NICOSIA: A WALK DOWN ERMOU
If you want to discover how history, tradition, fashion, art, and 10,000 bees coexist on a single street, then take a stroll down Ermou Street in old Nicosia.
The colours of Old Nicosia come alive in the bright sunlight while tall palm trees cast their shadows on the pavement. I head in the direction of Ermou, a historic street which, according to the collective memory of a bygone generation, is the base for innumerable stories that, once composed, reveal the true, multifaceted spirit of this place. The most commercial of Nicosia’s streets in its heyday, with vendors, bazaars and shops of all kinds, today is halved in two parts, the larger ‘belonging’ to the dead zone. However, the livelier half has only recently gentrified with the arrival of high-end shops, hipster bars, traditional cafés, art galleries and progressive fashion. The area attracts those looking for the diversity of a city.
At the crossroads of history
The beginning of Ermou Street is marked by a small crossroads that intersects Hectoros, Famagusta, and Minoos Streets– an Instagram-worthy location dominated by historic mansions on all sides. Turning left, I come face to face with The Shoe Factory. Don’t let the name mislead you. It’s actually the Pharos Arts Foundation occupying a building that was once a shoe factory. The founder, Garo Keheyan, began its restoration at a time (around 1998) when it was considered odd for someone to invest in the area. Apparently, Keheyan envisioned a space that would eventually host the most intriguing classical music concerts featuring local and internationally renowned musicians. If you happen to be in Nicosia during the concert season, do not miss the opportunity to attend. Not only will you experience harmony with sound and the surrounding architecture, but you will also do so in the actual home of the visionary himself– a home with a courtyard filled with bougainville and a great hall-turned wonderous art gallery.
Next to the Pharos Arts Foundation is Ermou 300, a fantastic structure with its own colourful history. In the 1800s, Ermou 300 was a trader’s inn. This sizeable public marketplace bore witness to merchants arriving in caravans to sell their wares and stay the night with their animals. Later, it was occupied by traditional craftsmen, metallurgists, and wood workers until the estate was sold to the family of architect Stefan Fysentzidis in 2006. Designed and built with respect to the area’s existing architectural tradition, today Fysentzidis maintains a home and office, as well as the shop, FABoutique, offering chic home decor and other accessories. The location is well worth exploring, and don’t forget to take a sneak peek at the inner courtyard which happens to be the most enchanting of Ermou Street’s hidden secrets.
A tour with panoramic views
Opposite Ermou 300 is Scrap Metal Art, a little shop selling metal artwork. The vibe here is something out of the old black and white photos of Ermou that I have seen. Next to this is the Centre of Visual Arts and Research (CVAR) where visitors can take a visual journey back into the island’s past. CVAR also features the newly opened Vintage wine bar & bistro, and a wonderful roof terrace offering panoramic views of Old Nicosia– perfect for taking idyllic snapshots. Further on, at 271 Ermou, the tables of café Dichoro are spread out across the width of the street, inviting pedestrians to relax in the morning sun with a fragrant coffee, or plates of fruit and cheese paired with a cocktail in the afternoon. At night, the café transforms into a bar/hookah/alternative jazz, hip hop, funk and swing joint. If this is your gig, then this is the place! At 261 Ermou, Nicosia’s youth flock to the Rock Bar. The atmosphere is laid back and the bar often hosts guest DJs to perform on their decks.
Ro and the... bees
An old carpentry shop in the same direction as Dichoro confirms that Ermou still has a touch of the old-fashioned. Opposite this, the shop Ro adds a chic, postmodern flare. Here, you don’t know what to look at first– the imaginative decor or the collection of casual, stylish clothes and accessories? Both raise the bar aesthetically. Owner Polyvios Polyviou, who also manages D.O.T., the hip restaurant at the beginning of Ectoros Street, is undoubtedly responsible for the progressive, European flare that Ermou now exudes. The street continues in a curve uphill that ends at an amazing piece of graffiti by Fikos, a famous tag artist. The artwork was inspired by the poem, ‘Onesilus’, by the great Cypriot poet, Pantelis Michanikos. The poem is worth reading in order to understand the symbology in the artwork– an hommage containing deep truths about the island and history of Onesilus (the brother of King Gorgos of the Greek city-state of Salamis on Cyprus).
Dolls and traditional delicacies
Fikos’ graffiti marks the entrance to Metafores Kazakaios, a small shop that appears as if it came from a different era altogether– a remnant of what the area used to be. Next door is Prassein Aloga Café. If sampling traditional Nicosian delicacies is on your list of things to do, then it’s well worth stopping in. All of Mrs. Dora’s creations– walnut pies, spinach pies, and cheesecake, are incredible. But, the cheese pie with kataifi (a traditional pastry) is a delicacy that simply can’t be found anywhere else. Cool off with a fresh mint lemonade or enjoy a traditional Zivania cocktail. If you plan on drinking more than one, it’s best to visit Souzana Petri’s pottery workshop first. There, you can peruse through her creations and, if you’d like, place a custom order. According to Souzana, “pottery is a beautiful way to learn the history of a place.” Just opposite, in Vagabond, Jenny can’t wait to show you her handmade fairy tale dolls. She introduces me to each one, explaining her process and use of natural materials. Her shop is host to other bits and bobs crafted by both Cypriot and Greek artists, but it’s Jenny’s fairy tale dolls that enchant her customers.