Wherever you travel in North Cyprus, the history comes alive…
For nine thousand years, Cyprus has been a melting pot of great civilisations; from the Neolithic settlements on the northern coast to the Egyptian, Persian, Roman, Venetian, Ottoman and British Empires. Its strategic location at the cross-roads of East and West has bestowed on the island with a rich and colourful history spanning centuries.
During the course of its vibrant past, the island has been visited by the Romans, Alexander the Great and Richard the Lion Heart, to name a few, each leaving its own unique footprint.
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 i n 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 Girne Castle, as well as the celebrated architecture of Gazimağusa (Famagusta) and Lefkoşa (Nicosia), 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, i n 1960 the Treaty 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 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 (Idea of union with Greece); in response to this bid – and following a consultation with the British goverment – 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 subsists 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, makingNorth Cyprus a truly excellent destination for those who dream of a holiday steeped in history.
As you explore the island, you will certainly enjoy the enduring echoes of the island’s multicultural heritage; a country upon which countless civilisations have left their colourful and fascinating imprints, waiting for you to explore.