Lefkosia versus Nicosia! A Fascinating History of the Cyprus Capital

Nicosia or Lefkosia? Why two names? Questions that a curious traveller might casually ask at Reception when checking into Nicosia accommodation. As visitors make their way to Nicosia city centre hotels, there might also be some confusion caused by town names and road signs bearing both a Greek and a Turkish name.

Some visitors will know something about events which took place in northern Cyprus in the 1970s. But not everyone can be up to speed with the earlier history between Turkey and Cyprus, especially Nicosia, which is one of the oldest cities in the Mediterranean!

Egyptian king forever associated with the city

Nicosia has been continuously  inhabited since 2,500 BC, the beginning of the Bronze Age, when people first settled in the fertile plain of Mesaoria in the northern area of the island. City Kingdoms were established in Cyprus in the first millennium BC, including the Kingdom of Ledra (or Ledrae), between 1050 BC – 330 AD, according to Assyrian (modern day northern Iraq and south-eastern Turkey) sources.

Around 300 BC, the son of the Egyptian king, Ptolemy, Lefkos, rebuilt the city, leaving his name to be forever associated with the city as the name of Lefkosa (Turkish) or Lefkosia (Greek). Originally, the city was called “Leucusia”. By the 9th or 10th century AD, Lefkosia had developed into a key centre of administration, and the island’s capital. Nicosia, which is the Frankish (Germanic) name of the city, is thought to have appeared in the late 1100s.

Three official languages

Fast forward some eight hundred years to February 1995, and a meeting of the Nicosia Municipal Council declares that the city will, henceforth, be identified as ‘Lefkosia’ instead of ‘Nicosia’. The background to this decision is based upon the three languages that Cyprus officially uses on documents and banknotes – English, Greek and Turkish.

During British rule of Cyprus, the capital was called ‘Nicosia.’ After independence in 1960,  ‘Nicosia’ remained in the Latin script used for English-language documentation, but ‘Lefkosia,’ used for Greek documentation. Documents written in Turkish, which use a modified form of the Latin script, identify the city as ‘Lefkos.’

The council’s decision to drop the name ‘Nicosia,’ aims to leave just ‘Lefkosia’ or ‘Lefkos’. However, the city’s name in the Latin script will continue to appear as ‘Lefkosia’ followed by ‘Nicosia,’ in brackets! It seems that visitors to Nicosia are likely to continue being confused by street names, map and documents for the foreseeable future…

All is clear, easy and straightforward at Hypnos by bed N’mix in the city centre of Nicosia!
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