"Ayia Sophia/Selimiye Camii in Nicosia" Ayia Sophia by easyoar

Ayia Sophia Travel Guide: 13 reviews and 16 photos

Some history

This page has the potential to get political, so I will try and state only facts and keep well away from politics. As most people know, Cyprus is a divided island. The Turks live in the North, the Greeks live in the South, and the UN peacekeepers live inbetween them in an area known as the Green Line. The South is also known as the Republic of Cyprus, and is recognised around the world. The North is also known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), and is only recognised by Turkey.

The upshot of this all is, that if you want to go to Cyprus, and fly direct from a European country, you can only fly to the Greek South. It is possible to fly to the North, but you must fly via Turkey. It is also possible to travel from the South to the North on a day trip. Until recently this was only possible provided you weren't Greek. It was not possible to travel the other way (unless returning from your day trip).

Not only is Cyprus a divided country, but the capital city is also divided between North and South. For foreigners it can get confusing as one place can have several different names, as Greeks Turks and the British have all given the same place (Britain did at one point have sovereign territory over Cyprus). The capital city is a fine example of this. The Greeks call it Lefkosia, The Turks call it Lefkosa, and the British call it Nicosia.

This multi naming of places is also relevant to Ayia Sofia (or Ayia Sophia). This is the Greek name of the Saint Sophia, which implies it is a church, which it was. However Saint Sophia is in the Turkish side of Nicosia and is now a mosque (complete with added minarets) and is named Selimiye Camii by the Turks.

The building

Ayia Sophia can trace her roots back as far as 1209 and was built during the crusades by French stone masons (Cyprus has been invaded many times over the years and has influences from all over Europe and beyond). Construction lasted 150 years, although the church was consecrated in 1326. Some parts of it were never finished.

In the 1500's, the Ottoman Turks conquered the city, and converted the cathedral into a mosque (this included burning the pews and the pulpit) and whitewashing the walls.

It is not unusual that if you wander past and go inside (taking your shoes off first) that you can have the place to yourself. On one occasion I was inside taking some photographs believeing I had the place to myself when I heard a strange sound coming from a corner. On further investigation I realised that whilst I wasn't the only person in there, I was the only conscious person - I was sharing the place with a rather large old lady who was snoring away soundly in the corner...

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Loads of history and a beautiful island
  • Cons:The internal strife between North and South
  • Last visit to Ayia Sophia: Nov 1998
  • Intro Updated Sep 22, 2004
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Reviews (7)

Comments (10)

  • tini58de's Profile Photo
    Jun 5, 2006 at 3:00 AM

    Interesting little page! Indeed, it is difficult not to get political, but I think you did a good job!

  • scottishvisitor's Profile Photo
    Oct 1, 2005 at 2:31 PM

    Nice page here - & as usual brillant photos!!

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Jul 18, 2005 at 8:16 AM

    Cyprus is definitely a mixed-up country, just like the 'life' that old cathedral has experienced! A nice little page Andy.

  • LoriPori's Profile Photo
    Jun 20, 2005 at 5:09 AM

    The Cathedral of Ayia Sophia looks beautiful. The Bedestan seems like a fun place to snoop around in. I looove indoor markets.

  • Dabs's Profile Photo
    Apr 22, 2005 at 3:22 PM

    I thought it was knick-knack as in knick-knack paddy whack (what the heck does that nursery rhyme mean anyway?)

  • matcrazy1's Profile Photo
    Mar 23, 2005 at 3:12 PM

    Interesting tips. especially on the Bedestan - an indoor market.

  • ATXtraveler's Profile Photo
    Feb 27, 2005 at 10:27 AM

    So I shouldn't wear my "I voted for Bush" shirt??

  • hekate's Profile Photo
    Dec 8, 2004 at 2:13 PM

    The indoor markets always have a speciic atmosphere :)

  • Nov 27, 2004 at 2:13 AM

    forget the flight hassles, just swim back!

  • Profsmiley's Profile Photo
    Nov 15, 2004 at 9:34 AM

    Hey Andy, I can see that it's been a while since the last time you were in Cyprus. Lots of things changed after the borders opened, but the shish kebaps still taste delicious ;-) You should see for yourself!

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