NICOSIA – The last divided City in Europe

Anna Caramondani B.Sc. (Eng), M. Phil, MRTPI
Planning and environmental Consultant, Nicosia – Cyprus
NICOSIA – The last divided City in Europe
Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean, after Sicily and Sardinia, but the largest island
state. It is located at the north eastern corner of the Mediterranean and commands a “cross-roads”
position, linking the east with the west, Europe with Africa and the Middle East. Cyprus has recently
joined the European Union.
Unfortunately, in 1974, Cyprus was invaded by Turkey. Since then, the island has been divided by
military force and approximately 40% of the country’s territory is occupied by Turkish troops. The
population in the Government controlled part of the island is around 700.000 persons.
In 1974, 200.000 refugees, about one third of the population of the island at the time, were violently
displaced from their homes. The Turkish Invasion caused dramatic effects creating regional
imbalances and disparities. Unprecedented pressures were created with the sudden unnatural influx of
population. The worst case is the case of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus which has been divided since
1974 and currently, is the only divided city in Europe.
The tragic events of 1974 led to the communal and physical division of Nicosia affecting its economic
and living conditions and its potential for natural growth. Cyprus and Nicosia is divided by a thin strip
of land that runs across the urban area from east to west and through its center (core). The division
boundary is known as the buffer zone or green line and is controlled by the United Nations.
The Nicosia buffer zone is an unnatural boundary forced on the city arbitrarily through military force.
The buffer zone has kept the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot inhabitants apart and has split their
city into two separate parts which, despite numerous efforts, have been developing independently
causing the disintegration of the entity of Nicosia. The city center was suddenly divided and
transformed into a dead-end, an “outskirt” of the city. The population of Nicosia (the government
controlled part) is around 200,000 persons.
The presence of the buffer zone and the lack of interaction between the government controlled part of
the city and the Turkish occupied northern part influenced the spatial structure of both the wider urban
area and the central area of Nicosia.
The buffer zone had a centrifugal effect on development pushing it away from its area creating a
stronger tendency for the division of the city into two independent components. This tendency,
coupled with rapid growth and years of unplanned and uncontrolled development have created
accumulated but not unsolvable problems for contemporary Nicosia. In 1981, the UN promoted the
preparation of a common Master Plan for the unified development of the city. The Nicosia Master
Plan was prepared and although the city is still divided, its two constituent parts (the government
controlled part of the city and the occupied part) are trying to implement this Master Plan in their
respective areas. The main effort focuses on revitalization schemes for the areas near the division line
and on safeguarding the conditions on the ground for the future reunification of the city.
Cyprus has now joined the European Union and although the latest efforts for reunifying the island
failed, the Cypriots hope and wish for a viable solution that will reunify the country and increase the
opportunities for growth and prosperity within a European framework.
The biggest challenge for Cypriot planners will be the development of the buffer zone in the prospect
of reunification of Nicosia. The buffer zone runs across the city and through its historic city. The areas
adjoining it, used to be thriving residential and commercial areas, which lost their vitality and
importance during the last 30 years. The historic center of Nicosia now faces various problems. It is
mainly inhabited by foreign workers who are temporary residents of Cyprus and faces social problems
and problems of physical degradation especially in the areas adjoining the buffer zone.
When the city is reunited, the uses and activities that are going to be located and created in the buffer
zone must serve the following two purposes:
1. They must revitalize the areas adjacent to the buffer zone.
2. They must be “gluing” uses and activities so as to mend the physical and psychological scar of
the city.
Hopefully, Nicosia will soon be reunited and the buffer zone will only be a reminder of the city’s
history and not a painful scar trough the heart of the city. Berlin has done it and we hope that the
Nicosia buffer zone will soon prove to be one of the biggest catalysts for the future development of a
unified city.
On of the biggest achievements of the Nicosia Master Plan was the development of excellent
communication and joint decision meetings by the planners of the two communities. This
constitutes the basis for the future unified sustainable development of Nicosia as a whole.