This is the informal name for the UN
-controlled buffer zone between Greek Cypriot South Nicosia
and Turkish Cypriot North Nicosia. It was established in the 1960s and the name was later also extended to refer to the whole buffer zone running east-west across the entire island of Cyprus
, which basically runs along the “truce line” established after the ceasefire reached following the Turkish invasion of the north in 1974.
The original Green Line in Nicosia makes it the last divided capital city in the world. Its border fortifications are a dramatic visual testament to the ongoing partition of the country. It mostly takes the form of roadblocks in the middle of the streets that once connected north and south. There are also UN-patrolled gates and observation bunkers, even watchtowers. You also encounter some Greek Cypriot nationalist propaganda on the southern side. All of these are stark reminders of the continuing “Cyprus problem” …
More background info:
The name Green Line goes back to late December 1963 when, following violent intercommunal clashes between the two ethnic sides in Nicosia
(see also under Cyprus history
) around Christmas that year. As the precursor to the UN mission, the British Joint Force was trying to keep the two sides apart and stop the violence. The Force’s commander Major General Peter Young
drew a line of separation on a map of the city with pencil
in green colour
. And the epithet “Green Line
” has stuck ever since.
In 1964 the newly formed United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was deployed. A ‘buffer zone’ between north and south was established along the Green Line, controlled and patrolled by UN soldiers and a no man’s land for everybody else.
The invasion by Turkey in July 1974
changed the situation again. The Turkish forces quickly took just over a third of the territory of the island in the north, including the Turkish Cypriot northern half of Nicosia. Following the ceasefire agreement reached on 16 August 1974, the Green Line
was effectively extended
across the whole country
along the “truce line
Thus the partition of the country into a Greek south and a Turkish north was cemented. Most Greeks still living in the north were forced to relocate south, and most Turks moved north. Ethnic division was practically complete. It is not 100% complete, though, as the ‘buffer zone’ outside Nicosia isn’t entirely unpopulated. There are sections where agricultural work is allowed and there even exists a village, Pyla, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots still live side by side, within the UN buffer zone.
The Green Line is interrupted
in the east of the country by one of the two British Sovereign Bases (military territories established at the time when Cyprus was released into independence – see, again, Cyprus history
). There’s also a Turkish Cypriot exclave
south of the Green Line in the west of the country. And then there’s the Turkish-controlled ghost town
south of Famagusta and north of the Green Line on the east coast.
Nicosia’s former international airport ended up within the Green Line buffer zone after it was declared a UN Protected Area (UNPA) during the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in July 1974. With the ceasefire agreement of 16 August 1974 the whole area of the airport was integrated into the buffer zone. It has been abandoned as an airport ever since. It is now part of the British UN sector and the UNFICYP headquarters is based next to the ex-airport.
Another casualty to the Green line is what was once Nicosia’s premier luxury hotel: the Ledra Palace. Now it’s out of bounds to normal mortals and instead is partially occupied by UN staff.
Apparently there are frequent “incidents” on and along the Green line, ranging from verbal abuse to objects being thrown or even shots fired occasionally. Two major incidents happened in August 1996 within a few days of each other. During a demonstration by Greek Cypriots against the Turkish occupation of the north that took place at Deryneia (see also below), which borders the Green Line south of Famagusta and Varosha, a Turkish mob beat one of the protesters, Tasos Isaac, to death on 11 August. This took place just within the buffer zone. After the funeral of his cousin Tasos, one Solomos Solomou on 14 August attempted to climb a flagpole on the edge of the buffer zone to remove the Turkish flag flying there but was shot dead by Turkish snipers (Wikipedia even alleges by a North Cypriot minister). Two British UN soldiers were also wounded.
For almost three decades the Green Line was impenetrable for civilians on both sides; but beginning in 2003 the Turkish side allowed the opening of border crossing checkpoints, first at the Ledra Palace, then a few years later right in the middle of Nicosia’s Old Town at Ledra Street. Later still yet more border crossing points, also for cars, were established along the Green Line east and west of the capital. Cross-border traffic has since become quite normalized.
You can read a lot more about the UN mission, its history, structure and organization on UNFICYP’s own excellent website
(extrnal link – opens in a new tab).
The text below concentrates on what there is to be seen of the original Green Line on the southern side within Nicosia’s Old Town.
What there is to see:
a fair bit – but note that you can’t actually get into the buffer zone itself (that would require a special permit and probably accompaniment by a UN staffer). So I made do with walking Old Nicosia
along the Green Line as best as that is possible on publicly accessible roads and alleyways to see all the roadblocks that cut off streets that once led to the north. I started at the eastern end of the route through the Old Town.
Heading north from Famagusta Gate along Athinas Street you come to the first UN gate on the Green Line. There are two small observation bunkers made of concrete, painted white and with the UN letters written on in black. These positions also have numbers (but I don’t know what the numbers signify or how the numbering system works). On the locked gate signs spell out “no access”, but no-photography signs were absent, so I took a couple of telezoom photos (see below) of the buildings inside the buffer zone. Some showed clear signs of shelling, presumably from the Turkish invasion of 1974.
You are then forced to make a left turn and proceed along quiet little side streets. Basically what you have to do is proceed roughly westwards and take every right turn heading north to see if you can find a roadblock, then retrace your steps and continue westwards.
Often the barriers consist of sand-filled former oil barrels, some indeed painted green, but mostly not. Occasionally stacked old tyres also from part of the fortifications. And at a couple of points there is no more than just a metal grate with barbed wire at the top. At some points where the buffer zone is only a few metres wide you can see oil-barrel barriers on the other, northern side. And every so often you can spot the usual Turkish and TRNC flags duo on flagpoles.
Another gate and UN position, this time a proper observation bunker, is located at the end of Ermou Street. The bunker was not staffed when I was there so I took a couple of surreptitious photos of inside the buffer zone despite the no-photography sign.
Further along you come to a little bunker and another double stack of oil drums all painted patriotically in Greek colours, i.e. in blue and white. From there you have to head south and turn right. At the Golem Brewhouse you have to turn south again, and then turn right into Lefkonos Street to head further west.
This takes you to the simple kebab house that calls itself “Berlin Wall No. 2”. Behind it is another Greek-coloured barrier, this time with a propaganda statement: a picture of the iconic shape of Cyprus (as also featured on the national flag), with the top third (i.e. the Turkish part) in deep red and dripping, as if drenched in blood. I also spotted that image elsewhere accompanied by yet more blood-associated propaganda.
Next you come to Ledra Street, the main pedestrianized shopping street running through the Old Town in the south. Walk this north to the border crossing point, but just before getting there turn left into an arcade and head further westwards.
Eventually you pass a larger two-storey bunker and observation point – and this one is always staffed by UN soldiers. So absolutely strictly no photographing here!
Shortly after, at the end of Artemidos Street you come to a large car park right on the border from where you get a good glimpse of some abandoned three-storey buildings within the buffer zone that are slowly crumbling.
Carry on fiddling through in a roughly westerly direction (past an open-air café by the borderline with mock sand-bag barriers) until you come to Rigenis Street. This goes on to the large Paphos Gate. Opposite, Pafou Street branches off to the right. A short walk into that street takes you past the large Holy Cross Catholic Church of Nicosia (lots of black Africans were congregating there when I visited). And just beyond is the last of the double-row of oil-drum barriers. When I was there these seemed to have been painted white quite recently and there was a large banner with a welcome greeting to the Pope!
Walk back towards Paphos Gate and take note of the bunkers and further fortifications at the top. The other end of Pafou Street takes you to a roundabout and now you are strictly speaking outside the Old Town. The Roccas Bastion towering to the right is already part of Turkish North Nicosia. At the top is a park and you can see people sitting at tables of a small park café by a fence directly on the borderline.
Head north past the Roccas Bastion and you get a good view of the moat outside it in which stands a tall UN watchtower – sometimes with a UN jeep at the base.
Carrying further north still towards the Ledra Palace border crossing point you pass a building marked “Kyrenia Municipality
”. Now Kyrenia, or Girne in Turkish, is a coastal town in the north, in fact one of the tourist hubs of the TRNC
. So what’s it doing here? Answer: this is the “temporary” address of a South Cyprus representation of a former Greek Cypriot community driven out of Kyrenia, which is campaigning for an end to the Turkish occupation.
At the Ledra Palace
crossing point the no-photography rule comes into force again, but the Greek Cypriot border guard staffing the checkpoint allowed me to take a photo of a commemorative panel right opposite that was about the deadly incidents in the buffer zone in August 1996 (see above
Even if you don’t actually want to cross into Turkish North Nicosia at this crossing point it’s worth showing your passport to the South Cyprus border staff and walking into the buffer zone to get a close-up look of the former Ledra Palace Hotel. No photography here, though! It’s policed and there are CCTV cameras.
Another reason for heading into the buffer zone crossing is the Home for Co-operation, which has its seat right here in the middle of the Green Line. This is a community centre working for reconciliation between the two sides and that hosts all manner of cultural and academic events. It also has a café that is open to all and well worth a stop for a little coffee break (or even craft beer!) and a home-made piece of cake or savoury snack.
The Turkish border checkpoint would be a further 500 feet (150m) to the north-east, but I never used that one, always preferring the much shorter crossing at Ledra Street.
All in all
, this is a unique set of sites to explore. In some ways it’s what makes Nicosia
– even though locals on both sides simply get on with their lives and try to ignore the existence of all the roadblocks and barriers. But for a dark tourist visiting the city they are one of the key attractions to behold. An absolute must-see when in Nicosia.
running right through the middle of Nicosia
’s Old Town (and beyond to the east and west across the whole of Cyprus
Selected Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: mostly easy and free (but no access to the buffer zone itself)
Details: The buffer zone itself with its abandoned ruins of buildings is out of bounds to non-UN staff (unless you can obtain a special permit from UNFICYP), at best you can catch a glimpse of some of these from various points along the Green Line border. The only parts where you can walk through the buffer zone are the two border crossing points at Ledra Street and at Ledra Palace. Photography within these zones is strictly prohibited.
The various roadblocks, bunkers, etc. along the Green Line are freely accessible at any time. At some UN points signs also prohibit photography, though that is not always strictly policed everywhere. But if you see any UN soldiers on duty, do keep your camera down (photographing soldiers is the worst offence – and that rule I can fully understand). At other, unstaffed observation points I surreptitiously disobeyed the no-photography sign on a couple of occasions, at others where I couldn’t see any such signs I shot away. But be as discreet as possible. Locals living on the Green Line may object to you taking pictures.
Time required: roughly an hour or two.
highlight within the buffer zone just to the west of the city proper would be the former Nicosia International Airport
, abandoned since the Turkish invasion in 1974 and replaced in the south by Larnaca’s airport (see under Cyprus
). Nicosia’s ex-airport is a UN Protected Area and UNFICYP’s headquarters are directly adjacent to the airport premises. Hence the whole place is normally out of bounds. If you have good reasons (journalistic, say) you can try applying with the UN for a special permit to visit, but otherwise it’s inaccessible. Going by online photos people have clearly been there, I’ve also heard of people who managed to sneak in, but also of others who were caught by the military police. The wide open areas are easy to survey so trespassers can easily be identified. And the inside of the terminal building, which hasn’t seen any maintenance work in five decades, is becoming dangerously dilapidated. There’s also a marooned passenger plane wreck
north of the terminal building, a British-built Hawker-Siddeley Trident, and another plane wreck at the western edge of the airfield (an Avro Shackleton). All this would make for a fabulous day’s excursion, but alas that is not legally possible without a special permit. BUT, the good news is that you can go on extensive virtual tours of the airport on this website
(external link – opens in a new window), which is the outcome of a research project by the Cyprus Institute.
A point of dark interest on the Green Line far outside Nicosia is the Varosha
viewpoint near Deryneia
in the eastern part of the Republic of Cyprus
. Here a small exhibition/shop and a viewing platform (admission 2€) were established with powerful telescopes and binoculars provided. With the aid of these you catch a glimpse of the ghost town
from right on the southern border of the Green Line. Until recently this was the only view from the south to be had of this city that has been “lost” for Greek Cypriots to the Turks. But since Varosha
was partially opened up for visitors from the north by the Turks in October 2021, touring it has become an option. And indeed half-day guided tours to Varosha and Famagusta are now being offered from the Greek side around Deryneia too (by “Mr John and Mr Ahmed”, 20€ pp).
- Green Line 01 - eastermost UN gate in the Old Towm
- Green Line 02 - clear evidence of war damage visible
- Green Line 03 - just a simple gate and barbed wire
- Green Line 04 - sand-filled oil-drums barrier in a back garden
- Green Line 05 - sometimes the other side is just a few metres away
- Green Line 06 - another gate, this time with an observation post
- Green Line 07 - a surreptitious glimpse inside
- Green Line 08 - bunker, with Xmas deco
- Green Line 09 - glimpse of an abandoned house inside the buffer zone
- Green Line 10 - abother sand-filled oil-drum barrier, now in actual green
- Green Line 11 - and one in Greek colours, with bunker
- Green Line 12 - with propaganda slogans ... and a bench
- Green Line 13 - a reference to the Berlin Wall
- Green Line 14 - another cafe right by the border line
- Green Line 15 - spot all four flags
- Green Line 16 - buildings in the buffer zone slowly falling apart
- Green Line 17 - western-most sand-filled oil-drum barrier, here with a papal greeting
- Green Line 18 - Paphos Gate with fortifications at the top
- Green Line 19 - UN watchtower in the buffer zone just outside the Venetian Walls
- Green Line 20 - commemorative panel at the Ledra Palace border-crossing checkpoint