Faneromeni Square has many stories to tell. To discern them, all you need is to tour the area with eyes trained to look beyond what’s obvious and to prick up your ears to the transient exchanges echoing among its monuments, old mansions and people. It’s precisely this composition that the square owes its uniqueness: this coexistence between local and foreigner, generations old and new, and the ideas they’ve brought with them. It’s an eclectic mix of contrasts not far removed from the world we live in today.
TEXT: Eleni Xenou
Not large by any means, it takes less than an hour to cover Faneromeni on foot. However, that is not nearly enough time to discover it fully. Within this relatively small route are hidden many others that require keen observation to discern their links between the past and present. Depending on the time of day, there’s a palpable difference to its cobbled streets as witnessed by morning, when Nicosian pensioners sip Greek coffee in traditional cafés and converse over open newspapers – and by night, when loud music ushers in the arrival of bold, raucous youth. As the moon rises, so do their passions. As the square is filled to bursting, so does their intimacy towards one another overflow into every nook and cranny. The effect is cinematographic: each sequence more intoxicating and poetic than its predecessor.
History and Authenticity
The cobbled streets of Faneromeni crowd around the imposing church of Panayia Faneromeni, constructed in 1872. What began life as a nunnery of silk-weavers before the Turkish occupation of Nicosia in 1571, subsequently destroyed, became the largest orthodox church within the city walls: a three-aisled, domed basilica with elements of western architecture, and with frescoes painted by renowned Cypriot artists, Ioannis Kissonerghis and Adamantios Diamantis.
Opposite the rear of the church is a building that used to be the Girls School of Faneromeni. Now it is preparing for the arrival of the School of Architecture, transferring from the University of Cyprus. Constructed in 1857, the building is one of the few extant architectural gems in the city. Between the church and school is 28th of October Street with a Tipuana (trademark of the area), a tree species found in the hottest parts of the world.
Matthaios Restaurant, at one end of the street, is the oldest kitchen in town. Matthaios, his wife Giannoula and daughter Athena, will greet you with warm smiles and treat you to authentic Cypriot hospitality and flavourful cuisine. The restaurant tables are next to the Byzantine church of the Cross of Misirikou, which also has touches of Gothic and Frankish architectural elements. In the time of Ottoman rule, the church was converted into the Arablar Mosque.
At the other end of the street is the traditional sweet shop Tria Fanaria, open since 1952. In addition to sweets, nostalgia also is served in healthy proportions. The black and white photographs decorating the shop, depicting the city from decades past, are testament to this. Ekmek Kateifi (bread pudding), Galaktoboureko (semolina custard pastry), Kazan dibi (milk pudding) and cheese pies are just a sampling of reasons why Tria Fanaria is always full of customers.
New CafÉ Culture
By crossing the churchyard and passing the old windmill dressed in climbing bougainvillaea on your way, you reach the other side of Faneromeni. Here, the urban neo-café culture thrives. Inside one of two magnificent neoclassical buildings is the Corona Premium Caffè Lounge (the other houses the Cyprus Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts). Relatively new, the café serves delicious Milanese espresso, as well as virgin cocktails (mocktails). Right of this is the café Halara where youth come to relax and, on some nights, listen to live Greek music. To the left is Thirio café and its neighbour, Faneromenis 70. The latter is a small shop (non-profit) offering modern souvenirs by Cypriot artists and, on occasion, hosts art exhibits. In this direction off the main square is Papadopoulou Arcade, one full of small cafés and bars. Kala Kathoumena is the oldest café in the area and has seen many generations come and go. It struggled to survive when Old Town became abandoned in favour of more modern settings. Today, she takes revenge by filling her tables and chairs with loyal customers old and new who sip homemade, honeyed zivania accompanied by the sounds of rebetika. Close by is the handicrafts shop Gatapou, and for unrepentant fans of comic books, there is Ant Comics. Next door, Passaggio 181 serves eight types of pizza. Several steps away, known for its ouzo and crazy decor, is Treladiko. In the vicinity, the café/bar To Kati Tis is ideal for pairing beer with cheese.
Paths to Art and Fun
Head back to the church, but this time turn right toward Faneromenis Street. Street Food Balcony, a burger and steak joint nestled into an old building, opens its doors in the early afternoon and treats diners to delicious grub and live music well into the night. Next door is Το Steki Τis Loxandras (one of the area’s oldest) which serves delicious Greek meze. Opposite this is the Cultural Foundation of the Bank of Cyprus. Inside this magnificent building is the Museum of the History of Cypriot Coinage. A visit here will impress you with works of contemporary Cypriot art that are included in its collections. After your visit, head to Piatsa Gourounaki for hearty portions of Greek fare with pure flavours. On the other hand, should you prefer something light accompanied by live music, Mousikon Kafeneio offers a moderate variety of meze and lively entertainment by guest musicians.
The Beginning Is the End
A tour of Faneromeni ends on Mouson Street, a narrow lane that reconnects with Tria Fanaria. Mouson culminates in a mix of old-fashioned and modern shops co-existing in perfect harmony: some with embroidered bed sheets and kitchen towels on display, and others with modern ‘objets de art’ created by local artists, as is characteristic of Staart Shop – practical and artistic. Then again, as was made clear from the beginning, Faneromeni is a mosaic of contradictions: a portrait of strange bedfellows content to share the same historic-cobbled streets.