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Pearl Of The Mediterranean Northern Cyprus
THE TURKISH REPUBLIC OF NORTHERN CYPRUS IS A DESTINATION NONPAREIL WHERE YOU CAN ENJOY SUMMER WEATHER EVEN LATE IN THE YEAR. AND THERE’S NO BETTER TIME THAN 2011, THE YEAR OF NORTHERN CYPRUS IN TURKEY. THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE ON THE ISLAND IN OCTOBER IS 27.1 °C, THE AVERAGE WATER TEMPERATURE 24.6 °C.
Following new tourism investments, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is more ready to welcome you than ever before. Foreign tourists to the island have outnumbered Turks in recent years, proof positive that TRNC has opened up to the world. There are plenty of things to explore in the north of Cyprus, the Mediterranean’s third largest island. Our journey to the north of the island, a virtual unopened oyster, starts in 2011, the Year of Northern Cyprus in Turkey.
Just an hour and a quarter from Istanbul by air, Ercan International Airport is only 40 kilometers from Girne, TRNC’s touristic showcase. Nestled in the foothills of the sawtooth Beşparmak (Five Finger) Mountains, the city impresses with its horseshoe-shaped harbor. A rich collection of everything from royal tombs to 2.300-year-old shipwrecks are on display in the castle at one end of the harbor. The island’s most beautiful city, Girne experienced an influx of British intellectuals at the end of the 18th century. Among the famous personalities who have come here are French poet Arthur Rimbaud, comedian Peter Sellers and musician David Bowie. British, German, French, Italian and American residents of the village of Karaman (Karmi) eight kilometers from Girne follow in their predecessors’ nostalgic footsteps today. Also among Girne’s must-see sights is the village of Bellapais (aka Beylerbeyi). This tiny Mediterranean village amidst pomegranate and lemon trees is famed as the setting for Lawrence Durrell’s fictional tetralogy, The Alexandria Quartet. But the village’s real claim to fame is the Bellapais Monastery, a masterpiece of medieval Gothic architecture. This mystical structure, in whose endless corridors white-cowled nuns once lingered, hosts an international festival of classical music every year. Largest of the three castles tucked away in the rugged Beşparmak Mountains, the 7th century St. Hilarion is one of the island’s beauty spots for its breathtaking panorama. I must hasten to add that Northern Cyprus, home to a rich underwater world with colorful sea creatures, fields of amphorae, and plane and shipwrecks, is also a divers’ paradise. The capital Lefkoşa is 25 kilometers from Girne. Seat of the parliament of the TRNC, the city is enclosed by defense walls in the form of a star built by the Venetians in the 15th century. The quarter behind Selimiye Mosque is a virtual open air museum exhibiting a surreal synthesis of Lusignan, Venetian and Ottoman architecture. Arasta, or Market, Street meanwhile is one of the city’s oldest shopping centers. You need to set aside at least one day to see the area with the city’s prominent sights such as the Great Khan, Dervish Pasha Mansion, Sultan Mahmut Library and the Bedesten (covered market). The Nature and Archaeology Museum is the leading touristic venue at Güzelyurt, famous for its citrus orchards. Lefke, where the world’s oldest copper mines are located, is known for the Vuni Palace and Ruins of Soli, one of the island’s oldest centers of settlement. Gazimağusa, one of the Eastern Mediterranean’s best-preserved examples of medieval architecture, exhibits vestiges of a five thousand year old history. In addition to Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, Othello Castle, made famous by Shakespeare’s play, and the dungeon where the 19th century Turkish intellectual Namık Kemal was once imprisoned are among the city’s other sights worth seeing. The Salamis Ruins five kilometers from Mağusa meanwhile are the island’s most extensive. Pointing towards Anatolia like an index finger from the eastern end of the Mediterranean, Karpaz Peninsula is another of the island’s spectacular landscapes. The 20-kilometer road from from Yeni Erenköy to Dipkarpaz runs alongside unspoiled beaches with Caretta caretta sea turtles, abandoned monasteries and free-roaming Cyprus donkeys. A mosque and a church stand opposite each other at Dipkarpaz, the last settlement at the tip of the peninsula. When you reach the isolated bay at the Apostolos Andreas Monastery and hear Greek melodies rising from Nikos Coffeehouse on the village square, you’ll feel as if you’ve come to the edge of the world…
Every inch of Northern Cyprus harbors traces of a deep-rooted history. Used as a covered market in the Ottoman period, the Bedesten at Lefkoşa was originally converted from an old, Gothic-style church. The village of Karaman (Karmi) at Girne and its European residents have pursued a tranquil existence for centuries.
An ethnographical museum today, the Dervish Pasha Mansion at Lefkoşa is a fine example of Ottoman architecture in Cyprus. A habitat for the Caretta caretta sea turtle, the beaches of the Karpaz peninsula provide special protection in the form of wire screens over the turtles’ egg chambers.
Did you know that Northern Cyprus boasts 30 different species of orchid, 17 of which are unique to the island? Walking tours are organized for seeing these orchids, which also include rare species.
Turkey is celebrating the Year of Northern Cyprus in 2011. The aim of the project is that everyone should learn something new about TRNC during the year. For more information about this project and its many stimulating events: www.2011kibrisyili.com
Home to the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, Mağusa offers spectacular views from its high points. And sunset at the village of Beylerbeyi at Girne is so beautiful you will never tire of it. Studded with colorful stones, Cyprus houses exhibit the typical features of Mediterranean architecture.
Şeftali (Peach) kebab, a grilled meatball dish unique to Northern Cyprus, is much loved on the island. The sausage-shaped meatballs are wrapped in the ‘caul’ or fatty membrane that surrounds the internal organs of a sheep or cow, then grilled over a charcoal fire and served with mixed vegetables.
The island’s famous walnut jam derives its taste from the quality ingredients. The membrane is first removed from carefully selected unripe walnuts, which are then soaked in slaked lime water to remove the bitterness before being added to a sweet, cinnamon-flavored syrup.
Only ruins remain today of the Vuni Palace on a hill overlooking the Bay of Güzelyurt. The sculptures recovered from the palace are on exhibit in the island’s museums.
The island’s international standard five-star hotels tend to be in Lefkoşa, Girne and Mağusa. A few authentic boutique hotels have also opened recently on the Karpaz Peninsula.
Turkish Airlines has daily flights in both directions between Istanbul and Ercan International Airport. For information: www.turkishairlines.com
The Museum of Nature and Archaeology in the town of Güzelyurt exhibits finds from the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The jewelry unearthed in ancient settlements is well worth seeing.
The side streets around Selimiye Mosque in Lefkoşa harbor some surprise gift items. You can find everything from wooden chests to antiques and much more in these historic little shops.
CASTLES OF CYPRUS
The Lusignan period guards’ chambers inside Girne Castle have been restored and converted into a museum. One of the most striking artifacts on display here is a sunken ship from the 3rd century B.C.
Northern Cyprus boasts beautiful beaches and a well-preserved underwater world. In addition to the Karpaz Peninsula’s golden sands, there are also many lovely beaches at Girne and Mağusa.
The Middle East’s most important Bronze Age royal tombs were found at the ancient site of Salamis, eight kilometers north of Mağusa. This city adorned with ancient sculptures was founded in the 12th century B.C.
The Arasta Market at Lekkoşa is ideal for picking up authentic island products with everything from English-style china tea sets, colorful straw baskets and Halloumi cheese to leather clothing and accessories on offer.
“Northern Cyprus is an astonishingly multifaceted country that is definitely worth seeing. Besides kebabs unique to Cyprus, the game meats are also superb. Some interesting pickles are made too. To wit, one made from the thorny branches of a plant the islanders call ‘gabbar’ - what we in Turkey call ‘kapari’ or capers -and ‘cikla’, a species of small bird peculiar to the island.”
Cyprus is half Mediterranean, half Middle Eastern, and one immediately senses the lyrical call of the Beşparmak Mountains, which have been home to countless civilizations down the centuries. Each one like a medieval chateau, the castles of Northern Cyprus are ready and waiting to enchant visitors with their beauty and fascinating stories.
Nature and sports tours are being organized on the island in connection with the Year of Cyprus 2011 in Turkey. Visitors can take part in special theme tours to observe birds, orchids and Loggerhead Turtles, and go parachuting, go-karting or olive-picking.