on his chest.  

The building that we see today dates from the 1750s. Once the centre of the Cyprus Orthodox church, the monastery is still in good condition. Outside the church there is a courtyard, surrounded on three sides by buildings that once housed the monks and pilgrims coming to pray at the monastery.

In 1991, a restoration project was started.  The church has been restored and has been turned into a more comprehensive icon museum with the addition of new icons. The garden was redone, and the rooms of the monastery have become an archaeological museum.   The monastery of St Barnabas is very important to the Orthodox Church, and is considered a place of pilgrimage. The opening of the border has seen a vast increase in the numbers of visitors to the site, and there are frequent church services held there.   June 11th is the saint's day, and a special mass and festival was held here till the island was divided in 1974. People would come to the monastery to hear readings from the life of the saint. After a gap of 31 years, this event was reinstated in 2005.

On most days, there is a guide present who will give free guided tours of the monastery and museum.

Nicosia (Lefkosa)

Dr Fazil Kucuk Museum

Dr Kucuk was a practicing medical doctor who, on independence, was elected vice president of the new Republic of Cyprus. The museum is in Dr Kucuk's former home and office, and is located in Kyrenia Avenue. The museum was opened in1997 on Dr Kucuk’s birthdate. It is the first private museum in North Cyprus, and was created with contributions from his family.

There are two main areas in the museum. In the study, all the books and belongings used by Dr Kucuk up to his death are displayed. The clinic and pharmacy houses the original furniture used in the patient's waiting and treatment room.

The museum is small, and has a dual function as a research library. Consequently the door is frequently closed. This, however, does not necessarily mean the museum is not open and it is worth trying the door.

The Museum of Barbarism

This museum will only be of relevance to those who take a special interest in the history of the war in 1974 and the events which predated it.  Be warned, the exhibits are graphic, and you will need a strong constitution to view them. There is a memorial erected in the garden of the house which is as far as some visitors go, and we hope that the time will soon come when museums such as this (on both sides of the divide) can be closed, and we can delete this entry from the web site.

This museum has been included on this site as since 1974, the south of the Island has been giving the impression that up until then everything was peaceful, and that the "invasion" of  Turkey prompted one-sided atrocities. Indeed there are many "museums" in the south doing precisely this.

However,  most people seem to forget that for a number of years, there was effectively a civil war in Cyprus, not helped by a virtually unworkable constitution on independence in 1960. It comes as a surprise that the division of Nicosia into Greek and Turkish areas predates 1974 by many years. In the early 1960s there was effectively ethnic  cleansing of the Turkish Cypriots who were "encouraged" to move  into their own areas. Sporadic violence by one faction against another was rife, but came to a head over Christmas 1963.

On the 24th December, Greek Cypriot irregulars forcibly entered the house of Dr Ilhan, who was a Major in the Turkish army, and was on duty that night. The Doctor's wife, three children and a neighbour were killed by machine gun fire, and 6 neighbours were seriously injured. The house remains almost as it was found that Christmas.

This is by far the most disturbing museum on the island. The inside of the bathroom where the murders took place was left intact, with captions explaining that the spots on the walls are the actual blood of the four victims. In the other rooms are photographs of other victims of ethnic violence over the years.

All of this was reported in The London Times on the 27th December 1963.

The Lapidary Museum

The Lapidary Museum is a 15th Century, stone-built, two storey Venetian building, to the east of the Selimiye mosque. It was previously used as guesthouse for pilgrims and travellers – having been initially sited in its courtyard.

During British colonial rule it was known as the Jeffrey Museum.  It contains many interesting works of stone and marble. These architectural pieces include insignias, tombs and columns dating from medieval times.

A unique carved stone window, in a Gothic style, with elegant tracery of a style common to cathedrals in the 15th century, now stands opposite the main entrance to the museum. This was moved from the Lusignan Palace in Sarayonu Square, when the British demolished it in 1901 to build the present Law Courts. Sadly, this is the only trace remaining of this Lusignan palace.

Other special features in the museum are a sarcophagus belonging to the Dampierre family, the tombstone of Adam of Antioch, and a marble lion of St Mark, the symbol of the Venetians..  The museum was refurbished and opened to visitors in 2003.

National Struggle Museum

The museum, which is about 200m east of the Kyrenia Gate, was opened in 1989. Its purpose is to remember and teach about the struggles undertaken by Turkish Cypriots from 1878 to the present day.

The first area of the museum covers the period from 1878 to 1955. 1878, when the British took over the island is generally considered to be the start of the Turkish Cypriot struggle. However very little information survives from that period.

The second area covers the period from 1955 to 1974. In 1955, the Greek General Grivas, who had been sent to the island in 1953 to start preparation for Enosis, founded the terrorist organization EOKA. His stated aim was twofold. Firstly to make the British leave the island. Secondly to eliminate the Turks and annex the island to Greece.

The period from 1955 to independence in 1960 was marked by considerable violence, which escalated, coming to a head in December 1963. This prompted the British to set up a buffer zone to try and stop the fighting. This was not particularly successful, and for the next ten years the Turkish Cypriots were gradually moved out of mixed areas into their own enclaves. In this section of the museum you will see a display of hand-made weapons used by the Turkish Resistance Organization (T.M.T.) during the underground years. Also found in this section are portraits depicting those years and the original broadcasting apparatus used by Radio Bayrak to broadcast during the 1963 incidents.

A Greek supported attempted coup in 1974 prompted the intervention of Turkish forces to protect the Turkish Cypriots.

The third part of the museum covers the period from 1974. In this section are exhibited the more advanced weapons used by the Turkish Cypriots between 1964-1974, weapons used by Greeks against Turkish Cypriots and portraits vividly depicting those years.

In the display cases of the fourth section can be seen the case in which the plans for the Peace Operation were carried and some belongings retrieved from the Greek Contingent Regiment. In the middle of this section are displayed the banners and emblems of the 10 Standard Bearers.

To the east of the museum are found three domestic-made armoured personnel carriers and to the west a large artillery cannon.

The museum is open to the public, but as it is entered via a military area, entry is only allowed on production of photographic identity.

 The Mevlevi Tekke and Museum of the Whirling Dervishes

Built in the 17th Century, the Mevlevi Tekke in Lefkosa was an important cultural centre of the Ottoman era in Cyprus. It is situated within the walled city, south of the Kyrenia gate on the main street leading to Ataturk Square. It is distinguished by 6 golden domes surmounting a rectangular building.

The Mevlevi order was founded by the famous mystical poet Rumi.  His mystical approach to Islam spread throughout the entire Islamic world. His teachings emphasised the individual soul's separation from God during earthly existence, and the power of Divine Love to draw it back to the infinite on death. Rumi stressed music and dance as an expression of this mutual love and yearning, and the Mevlevi order became famous over the centuries for its whirling ceremony. In Cyprus, the Lefkosa Mevlevihane was the centre for such a practice. 

Sadly, the Whirling Dervish ceremonies were closed by decree in Turkey in 1925 but the British rule in Cyprus allowed them to continue until 1954.  since then, the building has been used initially as a hostel for Turkish children under care, then as the Cyprus Turkish Museum from 1963, exhibiting calligraphy, imperial edicts and weapons as well as costumes of Mevlevi dervishes and tombstones. What remains of the original Tekke is the semahane, where the dervishes performed their dance, and the tombs of the sheiks.

Now more latterly, after extensive repairs to the semahane and the tombs of the sheiks, the Mevlevi Museum was formally opened on the 17th December 2002, with dervishes whirling once again after an interval of over 40 years. This date was the anniversary of the death of Rumi, and as part of the Turkish Cypriot heritage, this ceremony will be performed every year around the 17th December.


Guzelyurt Archaeology and Nature Museum

The current museum building, in the centre of the old market town of Guzelyurt, houses the important items of cultural and archaeological interest found throughout Cyprus and the area. The Nature section situated on the lower floor displays a taxidermy collection of animals, consisting of birds, snakes, foxes, lambs and tortoise etc. which are displayed for educational purposes. The upper floor of the museum, houses the fascinating Archeology Section containing many rare items. The pieces are displayed in chronological order. In the corner of the first room, there is a display of material cultural remains belonging to the Neolithic era, the people the Neolithic era being the first known inhabitants of Cyprus. In this room there are also displays from the Bronze Age (old ages, middle ages and late ages). In the second and third rooms there is an artificial display from the Tunba Tu Skuru settlement. The remaining two rooms of the museum hold findings belonging to the Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. The most interesting finding in the museum is the Efes Artemis sculpture, found near the Salamis area. The archaeological finds from the nearby Soli and Vouni sites are all housed in this museum, which is well worth a visit, and very near to the Aphrodite Beachfront Village and Joya Bar and Bistro for a beachfront lunch after your cultural experience!

Iskele (Karpaz)

The Icon Museum of Iskele

The museum can be found on the road out of Iskele, heading towards Gecitkale.

This is the main church of the village of Iskele. It was built in the 12th century as a single-aisled, domed church with arched recesses to its side walls. This is a common design in Cyprus for churches of that period. The church was completely restored in 1804.

Most of the 12th century wall paintings have been preserved, restoration starting in 1966. This restoration led to further discoveries in 1967. The Virgin Mary in the apse is a 15th century re-painting, but the Ascension in the vault before it is a mid 12th century composition executed in the style of the time.  The paintings in the arch around the south recess are also from the 12th century.

Perhaps the most significant painting is of Christ Pandokrator, which is in the dome.  Here you can see a frowning Christ avert his gaze towards a surrounding inscription identifying Him as "Overseer of all", while angels on bended knees worship all round Him.

As well as these wall paintings, which in themselves are rare examples of this style of art, icons from this church and from other parts of North Cyprus are on display.