Guzelyurt, Northern Cyprus
The town of Guzelyurt lies to the far west of the island, close to the border and western coastline. It is the capital of the Guzelyurt District, which is known locally as ‘the garden of North Cyprus’ as it is home to many agricultural activities and on the route here you will pass through massive orchards of citrus fruit. The region produces almost all the fruit available in Northern Cyprus and also exports significant quantities and produces fruit juices. The region produces oranges, lemons, apples, grapefruit and melons, as well as significant quantities of vegetables. The importance of fruit is celebrated here with a two-week orange festival every year.
The town itself was first formally built in the Spartan period, probably around the fourth century BC, but as with many other areas of Cyprus, the first settlements in the region date back far earlier. Also known by the Greek name of Morphou it has always been of importance for its fruit, but in the Middle Ages it was also known for the production and export of linen. The region was almost certainly originally settled primarily for agriculture, as not only is the soil fertile, but there are also sources of underground water, which remain crucial during the hot summer months. Just to the south of the town is one of the main border-crossing points into the south of the island. Despite its importance to the agricultural industry, Guzelyurt town itself has remained relatively small and pleasantly old fashioned. It is an excellent place for a day visit, where you can sit and relax over a Turkish coffee. Within the town, you will find St Mamas Church. Now in use as an icon museum, there are many items of historical value and religious treasures here. Nearby is the Guzelyurt Museum of Archaeology and Natural History. This is housed in a substantial building that was originally the residence of the Bishop of Morphou. Today, it is home to a moderately-sized but extremely important collection of historical relics from the island in general, and the region in particular. There are a number of rooms with collections from various eras, including Byzantine and Roman items. There are some magnificent pieces, such as the second century statue of Artemis, excavated in Ephasus. The ground floor of the museum houses the natural history collection, with fascinating examples of stuffed birds, animals and fish, all native to the island.
Nearby is the smaller town of Lefke, also famed for fruit growing and where the inhabitants will be at pains to point out that their fruit is the tastiest of all! Whereas the architecture of Guzelyurt mostly reflects its European and Greek character, Lefke reflects its rule by the Ottomans for many centuries and has a more Turkish feel. In the highest part of Lefke, the Piri Osman Pasha Mosque is worth a visit. Formerly a church, built in the Byzantine period, it is a place of many myths for village elders who believe, among other things, that if you are ill, you will be cured by tying a piece of cloth to the fence here and your illness will stay within the fabric when you leave it. On the nearby coastline, the small settlement of Gemikonagi has a pier, warehouses and other structures that are the result of copper mining , processing and export, for which Cyprus was once famous. The works were abandoned in the 1970s and are now mostly derelict.
For those interested in ancient history, the nearby sites of Soli and Vouni are of major importance. Soli was a city of major importance and the first major building work here was around the sixth century BC, although excavations suggest that the area was first settled around the eleventh century BC. Prior to the Roman period, Soli was one of the most important of the ten city kingdoms of the island. Its location was probably chosen because of a natural harbour and also a river. Much of the remains that have been excavated so far date to the period of Roman rule of Cyprus. There is a substantial amphitheatre, remains of some of the city walls and a basilica, together with some ruins of a palace and a temple dedicated to Aphodite. Some remarkable artefacts have been found at the site, including a statue of Aphrodite which is currently on display in the Cyprus Museum in the south of the island. There is also an Agora (basically a Roman shopping centre) which has been partly excavated and currently consists of a columned, paved street. The original area of Soli was substantial and the vast majority of the site has yet to be unearthed, however some remarkable mosaics have been uncovered and are probably the most important items at the site. There are many depicting flowers, animals and birds as well as abstract designs and most are of very high quality and remarkably well preserved.
Soli amphitheatre and mosaic
Nearby and on a cliff top some 250 metres above sea level are the remains of the Palace of Vouni. Surprisingly little is known of the history of Vouni, but it is believed to have first been constructed as a palace around the fifth century BC by the Persian rulers of Cyprus at the time and is known to have been destroyed by a fire less than two hundred years later and abandoned. At its height, the palace consisted of nearly 140 rooms and the ruins visible today give a good idea of the monumental scale of the construction. The palace was built on various levels of the sloping site and there is a massive stairway leading from one level to the next. There are substantial and numerous cisterns visible, together with some very deep wells, giving an indication that obtaining and storing water must have been a problem here, mainly due to the altitude. There are some interesting carvings and remains of statues around the site, but it is probably most worth visiting for the stunning views – over the Mediterranean in one direction and way across the verdant hills of Cyprus looking the other way. Just off the coastline here, is the tiny island of Petra Tou Limnidi. It’s steep sides mean it is effectively inaccessible, but excavations show it to be one of the earliest inhabited places in the region, with artefacts dating back to the Neolithic period having been discovered.