South of Ataturk Square, and north of the pedestrianized shopping streets that greet you on passing through the Lokmaci Gate (that is the Ledra Street crossing from the south), is an area of busy traffic and impressive buildings.
You can’t miss the Büyük Hamam (Great Baths) – it’s a fine stone building that looks as if it has sunk into the ground (whereas, of course, it’s the ground that has risen up from its original medieval level as successive layers of building have taken place). The baths were converted by the Ottomans from a Lusignan church, St George of the Latins, whose front portal is still the main entrance, and is approached down one of two flights of stone steps. Though it would be a particularly atmospheric place in which to bathe, it rarely seems to be open.
A minutes’ walk east of the Büyük Hamam is the Kumarkilar Han, or “Gamblers’ Inn”. Also called “The inn for merchants using donkeys” and “the inn for travelling musicians” the Kumarkilar Han is now in a sad state of neglect. Built around 1700, with 44 of its original 56 rooms surviving, it is crying out for renovation; only the front Gothic archway and door – probably dating from an earlier building – are in a good state of repair. Take a look from the street (you can’t get into the building), imagine what it would look like after renovation, then pass swiftly on to the Büyük Han down the street.
The Büyük Han (Great Inn) is a graceful and harmonious building which is somehow more affecting because it was built, not to glorify God or the power of princes, but as practical lodgings for traders and merchants. Appropriately, this is not a frozen-in-time relic, but a vibrant collection of shops, restaurants and small businesses that do its origins proud. It was built on the orders of the first Ottoman governor general of Cyprus, Mustafa Paşa, in 1572, just after the conquest. Used by the British as a prison, and later to house destitute families, it was sensitively restored between 1992 and 2002. The two-storey building consists of 68 rooms on two vaulted galleries looking onto a courtyard, and ten shops which open outwards to the street. In the centre of the courtyard a mesjid or miniature mosque stands on columns under which is a sadirvan or fountain, used for ritual ablutions. There are two entrance gates to the east (the main one) and west, and inside the courtyard stone stairways lead to the upper floor (once used for accommodation). The courtyard of the Büyük Han is an ideal place to sit in the shade, have a drink or a meal and, on Tuesday or Friday evenings, listen to live music.
A political landscape
A political landscape
From the Shacolas Tower in South Lefkosia or the Saray Hotel in North Lefkoşa (and indeed, from any other vantage point which has a clear view north) you can’t help but see two enormous flags on the nearest south-facing hillside. One represents the TRNC (red crescent and star on a white background with red bar above and below) the other Turkey (white crescent and star on red background). The story behind them is rather dispiriting for those who would like to see the island reunited. Officially created to honour the great Turkish leader Ataturk (the slogan below the Turkish flag – “How happy is he who can say he is a Turk” – is attributed to him), the position of the flags seems to indicate that this explanation is disingenuous. A more believable version says that the Turks created the flags by painting boulders at night, turning them face down during the day then, on the eve of August 15, a national holiday in the Greek Cypriot calendar but also the anniversary of the 1974 Tochni massacre of Turkish Cypriots, turned them face up so that they could be seen in the south. In other words, a taunt or a memorial, depending on your point of view.