The Walkers, Nicosia by the Pedieos

Cyprus unlocked
THE BEST WAY TO EXPERIENCE NICOSIA AS A SEASONED TRAVELER, AS OPPOSED TO THE COMMON TOURIST, IS TO FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF RUTH KESHISHIAN, LOCAL AND PROPRIETOR OF THE BOOKSTORE MOUFFLON. ARMED WITH AN ARRAY OF HANDPICKED BOOKS DETAILING VARIOUS ASPECTS OF NICOSIA’S COLOURFUL HISTORY, AND WITH RUTH AS OUR GUIDE, WE SET OUT ON TWO LONG WALKS TO EXPLORE THE CITY ALONG THE BANKS OF THE PEDIEOS.

I met Ruth at her bookstore, one of the most historic in town that specializes in Cypriot publications. She has already armed herself with a stack of of volumes for our journey. “These will accompany us on our stroll,” she says, flashing a warm smile. Thus prepared, Ruth and I begin our long promenade along the banks of the Pedieos.

“Even though it’s a river,” says Ruth, “it’s only during winter that the waters rise and flow at full capacity. The rest of the year sees its various, remaining pools attract a wide variety of birds, butterflies and frogs. Οf course, this detracts nothing from enjoying a stroll during the summer months. A large number of tall Eucalyptus trees, transplanted from Tasmania to drain the marshes that form on the riverbanks, also provide shade for eager explorers.”

Two publications about nature in Cyprus (“Wild Life of Cyprus,” and “Illustrated Flora of Cyprus”) are fitting accompaniments to the start of our adventure. Ruth showers me with valuable information along the way, saying “The river runs through numerous villages that are now suburbs of the wider Nicosia, snakes around the city walls, then flows into the plains of Mesaoria before meeting the sea east of ancient Salamina…”

Outside the Walls

Gladstonos Street, The old Ayioi Omoloyites

We begin with one of Nicosia’s most picturesque streets, Gladstonos, an avenue lined with historic mansions and manicured, green gardens. Our surroundings, which compose a scene filled with historical references, forms the perfect context to what is written in the book “The Architecture of the Cypriots during British Rule 1878-1960.” The end of the road leads us to the river path, a small oasis in the city centre. We turn onto Agchialou Street for a jaunt through the old village of Ayioi Omoloyites, then make our way to Platanos tavern where a traditional, Cypriot lunch awaits. While pointing to numerous puppets that decorate the tavern walls, Ruth informs me that, “These were handmade by a famous puppeteer, Pafios, none other than the proprietor’s grandfather.”

 

The old village of Strovolos

Another turn along the river leads to the old village of Strovolos, where the houses retain the traditional architecture and atmosphere of authentic Cypriot hospitality. Two worthwhile stops are a building which dates from the colonial period, previously occupied by city hall, now a venue for Cypriot art, and To Mandri, a restaurant serving delicious, local cuisine.

If you belong to the category of more ambitious explorers, then following the river all the way to the historic village of Lakatamia, with its distinctly authentic Cypriot colours, is certainly worth the extra exertion. A more adventurous route is the hike to the river’s source at Konia, high above the Holy Monastery of Machairas, though a few days extra and several rest stops are mandatory.

Within the Walls

Through the Pafos Gate

“Venetian engineers are responsible for diverting the flow of the Pedieos around the north side of the city. During medieval times the river ran through the city centre where lavish gardens were erected on both banks.” I can’t help but entertain the thought that Ruth is a veritable, living library. She asks if I’m ready for our second trek and I nod in approval. She informs me that during the next part of our walk, the river’s presence must exist in our imaginations. “A stroll through the Pafos Gate will provide a sense of the river’s original course, a route now referred to as the Green Line.”

Pafos Gate. On the left, we see the ruins of café Spitfire, once a landmark for the locals, and shortly beyond this the stone facades of the Holy Cross Catholic Church of the Franciscan Order. “It’s said that Saint Francisco stopped in Cyprus on his way to Palestine,” Ruth mentions. Turning right, we encounter the remnants of a Roman-Gothic structure, the only one left of the 13th century Lusignan Palace which stretched all the way to the Municipal gardens. This structure, the Kasteliotissa Medieval Hall, now serves as a cultural centre and venue for the arts. The Hall’s interior arches impress not only in their engineering, but also provide excellent acoustics for music performances. Moving along we marvel at the beautiful mansions lining Megalou Alexandrou Street and eventually arrive at Siantris, a famous restaurant renowned for its Cypriot cuisine. Dropping in for traditional spoon desserts, we take the opportunity to flip through the book “Historic Nicosia,” one which describes in detail the many, multifaceted aspects of the city as it has been shaped over the centuries.

Faneromeni Square

From Pygmalionos Street we cross over to Ledras and arrive at Nikokleous. On our right we spot the historic Hurricane pastry shop, the space inside covered in decor telling of its 80 year history. Further on we come to the National Library with a rich collection of publications and archives housed inside a beautiful building of the neoclassical style. Close by is the Berlin Tavern, known for great souvlaki and grilled fare. The area to the right of this is dominated by old mansions, the Church of Panayia Faneromeni, home to the city’s first exclusively-female high school, and a tiny building where one can see signs of Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman religious influence in the architecture. In the vicinity is Mathaios, famed for its traditional-Cypriot dishes where Ruth introduces two more books: “Cyprus: A Culinary Journey,” and “For the Love of Wine.”

Old Municipal Market

From Asklipiou Street we turn right onto Dionysiou and meander among the carpentry and blacksmith shops along the river’s original course. Nicos Philippou’s photographic book “Off The Map”, one that depicts the small businesses and unusual characters still tucked away within this storied section of Old Nicosia, is a perfect complement to what we’re seeing. The street ends at the Old Municipal Market, today a modern square filled with memories of a bygone era. What remains of that past includes the Cypriot restaurant St George. From St George’s courtyard one can see an archeological site dating from the 12th century BC, evidence of a Bronze Age settlement. The modern building that stands out at the edges is the new City Hall.

Ermou Street

 We pass by NiMAC (Palia Ilektriki), an old electricity plant-turned modern art gallery, shuffle down Tempon Street leading to Pentadaktylou, and arrive at Ermou Street on the banks of the old river. To our right is the amazing Centre of Visual Arts & Research (CVAR), host to permanent collections housed within a refurbished flour mill. To our left is Pharos Arts Foundations, a renovated shoe factory-turned venue for classical music concerts. The end of Ermou diverts into three roads following old tributaries of the Pedieos River. To the left is Chrysaliniotissa, an area with magnificent mansions, two ancient Byzantine churches, and the cultural centre Axiothea of the University of Cyprus. On the third of the three streets, Ammochostou, we find the art gallery Garage, and a few meters away the Taht-el-kale (Tahtakale) mosque that is attached to a smaller structure of Venetian origin. “This little building next to the mosque is the old toll house where Nicosians used to pay a fee in order to cross the river,” Ruth informs.

  

A Vision of The River

 Further down we reach the Hambis Printmaking Museum. Occupying a space that was once an old bakery, it features the work of master printmaker, Hambis. A sidestep to our left leads to the community gardens of Melina Merkouri Park, offering views of Nicosia’s Venetian Walls and their fortifications. A trail takes us to a hill overlooking the Famagusta Gate, where our journey together comes to a conclusion. “From here we can see the entire eastern part of town, as well as a magnificent view of Kyrenia,” says Ruth. “From this point, one can only imagine the direction the river might have taken as it flowed away into the east,” she adds, her voice hushed to a whisper.

 

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