Stelios Ieronimidis, Deputy Mayor of Nicosia

Interview by Hegel Goutier

How would you attract someone to Nicosia?

If we’re talking about doing business, Cyprus has always been a centre of services and used to be a business centre, even prior to accession to the EU. We have a flourishing offshore industry.

Now, following EU membership, we have the lowest corporate taxes in the EU so many people from both within and outside the EU want to set up business here. The majority of business activities take place here, in Nicosia.

Nicosia is little known to many people.

Nicosia is the English version of Lefkosia, meaning ‘white city’. Lefko means white. Bel also means white in the Slavic language so Belgrade also means ‘white city’.

Why Lefkosia? Because of the bright weather and white colours that dominate the buildings. But it is not only the weather that is good all year round. There are historical monuments. It is very easy to travel around Cyprus as it is small. The history of Cyprus dates back to the Stone Age. You can see settlements of the Stone Age people, as well as historic monuments that show the evolution of civilisation in the Middle East – the Phoenicians, Egyptians and Babylonians. This makes the country quite interesting from an archaeological viewpoint and Nicosia has a very interesting museum for anybody that wants to know more about how history has evolved, not only for Cyprus, but also for the whole of the region.

Even though there’s a Christian majority, there are many Muslim citizens and we have mosques and churches side-by-side. The surrounding medieval walls were built by the Italians when Cyprus was occupied by the Venetians and these are illuminated during the night. You can also come across British architecture here, dating back to their rule of the island. Not a lot of people know that the Shakespeare classic, Othello, was set in Cyprus. Its hero got married in Famugusta.

For visitors, there are beautiful landscapes surround Nicosia. Very close by there are high mountains. Even in this Mediterranean climate, the mountains are covered by snow for a period of five to six months. If you travel just 45 minutes from here, you will find yourself in a snow-covered landscape with more than half a metre of snow.

How much did Nicosia suffer from the division?

The most peculiar and sad thing about Nicosia is the division of the city itself. As you know, in 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and took half of the land. This occupation line goes right through the heart of Nicosia and splits it in two. Nicosia is the only divided city in the world. In Jerusalem there are sectors, but there are no walls as there are here.

You feel it strongly here. If you go through the streets, especially in the built-up old town, you will always be coming up against a wall. You see empty streets that are very different to the lively streets a few metres away.

As a City Council, we try to give incentives to people living close to the division line to relocate to houses that have been deserted. This is to lessen the problems arising from desertion in the area close to the line. The municipality compulsorily acquires deserted houses and gives compensation to the owners. We then first invite the previous owners to come and live there at a very favourable rent. If they decline, the houses are rented to others who are interested. We currently cannot meet demand with the houses that have been re-done. Some eligibility criteria apply for tenants, who are usually families with a moderate income.

How did the Turkish invasion change the soul of the city?

The Turkish invasion forced many people into leaving their houses in the north. After 1974, the character of the outskirts of Nicosia changed with many new buildings. Some of them are not of the best quality. The city has expanded. We have made much effort to demolish part of the walls to have freer accessibility but the Turkish invasion army insists on being here, proclaiming they have protective rights over the Turkish Cypriots to keep military quarters in the heart of Nicosia. Our dream as a local authority is to see the city reunited.

Hegel Goutier

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