The Walls

In Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, we can still see a fine example of a medieval wall, encircling the older part of the City with a perifery of about three miles.

The wall, designed by the military engineer Julio Savorgnano, was built between 1567 and 1570, when the Venetians expected a Turkish invasion of Cyprus to follow after a holy vow taken by the Ottoman Sultan Selim to fulfill what he saw as his duty to capture the island.

A more fragile circuit of walls built by the Lusignan rulers of Cyprus was torn down, to be replaced by Savorgnano's construction, providing a shortened defence perimeter of just one mile. This involved destroying most of the Lusignan city, but that sucrifice was clearly considered worthwhile. The new wall contained eleven bastions, named after Venetian officials and Cypriot nobles, and three gates. Despite the warning served by the Sultan, the walls were still incomplete by the time the invading force landed. The base of the wall was constructed in stone, but the upper part of the wall was a little more than glorified earthworks. A planned moat was also abandoned, the replacement trench was not deep enough, and the walls also lacked essential internal support. The Venetians boasted that the wall could withstand a two year siege. In fact, it survived less than fifty days of assault.

A Turkish force of ten thousand assembled in the plain surrounding Nicosia on July 24, 1570, and started hurling artillery shells at the shaky edifice. An all night bombardment, followed by a coordinated assault on four of the bastions precipitated the end on September 9. Over twenty thousand people were slaughtered in the ensuing bloodbath and the Turkish troops were allowed to loot for three days. Eighty years of Venetian rule was at an end, to be replaced by a Turkish occupation destined to survive more than two centuries.

Today the walls are in a fairly good condition and the three gates preserved, especially the one which connected the city with the eastern part of the island in the old days.

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Last modified: May 1, 1996.
Copyright © Nicosia Municipality