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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Osijek

Osijek




Osijek is the fourth largest city in Croatia with a population of 128,095 in 2011. It is the largest city and the economic and cultural centre of the eastern Croatian region of Slavonia, as well as the administrative centre of Osijek-Baranja county. Osijek is located on the right bank of the river Drava, 25 kilometres (16 mi) upstream of its confluence with the Danube, at an elevation of 94 metres (308 ft).

The origins of human habitation of Osijek dates back to Neolithic times, with the first known inhabitants belonging to the Illyrian tribes. Roman emperor Hadrian raised the old settlement of Mursa to a colony with special privileges in 131. After that, Mursa had a turbulent history, with several decisive battles taking place (among which the Battle of Mursa Major in 351 and the battle between Aureolus and Ingenuus in 260), deciding the destiny of the whole region. After their migration, the Croats made a settlement near the ruins of Mursa, giving it its present name, Osijek. After the Hungarian settlements in Carpat basin, the population in Osijek was mostly Hungarian to the time of Ottoman occupation. The first mention of Osijek was in 1196 (forum Ezek et portas name). The ovner of the settlements market was the Abbey of Cikádor (now Bataszék in Hungary). Later mentioned in 1335 villa Ezeek, in 1352 possesio Ezek, in 1353 tributum fori in Ezeek et tributum portas fluvii Draue, 1454 opidium Ezek,1469 opidium Ezeek. The first mention of the fortress in 1472. (castellum Ezeek). Life was thriving here in the Middle Ages, but only traces of that life can be found today because of the destruction in Ottoman–Hungarian Wars as well as architectural changes during the Ottoman period.

The earliest mentions of Osijek date to 1196. The town was a feudal property of the Korogyi family between 1353 and 1472. After the death the last Korogyi, King Mathias granted it to the Rozgonyi family. But in 1493 it's owner was the Chapter of Holy Virgin in Buda (now Budapest). The city was damaged by the Ottoman conquerors on 8 August 1526. The Turks rebuilt it in oriental style and it was mentioned in the Turkish census of 1579. In 1566, Suleiman the Magnificent built a famous, 8 kilometer-long wooden bridge of boats in Osijek, considered to be one of the wonders of the world. The town was officially promoted to a city by the end of the 17th century. 

Osijek was restored to western rule when on 29 September 1687 the Turks were kicked out and it became occupied by the Habsburg Empire. Between 1712 and 1721, new Austrian authorities built a new fortress (authored by the architect Maximilian de Gosseau), known as Tvrđa. It is a unique urban and military complex that lies in the heart of the town. Its main central Holy Trinity Square is closed on the north by the building of the Military Command, on the west there is the Main Guard building and on the east is the Magistrate building (presently Museum of Slavonia). In the middle of the square there is a monument to the plague, erected in 1729 by general Maximilian Petras' widow. The Gornji Grad (Upper Town) was founded in 1692 and Donji Grad (Lower Town) followed on 1698. Tvrđa, Gornji, and Donji grad continued as separate municipalities until 1786. In late 18th century it took over from Virovitica as the centre of the Verőce county. 

The Habsburg empire also facilitated the migration and settlement of German immigrants into the town and region. In 1809, Osijek was granted the title of a Free Royal City and during the early 19th century it was the largest city in Croatia. The city developed along the lines of other central European cities, with cultural, architectural and socio-economic influences filtering down from Vienna and Buda.

During the 19th century, cultural life mostly revolved around the theatre, museums (the first museum, Museum of Slavonia was opened in 1877 by private donations), collections and printing houses (the Franciscans). City society, whose development was accompanied by a prosperous economy and developed trade relations, was related to religious festivals, public events (fairs), entertainment and sports. The Novi Grad (New Town) section of the city was built in the 19th century, as well as Retfala to the west.

The newest additions to the city include Sjenjak, Vijenac, Jug and Jug II, which were built in the 20th century. The city's geographical riverside location, and noted cultural and historical heritage — particularly the baroque Tvrđa, one of the most immediately recognizable structures in the region — facilitated the development of tourism. The Osijek oil refinery was a strategic bombing target of the Oil Campaign of World War II.

Immediately after the war, the daily newspaper Glas Slavonije has been relocated to Osijek and has printed there ever since. A history archive was established in the city in 1947 and city library in 1949. The Children's theatre and the art gallery were open in 1950.

Osijek has been connected with the Croatian republic's capital Zagreb and the previous federal capital Belgrade by a modern paved road since 1958. The new Drava bridge to the north was built in 1962.

During the war in Croatia, from 1991 to 1995, the city avoided heavy destruction (unlike nearby Vukovar, for example) and sustained moderate damage, especially to the centre and Co-cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul and to the periphery. More than a thousand civilians also died in the daily shelling of the town. On the other hand, at least five Croatian officials were condemned for war crimes against Serb civilians in Osijek, including General Branimir Glavaš. While some buildings still have mild damage, most often the occasional superficial pockmark from artillery and mortar fire, the city's façades are generally in good shape, due to extensive restoration in recent times, preserving the charm of its intricate Austro-Hungarian Baroque architecture in the older quarters of town.

Numerous events take place in the city throughout the year. The most important of them are the Croatian Tambura Music Festival (in May), attended by tambura orchestras from all over Croatia and the Osijek Summer Nights (during June, July and August), a series of cultural and entertainment programs in the open, accompanied by excellent food and fairs. The Day of the City of Osijek is celebrated with a cultural and artistic activities and exhibitions.

The surroundings of Osijek provide opportunities for hunting and angling on the Drava river and its backwaters. Hunting in the area known as Kopački Rit (in Baranja) is famous beyond the borders of Croatia.

The abundance of game and agriculture has made Osijek the country's semi-official gastronomical capital. Local dishes include traditional Slavonian-style specialities (kulen, paprika-flavoured sausage, other kinds of sausages, ham, bacon, dairy products), as well as venison and fish dishes such as the famous riblji paprikaš (fish stew made with paprika). Two brands of beer are brewed in Osijek: Osječko and Esseker. There is also the Baranja wine offered in restaurants.




                                                        Osijek’s Top 5:
       
  1. The Church of St Peter and St Paul, the co-cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Đakovo-Osijek, is a neo-Gothic sacral structure. The multi-tiered 90-metre spire is one of the city's landmarks. The church was built in 1898 on the initiative of Đakovo-based Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer. The church is entered via a small door to the right of the main portal, overlooked by a trio of gargoyles. The interior is a treasure trove of neo-Gothic ornamentation, with a succession of pinnacled altars overlooked by exuberant stained glass windows. The interior was finished off in 1938–1942 when leading Croatian painter Mirko Rački covered the walls and ceilings with brightly coloured frescoes illustrating famous episodes from the Old and New Testaments.
  2. The bridge of youth (Most Mladosti) This pedestrian hanging bridge over the Drava river was built in 1979. Well designed and modern in stature, it has become one of the symbols of Osijek. You'll find it in most postcards and photos that reflect this lovely town. It's worth the look.
  3. Archeological Museum of Osijek. Osijek has been settled since the Stone Age, when waves of various Central European tribes ebbed and flowed across the plains. Celts, Romans, Croats, Avars, Goths, Hungarians, Austrians, Germans, Slovaks and Serbs have left their traces in the area. In 2007, artifacts from around the region found a new home, diagonally across the Holy Trinity Square from the Museum of Slavonija, in the renovated City Guardhouse and an adjacent house. The Archeological Museum Osijek opened in the fall with a small exhibit in the first three rooms and a display of larger Roman stone artifacts under a glass dome in a lovely arcaded courtyard. Especially interesting is a Celtic helmet that was probably tossed into the Sava during the 1st Century B.C. near Slavonski Brod and recovered during a period when the water level was low. Renovations were completed in March of 2009 and the permanent exhibition, which covers the period from the 5th to the 16th century in now open.
  4. Urania Cinema. The Urania was designed by Viktor Arman in 1912 and quickly became a much-discussed local landmark. Comprising a sensuous curvy roof and a vertical-striped façade, it looks like a huge church organ let loose on the city streets. A peach-colored paint-job (the result of recent renovations) only adds to the unsettling effect.
  5. Tvrđa (Citadel) is the Old Town of the city of Osijek in Croatia. It is the best-preserved and largest ensemble of Baroque buildings in Croatia and consists of a Habsburg star fort built on the right bank of the River Drava. Tvrđa has been described by the World Monuments Fund as "a unique example of an eighteenth-century baroque military, administrative, and commercial urban center". The star fort was constructed in the immediate vicinity of medieval Osijek after the defeat of the Ottoman forces in 1687, due to Osijek's strategic importance. The official construction began on August 1, 1712 and was supervised by the city and fort's commander, General Johann Stephen von Beckers. Constructed to plans by Mathias von Kaiserfeld and then Maximilian Gosseau de Henef it was inspired with the Lowlands (Dutch) fortress' of its time. All five planned bastions and two gates were complete by 1715. By 1735, the inner town was finished and three northern bastions had been added. When complete, it was the largest and most modern Habsburg fortress on the border of the Ottoman Empire.




References: http://www.inyourpocket.com/croatia/osijek





Monday, 25 June 2012

Ostend

Ostend




Ostend is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. It comprises the boroughs of Mariakerke (West Flanders), Stene and Zandvoorde, and the city of Ostend proper – the largest on the Belgian coast.

In earlier times, Ostend was nothing more than a small village built on the east-end of an island (originally called Testerep) between the North Sea and a beach lake. Although small, the village rose to the status of "town" around 1265 when the inhabitants were allowed to hold a market and to build a market hall.

The major source of income for the inhabitants was fishing. The North Sea coastline has always been rather unstable and in 1395 the inhabitants decided to build a new Ostend behind large dikes and further away from the always-threatening sea.

The strategic position on the North Sea coast had major advantages for Ostend as a harbour but also proved to be a source of trouble. The town was frequently taken, ravaged, ransacked and destroyed by conquering armies. The Dutch rebels, the Geuzen, took control of the town. The Siege of Ostend, 1601 to 1604, of which it was said that "the Spanish assailed the unassailable and the Dutch defended the indefensible", cost a combined total of more than 80,000 dead or wounded, making it the single bloodiest battle of the Eighty Years' War. This shocking event set in motion negotiations that led to a truce several years later. When the truce broke down, it became a Dunkirker base.

After this era, Ostend was turned into a harbour of some importance. In 1722, the Dutch again closed off the entrance to the harbour of Antwerp, the Westerschelde. Therefore, Ostend rose in importance because the town provided an alternative exit to the sea. The Southern Netherlands (largely the territory of present Belgium) had become part of the Austrian Empire. The Austrian Emperor Charles VI granted the town the trade monopoly with Africa and the Far-East. The Oostendse Compagnie (the "Ostend trade company") was allowed to found colonies overseas. However, in 1727 the Oostendse Compagnie was forced to stop its activities because of Dutch and British pressure. The Netherlands and Britain would not allow competitors on the international trade level. Both nations regarded international trade as their privilege.

In later times, the harbour of Ostend continued to expand because the harbour dock, as well as the traffic connections with the hinterland, were improved. In 1838, a railway connection with Brussels was constructed. Ostend became a transit harbour to England in 1846 when the first ferry sailed to Dover. It no longer serves the Dover route, but now has passenger and freight connections with Ramsgate. Very important for the image of the town was the attention it started to receive from the Belgian kings Leopold I and Leopold II. Both liked to spend their holidays in Ostend. Important monuments and villas were built to please the Royal Family. The rest of aristocratic Belgium followed and soon Ostend became known as "The Queen of the Belgian sea-side resorts".

In 1866 Ostend was the venue for a crucial meeting of exile Spanish Liberals and Republicans which laid the framework for a major uprising in their country, culminating in Spain's Glorious Revolution two years later. In the twentieth century wars brought significant destruction to Ostend. Many opulent buildings not destroyed in wars were also later razed and replaced with the structures in the modernist architecture style.

At the 'City by the Sea', over five and a half miles of sandy beaches invites you to delightful sunbathing and a refreshing dip in the North Sea. After frolicking in the sun, take a walk down the promenade where you will find many shops, bars and restaurants.

Ostend is a cosmopolitan city with a harbour, yacht-basin, airport and over 50 hotels. Visitors will be amazed by all there is to see and do. All year round, many activities take place. Some highlights are: Oostende at Anchor, Theatre by the Sea, Sparkling Mondays, Magic Lights in the Park, the Christmas Market with huge ice-skating ramp and Carnival week-end with the well known Dead Rat Ball.

One of Ostend's main, and maybe lesser known, trump cards is the gastronomy. What better place to sample the sea's delicacies than on the seaside. There are many restaurants, ranging from exclusive hot spots to cosy bistros, so there is something to suit everyone's taste and budget. The specialities are Dover Sole, shrimp croquettes and 'tomato filled with shrimps'. There is also plenty to keep you amused later on in the evening such as pubs, clubs and cinema complexes.


Dikke Mathille
Boutique browsers will be spoilt in Ostend. At the top end of the market are Edouard Tailor and Edouard Couture, at Kapellestraat 6 and 8 respectively, and there are many more similar shops on this street. The Adolf Buylstraat is also known for its exclusive boutiques. You will discover many wonderful shops in the side streets of these two traffic free shopping streets. Boutiques on the parallel Christinastraat include Lopez at number 48, stocking prestige women's labels, and Bilitis at 59.

On the Wapenplein there is a shopping centre with over twenty shops. Just outside the city centre, in the Alfons Pieterslaan and the Petit Paris quarter, you will also find several stores.

Thursday is the main market day in Ostend. Between 7 am and 1 pm you can buy several fresh products on the Wapenplein, Groentemarkt and Mijnplein in the city centre. A wide range of textiles, perfumes, jewellery and plants are also for sale here.

Saturday morning, there is also a market on the Wapenplein and Groentemarkt. On Sunday you can find a small flower market on the Wapenplein. On Monday, a very small market with a few stands is set up on the Wapenplein.





                                                        Ostend’s Top 5:
       
  1. Sint-Petrus-en-Pauluskerk (Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul), the main church of Ostend, is a Roman Catholic Neo-Gothic church. It is built on the ashes of a previous church that occupied the site. King Leopold II enthusiastically supported a plan to build a new and more magnificent church. Construction started on 1899 and was completed and consecrated by Bishop Waffelaert on August 31, 1908. Its stained glass windows were destroyed during the two World Wars and were replaced by windows by Michiel Martens. The church is 70 meters long and 30 meters wide. Its spires are 72 meters high. The church was built in the Neo-Gothic style according to plans by architect Louis Delacenserie, who based his design on the Gothic Cologne Cathedral and the Neo-Gothic Votivkirche in Vienna.
  2. The Mu.ZEE is a museum in Ostend specialized in Belgian art from 1830 on. It was created in 2008 from the former Provinciaal Museum voor Moderne Kunst (PMMK, the museum for modern art of the Province of West-Flanders) and the Museum voor Schone Kunsten Oostende (Museum of Fine Arts Ostend), both located in Ostend. The Museum has two dependencies, the Ensorhuis (house of James Ensor) in Ostend, and the Permekemuseum in Jabbeke. Mu.ZEE is an abbreviation of "Kunstmuseum aan Zee" ("Art Museum at the Sea").
  3. The MercatorThe museum section of the floating museum, Mercator, has been completely refurbished in a contemporary, digital and interactive manner. The old display cases have made way for the newest technologies, adapting the ship to the requirements and expectations of contemporary visitors. The barquentine Mercator was built in 1932 and was used as a training ship until 1960. Since 1964 the ship has been moored in Ostend. After urgent repairs were previously carried out on the hull and other parts of the ship the interior has now been completely refurbished. The entire museum has been modernised to the tune of around €400,000. Now there are three ways of visiting Mercator: you can walk around the ship freely with a pocket-sized tour guide, or choose the digital visit using an iPod, which provides additional information featuring testimonials and short movie clips. Young people will also enjoy the interactive iPod treasure hunt game.Although the digital (r)evolution has finally reached Mercator the barquentine’s historical interior remains unchanged. The galley, huts, sick-bay, the radio room, the captain’s hut and many other typical features of this historic ship have been preserved. It is not an easy feat to turn a 79-year old ship into an interactive museum but Mercator has managed to strike a perfect balance between the old and the new.
  4. Dikke Mathille.  The Leopold II-laan curves gracefully around the most famous sculpture of a woman in Oostende: De Zee (The Sea). Although Reclining Nude is another name for this lady the locals always refer to her as ‘Dikke Mathille’ (Fat Mathille). In his work as a whole the sculptor Georges Grard showed a preference for the female nude. He emphasised the volume of the full, round forms. In De Zee he portrayed the opulence and sensuality of the sea in a female figure. However, the inhabitants of Oostende know they have to be wary of the apparent tranquillity the figure – and therefore the sea – exudes. Until 1963 the work of art adorned the Kursaal Casino.
  5. The Atlantic Wall.  This open-air museum is a unique historical site of modern fortification. The around sixty German constructions from both World Wars – underground trenches, bunkers and remains of the German coastal batteries of Aachen (built in 1915) and Saltzwedel neu (from 1941), observation points and gun sites are among the best preserved along the Atlantic coast and are the showpiece of the museum. Some of the bunkers have been reconstructed in their original state and furnished with authentic objects. The atmosphere is definitely that of ‘The Longest Day’.
    The Atlantic Wall originally stretched from Norway to the French-Spanish border and had a length of 5,300 km.








Sunday, 24 June 2012

Ostrava

Ostrava




Ostrava is the third largest city in the Czech Republic and the second largest urban agglomeration after Prague. Located close to the Polish border, it is also the administrative center of the Moravian-Silesian Region. Ostrava was candidate for the title of European Capital of Culture 2015. Ostrava is located at the confluence of the Ostravice, Oder, Lučina and Opava rivers. Its history and growth have been largely affected by exploitation and further use of the high quality black coal deposits discovered in the locality, giving the town a look of an industrial city and a nickname of the “steel heart of the republic” during the communist era of Czechoslovakia. 

Ostrava was an important crossroads of prehistoric trading routes, namely the Amber Road. Archaeological finds have proved that the area around Ostrava has been permanently inhabited for 25,000 years. Circa 23,000 BC, the Venus of Petřkovice from Petřkovice in Ostrava, Czech Republic, was made. It is now in Archeological Institute, Brno. In the 13th century, the Ostravice river marked the border between the Silesian duchy of Opole and the March of Moravia under Bohemian suzerainty. Two settlements arose on both sides of the river: Slezská Ostrava (Silesian Ostrava) was first mentioned in 1229, Moravská Ostrava (Moravian Ostrava) in 1267, it received town privileges in 1279. The Piast dukes of Opole in 1297 built a fortress on their side of the river. Both parts were largely settled by Germans in the course of the Ostsiedlung.

Until the late 18th century, Moravská Ostrava was a small provincial town with a population around one thousand inhabitants engaged in handicraft. In 1763, large deposits of black coal were discovered, leading to an industrial boom and a flood of new immigrants in the following centuries. During the 19th century, several mine towers were raised in and around the city and the first steel works were established at Vítkovice, acquired by Salomon Mayer von Rothschild in 1843. Industrial growth was made possible by the completion of Kaiser-Ferdinands-Nordbahn from Vienna in 1847. The 20th century saw further industrial expansion of the city accompanied by an increase in population and the quality of civic services and culture. However, during World War II, Ostrava – as an important source of steel for the arms industry – suffered several massive bombing campaigns that caused extensive damage to the city.

Since the Velvet revolution in 1989 the city has been going through major changes. A thorough restructuring of industry is taking place – coal mining in the area of the city was stopped in 1994 and a large part of the Vítkovice ironworks near the city center was closed down in 1998. 

In such a big city the number of restaurants is naturally enormous, ranging from the very famous restaurants to the less expensive trattorie or pizzerie. Whether you are looking to enjoy classical Czech food, regional specialities or international cuisine, Ostrava has what you are looking for. A visit to the region would not be complete without a pint of the local beer, “Ostravar”, which has been brewed in the city since way back in 1897. The main street for wining, dining and having a great time is Stodolní Street, in the heart of the city. It boasts over 60 bars and restaurants in an area covering just a few blocks.

The development in university education, especially in humanities, significantly contributed to the recovery of cultural life in Ostrava after 1990. The need for mutual meetings, discussions and presentations of the first literary, artistic and musical attempts led to the creation of the cult club Black Spider (Černý pavouk). It quickly became a popular place for young Ostrava artists and intellectuals. Other “competing” clubs were founded nearby shortly afterwards and each of them provides for its own specific atmosphere. 
 Whether you are looking for a little jazz or rock, dance clubs, karaoke, casinos, bowling, billiards, or just a quiet place to have a drink, you’ll find it all on today’ s Stodolní Street. Known around the Czech Republic as the “Street that Never Sleeps”, Stodolní’s reputation is growing all over Europe.




                                                        Ostrava’s Top 5:
       
  1. The Cathedral of The Divine Saviour. The second largest cathedral in Moravia and Silesia (after the basilica in Velehrad) is one of the most beautiful churches in the city. The three-aisled Neo-Renaissance basilica is completed with a semicircle apse with two 67m-high towers from 1889 (according to a project by Gustav Merett). The interior is the work of Max von Ferstel. Pope John Paul II founded the Ostrava-Opava diocese in May 1996, and in September of the same year, the basilica was upgraded to a cathedral. Since 1998, it has been equipped with a Neo-Baroque organ. It is often used as a venue for concerts, enhancing the musical experience with its acoustics and atmosphere.
  2. Silesian Ostrava Castle is a castle in Ostrava. It was originally built in the 1280s near the confluence of the Lučina and Ostravice rivers. The castle was built for military purposes due to its proximity to the Polish border. In 1534, the gothic castle was rebuilt into a renaissance chateau. It burned down in 1872 but was rebuilt. It was restored recently after many years of dilapidation, caused by coal mining under the castle. Today, the castle is one of the most important tourist attraction of the city.
    The castle held the Colours of Ostrava festival in 2007.
  3. The Viewing Tower of the New City Hall The Viewing Tower is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. On a clear day, it is possible to see the entire city, the nearby Beskydy Mountains, and even neighbouring Poland. The Viewing Tower has dominated the Ostrava skyline since it was built at the New City Hall (the largest in the Czech Republic) in 1930. The strict functionalist style of the tower creates, in the opinion of its designers, a noble beacon of concrete, metal and glass. The tower reaches 298.05 metres above sea level, or roughly 85.60 metres above ground level. The tower is equipped with an illuminated clock face, an elevator, and a lookout deck 72 metres above the ground. The Ostrava City Information Centre, located directly beneath the tower, provides all sorts of information about the city, in several languages.
  4. Antonín Dvořák Theatre in Ostrava is one of the opera houses in the Czech Republic. It is a part of the National Moravian Silesian Theatre, founded in 1918. The
    Neo-baroque building of the theatre was designed by architect Alexander Graf, realisation was made by Ostrava company Noe & Storch. Antonín Dvořák Theatre was the first building in Czechoslovakia using reinforced concrete beams. The interior was designed by sculptors of the Johann Bock & son company. The sculptures decorating the facade made Eduard Smetana and Leopold Kosiga. Drama and Music, two reliefs in the main foyer of the theatre, were donated by academic sculptor Helena Scholzová alias Helen Zelezny-Scholz. Antonín Dvořák Theatre was opened on 28 September, 1907, as German theatre. Up to 1919, the performances were solely German. Following the World War I, the theatre passed to the hands of Czechoslovak state and became a stage of the National Moravian Silesian Theatre. From 1949, the theatre was renamed to Zdeněk Nejedlý Theatre and in 1990 to Antonín Dvořák Theatre.
  5. The Ostrava museum was established by merging three older local museums in the Old Post-Office building after World War One. Since 1931 it occupies the Old Town Hall in Masaryk Square, the oldest existing example of original historic architecture typical of Ostrava's city core. On display are local history of Ostrava and a couple of other theme shows. Its singular feature and pride item is the 225 cm (88.58 in) tall indoor astronomical clock called the Mašek Clock. It boasts 51 different functional features and consists of four dials: clock, calender, astronomical and planetary dials.
Silesian Ostrava Castle






Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Oulu

Oulu




Oulu is a city and municipality in the region of Northern Ostrobothnia, in Finland. It is the most populous city in Northern Finland and the sixth most populous city in the country. It is one of the northernmost larger cities in the world. 

Oulu was founded on April 8, 1605, by King Charles IX of Sweden opposite to the fort built on the island of Linnansaari. This took place after favourable peace settlements with the Russians, which removed the threat of attack via the main east-west waterway, the river Oulu. The surrounding areas were populated much earlier. Oulu is situated by the Gulf of Bothnia, at the mouth of river Oulujoki, which is an ancient trading site. One possible source for the name Oulu is a word in the Sami language meaning 'flood water', but there are other suggestions. Oulu was the capital of the Province of Oulu from 1776 to 2009.

In 1822, a major fire destroyed much of the city. The architect Carl Ludvig Engel, chiefly known for the neoclassical (empire style) buildings around Helsinki Senate Square, was enlisted to provide the plan for the rebuilding of the city. With minor changes, this plan remains the basis for the layout of Oulu's town center. The Oulu Cathedral was built in 1832 to his designs, with the spire being finished in 1844.

Once known for wood tar and salmon, Oulu has evolved into a major high-tech centre, particularly in IT and wellness technology. Other prominent industries include wood refining, paper, and steel. The University of Oulu is located six kilometres north of the city center. The Oulu Airport, located in the neighboring municipality of Oulunsalo, is the second busiest in Finland.

The municipality of Ylikiiminki was merged with the city of Oulu on January 1, 2009. Oulu and the municipalities of Haukipudas, Kiiminki, Oulunsalo and Yli-Ii will be merged on January 1, 2013.

Oulu, somewhat surprisingly, is a place for eating pizza. For as low as €4-7 you can get a pizza with your choice of (usually three) toppings. Also there are many restaurants that have a pizza buffet for around €7-12 which includes a drink. Arguably, Finland's biggest pizzas are served in Oulu's Pizzeria Romeo. There is also the Pannu pizza joint in town - a bit more up-market pizzas for the discerning.

During the summer months, head down to the marketplace and have some fried vendace (muikku) or salmon in one of the stands there. A number of restaurants serving international cuisine or fast food are found in Oulu, including Indian, Greek, Mediterranean, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Thai and Chinese kitchens. For American style fast food there is McDonald's, Hesburger and Movie Diner which is decorated in the style of a 50's American diner.

An interesting little restaurant is Pannukakkutalo Renesans near the market square, serving dutch style pannekoeken, or for the unfamiliar, crêpes. More than a hundred of either sweet or savory toppings to choose from.

For finnish cuisine, head over the pedestrian bridge from the library to Pikisaari for Ravintola Sokeri-Jussi, offering traditional courses like Rössypottu (potatoes, blood and pork). Good experiences in a bit more upscale dining would be either Uleåborg or Puistola Dining, for a bit more affordable but still nice dining head near the Oulu Cathedral to Ravintola Hella.

Ravintola Toripolliisi offers gastropub-style fare in nice surroundings both inside and outside, just in the corner of the marketplace. During the lunch time, usually from 11am to 15pm, most restaurants serve food at reasonable prices.



                                                        Oulu’s Top 5:
       
  1. The Oulu Cathedral is an Evangelical Lutheran cathedral and the seat of the Diocese of Oulu. The church was built in 1777 as a tribute to the King of Sweden Gustav III of Sweden and named after his wife as Sofia Magdalena's church. The wooden structures burned in the large fire of the city of Oulu in 1822. The church was built again on top of the old stonewalls with famous architect Carl Ludvig Engel as the designer. The restoration works were completed in 1832, but the belfry was not erected until 1845.
  2. Tietomaa. The best way to keep one’s mind alert throughout your life is to constantly strive to learn more. An exceptional place for discovering new things is the Tiedekeskus Tietomaa. Theme exhibitions along with over 150 objects guarantee that you’ll have things to see and experience for the whole day. The giant movie theatre will capture audiences, along with the Sirius science store, Saturnus café-restaurant, and the observation tower, accessible by a glass elevator
  3. Observatory Café. By the bridges of Tuira, you can visit the remains of Oulu Castle, rebuilt in 1605 by decree of Sweden’s King Carl IX. In 1875, the Oulu Marine Institute’s Observatory was built on the rock base of the castle. These days the place is where the Observatory summer café stands. The basement holds a small exhibition about the castle’s history, produced by the Northern Ostrobothnia Museum.
  4. The Northern Ostrobothnia museum is a museum of cultural history. This provincial museum focuses on the city of Oulu and its the surrounding province Northern Ostrobothnia. The museum was founded in 1896 and it was maintained by a museum society until 1969, when the ownership was handed over to the city of Oulu. Between the years 1911–1929 the museum operated in an old wooden villa Villa Ainola, which was destroyed in a fire on July 9th, 1929. Some of the collections of the museum were also destroyed. Soon after the fire the current museum building was started to be built on the site of the old villa. The new stone house was completed in 1931. The building was designed by a Finnish architect Oiva Kallio. Oulu City Library was also located in the building until 1982.
  5. Turkansaari is an island in Oulujoki river with an open air museum in the Madekoski neighbourhood. The museum is run by Northern Ostrobothnia museum. Turkansaari island has been an ancient market place for Russian traders in Oulujoki river. The open-air museum was started out when the old church, from the year 1694, was restored on the island in 1922. Every summer there is a tar kiln lit to produce tar in the traditional way.









Monday, 18 June 2012

Nantes

Nantes




Nantes is a city in western France, located on the Loire River, 50 km (31 mi) from the Atlantic coast. Nantes is the capital city of the Pays de la Loire region and Loire-Atlantique département. Together with Vannes, Rennes and Carhaix, it was one of the major cities of the historic province of Brittany, and the ancient Duchy of Brittany. Culturally, Nantes is a Breton city.

After having been occupied by the Gauls and the Romans, Nantes was Christianised in the 3rd century. The city was successively invaded by the Saxons (around 285), the Franks (around 500), the Britons (in the 6th and 7th centuries) and the Normans, who laid waste to it in 843: "The city of Nantes remained for many years deserted, devastated and overgrown with briars and thorns." The Chronicle of Nantes continues until about 1050 and it recounts that Alain Barbe-Torte, who was the grandson of Alan the Great, the last king of Brittany who was expelled by the Norse, drove them out and founded the Duchy of Brittany.



When the Duchy of Brittany was united to the kingdom of France in 1532 by the Treaty of Plessis-Macé, Nantes kept the Parliament of Brittany for a few years before it was moved to Rennes. In 1598, King Henry IV of France signed the Edict of Nantes here, which granted Protestants rights to their religion.

During the 18th century, prior to abolition of slavery, Nantes was the slave trade capital of France. This kind of trade led Nantes to become the largest port in France and a wealthy city. When the French Revolution broke out, Nantes chose to be part of it, although the whole surrounding region soon degenerated into an open civil war against the new republic known as the War in the Vendée. On 29 June 1793 the town was the site of a Republican victory in this war. The Loire was the site of thousands of executions by drowning, including those using the method which came to be known as the Republican marriage, in which a man and a woman were stripped naked, tied together, and thrown into the river.

In the 19th century, Nantes became an industrial city. The first public transport anywhere may have been the omnibus service initiated in Nantes in 1826. It was soon imitated in Paris, London and New York. The first railways were built in 1851 and many industries were created. In 1940, the city was occupied by German troops. In 1941, the assassination of a German officer, Lt. Col. Fritz Hotz, caused the retaliatory execution of 48 civilians. The city was twice severely bombed by British forces, on 16 and 23 August 1943, before being liberated by the Americans in 1944.

Until the 1970s, Nantes' harbour was located on the Île de Nantes, when it was moved to the very mouth of the Loire River, at Saint-Nazaire. In the subsequent 20 years, many service sector organisations moved into the area, but economic difficulties forced most of these to close. In 2001, a major redevelopment scheme was launched, the goal of which is to revitalise the island as the new city centre.

In 2003, the French weekly L'Express voted Nantes to be the "greenest city" in France, while in both 2003 and 2004 it was voted the "best place to live" by the weekly Le Point. In August 2004, TIME designated Nantes as "the most livable city in all of Europe.


There's a vibrant atmosphere every night at dozens of cocktail bars, pubs and music bars in the Bouffay quarter. A few late-night clubs can also be found here, in the city centre and on the Ile de Nantes, especially at Hangar à Bananes. Most stay open until 2am, or 4am at weekends. The Lieu Unique in the city centre stages evening performances of drama, dance and classical music, and there's opera at Théâtre Graslin. 

île Feydeau
The main dining districts are the modern city centre and historic Graslin area. Both offer many affordable high-quality restaurants specialising in traditional French and regional cuisine. There's more sophisticated modern French or fusion dining too, notably at Nantes' premiere gastronomic name, L'Atlantide, on the waterfront of theSainte Anne quarter. Last orders for dinner are generally about 9pm or 10pm. Service is included in menu prices, so there's no need for an additional tip. 

Nantes has dozens of chic fashion stores on Rue du Calvaire and more luxurious Rue Crébillon, in the smart Graslin quarter. Here too is elegant 19th-century shopping arcade Passage Pommeraye. You can mostly find specialists in local gourmet treats like chocolates or berlingots boiled sweets in the Graslin quarter and city centre, and the daily Talensac Market in the Talensacarea. Most shops open Tuesday to Saturday about 9.30am-7pm, often with an early afternoon break.



                                                        Nantes’ Top 5:
       
  1. Nantes Cathedral or the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Nantes, is a Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral. The construction of the cathedral began in 1434, on the site of a Romanesque cathedral, and took 457 years to finish, finally reaching completion in 1891.  The reconstruction of the cathedral commenced during the early to mid-15th century during a time when Nantes and Brittany were commercially prosperous, initiating such large-scale architectural projects on a wide scale, partly owing to the opportunist and skilful diplomatic policy of John VI in a period of political turmoil and conflict with England.  The cathedral's foundation stone was laid on 14 April 1434, by John VI, Duke of Brittany and Jean de Malestroit, Bishop of Nantes (1417-1443). The first architect in charge was Guillaume de Dammartin who was later replaced by Mathurin Rodier. The construction began with the west façade, the aisles of the nave and its lateral chapels.
  2. The Château des ducs de Bretagne  is a large castle located in the city of Nantes; it served as the centre of the historical province of Brittany until its separation in 1941. It is located on the right bank of the Loire, which formerly fed its ditches. It was the residence of the Dukes of Brittany between the 13th and 16th centuries, subsequently becoming the Breton residence of the French Monarchy. The castle has been listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1862. Today the castle houses the Nantes History Museum.  Starting in the 1990s, the town of Nantes undertook a massive programme of restoration and repairs to return the site to its former glory as an emblem of the history of Nantes and Brittany. Following 15 years of works and three years of closure to the public, it was reopened on 9 February 2007 and is now a popular tourist attraction.
  3. île Feydeau The isle evokes the extravagant way of life the maritime traders led in the 18th century, when the port of Nantes was the biggest in France and one of the most important in Europe. Since 1926, it took nearly 20 years to fill-in the parts of the rivers Erdre and Loire that flowed round the ile Gloriette. From that moment on the isle lost its natural status and today strips of lawn bordered by granite show us where there was once the river. Someone forgot to tell the shipbuilders houses about the change and their sandy foundations no longer hold them up straight. Built mainly in limestone, decorated with ornamental façades and wrought-iron balconies with inner courtyards and vaulted staircases, the pomp of these houses indicates the importance of the city's former commercial trade. The buildings have two façades around an inner courtyard which opens on to the road and the quayside and from which rise beautiful stone staircases with wrought iron banisters. The balconies indicate how important a floor was; the ground floor was for commercial use only and is dominated by arched windows and reception rooms. Above were the finely decorated private apartments.
  4. The Musée Jules Verne is a museum dedicated to the French writer Jules Verne. The museum is housed in a beautiful late 19th century building, which overlooks the Loire River. While Verne never lived in the building, its surroundings reflect the atmosphere which influenced his work. The museum has a collection of artifacts, replicas of his inventions, and memorabilia inspired by his writings.
  5. Notre-Dame de Bon-Port is a basilica located in Nantes, constructed in 1846 by the architects Seheult and Joseph-Fleury Chenantais. Its official name is Église de Saint-Louis (Basilica of Saint-Louis), though it is rarely known by this name. The church is located at the Place du Sanitat, facing the Quai de la Fosse (Quay of the Pit). The dome which tops it is modelled on that of Les Invalides in Paris. At the top of the spire lies an archangel representing Saint Gabriel.


    The Château des ducs de Bretagne







Saturday, 16 June 2012

Nice

Nice




Nice is the fifth most populous city in France and the second-largest French city on the Mediterranean coast after Marseille.

The city is called Nice la Belle (Nissa La Bella in Niçard), which means Nice the Beautiful, which is also the title of the unofficial anthem of Nice, written by Menica Rondelly in 1912. Nice is the capital of the Alpes Maritimes département and the second biggest city of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region after Marseille.

The first known hominid settlements in the Nice area date back approximately 400,000 years; the Terra Amata archeological site shows one of the earliest uses of fire and construction of houses and flint findings are dated as around 230,000 years old. Nice (Nicaea) was probably founded around 350 BC by the Greeks of Massilia (Marseille), and was given the name of Νικαία ("Nikaia") in honour of a victory over the neighbouring Ligurians (Nike is the Greek goddess of victory). The city soon became one of the busiest trading ports on the Ligurian coast; but it had an important rival in the Roman town of Cemenelum, which continued to exist as a separate city until the time of the Lombard invasions. The ruins of Cemenelum are located in Cimiez, which is now a district in Nice. 

In the 7th century, Nice joined the Genoese League formed by the towns of Liguria. In 729 the city repulsed the Saracens; but in 859 and again in 880 the Saracens pillaged and burned it, and for most of the 10th century remained masters of the surrounding country.

During the Middle Ages, Nice participated in the wars and history of Italy. As an ally of Pisa it was the enemy of Genoa, and both the King of France and the Emperor endeavoured to subjugate it; but in spite of this it maintained its municipal liberties. During the course of the 13th and 14th centuries the city fell more than once into the hands of the Counts of Provence, but finally remained independent even if related to Genoa.

In 1388 the commune placed itself under the protection of the Counts of Savoy. Nice participated – directly or indirectly – in the history of Savoy up until 1860.

The maritime strength of Nice now rapidly increased until it was able to cope with the Barbary pirates; the fortifications were largely extended and the roads to the city improved. In 1561 Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, abolished the use of Latin as an administrative language and established the Italian language as the official language of government affairs in Nice.

During the struggle between Francis I and Charles V, great damage was caused by the passage of the armies invading Provence; pestilence and famine raged in the city for several years. It was in the nearby town of Villeneuve-Loubet that the two monarchs in 1538 concluded, through the mediation of Pope Paul III, a truce of ten years.

In 1543, Nice was attacked by the united Franco-Ottoman forces of Francis I and Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, in the Siege of Nice; and, though the inhabitants repulsed the assault which succeeded the terrible bombardment, they were ultimately compelled to surrender, and Barbarossa was allowed to pillage the city and to carry off 2,500 captives. Pestilence appeared again in 1550 and 1580.

In 1600, Nice was briefly taken by the duke of Guise. By opening the ports of the county to all nations, and proclaiming full freedom of trade (1626), the commerce of the city was given great stimulus, the noble families taking part in its mercantile enterprises.

Captured by Nicolas Catinat in 1691, Nice was restored to Savoy in 1696; but it was again besieged by the French in 1705, and in the following year its citadel and ramparts were demolished.

The treaty of Utrecht in 1713 once more gave the city back to the Duke of Savoy who was on that same occasion recognized as King of Sicily. In the peaceful years which followed the "new town" was built. From 1744 till the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) the French and Spaniards were again in possession. In 1775 the king, who in 1718 had swapped his sovereignty of Sicily for the Kingdom of Sardinia, destroyed all that remained of the ancient liberties of the commune. Conquered in 1792 by the armies of the First French Republic, the County of Nice continued to be part of France until 1814; but after that date it reverted to the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont.

By a treaty concluded in 1860 between the Sardinian king and Napoleon III, the County was again ceded to France as a territorial reward for French assistance in the Second Italian War of Independence against Austria, which saw Lombardy unified with Piedmont-Sardinia. The cession was ratified by over 25,000 electors out of a total of 30,700. Savoy was also transferred to the French crown by similar means. 
 Giuseppe Garibaldi, born in Nice, strongly opposed the cession to France (arguing that the ballot was rigged by the French). Italian irredentists considered Nice one of their main nationalist goals, along with Istria, Dalmatia, Corsica and the South Tyrol. In 1942–1943 the city was occupied and administered by Italy during World War II. 

The Monument to the Dead at the foot of Castle Hill
Modern Nice's main shopping street is av Jean Medecin. Designer label garments are as everywhere notoriously expensive but general fashion goods are really cheap compared to most other European countries, and Galleries Lafayette offers a lot under one roof. If that's not enough for you, they also have a huge superstore at Cap 3000 just next to St Laurent de Var past the airport (Lignes d Azur 52 and TAM bus 200, 400 and 500, stop La Passerelle). This is also home to Galleries Lafayette Gourmand, a food superstore to rival Londons Harrods and Selfridges. The wine selection is brilliant, especially aisles full of Rose de Provence, and there are a half dozen in-store lunch-time places.

Cheap bargain fashions are best sought at Ventimiglia's huge open street market each Friday, accessible by train from Nice Gare Ville to Ventimiglia a few kilometres over the Italian border. Just avoid the tempting fake luxury brands sold by the many street sellers. The war against counterfeiting is taken very seriously by the French border police and big fines are targeted at "innocent" tourists.

The central Nice Etoiles is available for anyone pining for a visit to a shopping mall, including three floors of an old British brand not seen for twenty years that is still big in France - C&A. More nostalgia can also be found in av Jean Medecins' "Damart" - yes, the people that gave you "thermoclactic underwear" to keep you warm in Winter are also big here. About as sensible as the local "Bronzage" tanning parlours.



The cuisine of Nice is especially close to those of Provence but also Liguria and Piedmont and uses local ingredients (olive oil, anchovies, fruit and vegetables) but also those from more remote regions, in particular from Northern Europe, because ships which came to pick up olive oil arrived full of food products, such as dried haddock.

Nice has a few local dishes. There is a local tart made with onions and anchovies (or anchovy paste), named "Pissaladière". Socca is a type of pancake made from chickpea flour. Farcis niçois is a dish made from vegetables stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, meat (generally sausage and ground beef), and herbs; and salade niçoise is a tomato salad with green peppers of the "Corne" variety, baked eggs, tuna or anchovies, and olives.

Local meat comes from neighbouring valleys, such as the sheep of Sisteron. Local fish, such as mullets, bream, sea urchins, and anchovies (alevins) are used to a great extent, so much so that it has given birth to a proverb: "fish are born in the sea and die in oil"

Waterfall at Colline du Chateau
If you go to Nice for bathing or general lounging on the beach, you may wish to think again. The beaches of Nice consist entirely of large flat stones ("gallets"). A few private beaches have added a layer of sand, but the free public beaches are a stony experience. Besides towels or mats, you should definitely bring sandals as walking on the stones can be painful, and a cushion, if you want to sit. Showers are provided (for free) on all public beaches and there is a beach volleyball area that is netted off with white sand.

Although the beaches are mainly pebbles it is important to note that many visitors enjoy the beautiful light blue sea for a swim. If you can bear to walk for few steps on the pebbles it is definitely an opportunity for swimming rather than playing in the water as the beach drops quickly and the tidal pull can be very strong, and not for beginners. Lying on the beach for a sun tan or relaxation is also manageable as long as you rearrange the rocks/pebbles to a comfy surface for sitting and lying. Private beaches offer various services from restaurants/bars to the rental of lounge chairs and towels.

The Basilica of Notre Dame


                                                        Nice’s Top 5:
       
  1. Nice Cathedral is the cathedral of the Diocese of Nice. It was built between 1650 and 1699, the year of its consecration. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint Reparata. It has been classed as a monument historique since 9 August 1906. The first church on the site was built in the early 13th century on land belonging to the Abbey of St. Pons and became a parish church in 1246. During the first half of the 16th century a series of acts gradually effected the transfer of the seat of the bishops of Nice from Cimiez Cathedral on the hill of the castle overlooking the city to the church of Saint Reparata which in 1590, after an official ceremony presided over by the then bishop, Luigi Pallavicini, and in the presence of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, was recognised as a chiesa-cattedrale. However, in 1649, judging the building too small, bishop Didier Palletis commissioned the architect Jean-André Guibert to produce a structure more in keeping with the importance of the city. The cathedral was declared a minor basilica on 27 May 1949.
  2. The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice at 33 av. des Baumettes was built in the former private mansion built in 1878 by the Ukrainian Princess, Elisabeth Vassilievna Kotschoubey. Named for the artist Jules Chéret who lived and worked in Nice during his final years, the museum opened in 1928. The museum houses a collection of art spanning the past four centuries. There are paintings by Chéret and other artists who lived and worked on the French Riviera such as Gustav Adolf Mossa, who for many years was curator of the museum. The small museum has sculptures by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, François Rude, Michel de Tarnowsky and Auguste Rodin, plus ceramic pieces by Pablo Picasso.
  3. The Observatoire de Nice (Nice Observatory) is located on the summit of Mont Gros. The observatory was initiated in 1879 by the banker Raphaël Bischoffsheim. The architect was Charles Garnier, and Gustave Eiffel designed the main dome. The 76-cm (30-inch) refractor telescope that became operational in 1888 was at that time the world's largest telescope. It was outperformed one year later by the 36-inch (91-cm) refractor at the Lick Observatory at University of California, Santa Cruz.
  4. The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice is a Roman Catholic Neo-Gothic basilica situated on the Avenue Jean-Médecin in the centre of Nice. The basilica, built between 1864 and 1868, was designed by Louis Lenormand and is the largest church in Nice, but is not the cathedral. Inspired by Angers Cathedral, it is built in the Gothic style. Its construction was motivated by a desire to frenchify the city after the County of Nice was annexed to France from Italy, and at the time Gothic buildings were supposed to be characteristically French. Its most prominent features are the two square towers 65m high, which dominate the east front together with a large rose window featuring scenes of the Assumption of Mary.
  5. The Colline du Chateau overlooking the Baie des Anges and harbour offers a spectacular vantage point overlooking the city. Not much is left of its ruined castle besides crumbling walls. Still, climbing up the stairs to reach the platforms 90 metres above Nice is well worth the view. There is also an ascenseur (lift) which will take you three quarters of the way up. Be aware that the castle "park" closes at around sunset. Expect to be escorted outside if you stay longer.









Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Nicosia

Nicosia




Nicosia, known locally as Lefkosia, is the capital and largest city in Cyprus, as well as its main business center. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Nicosia remained the only divided capital in the world, with the southern and the northern portions divided by a Green Line. It is located near the center of the island, on the banks of the Pedieos River.

Nicosia is the capital and seat of government of the Republic of Cyprus. The northern part of the city functions as the capital of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a disputed breakaway region whose independence is recognized only by Turkey, and which the rest of the international community considers as occupied territory of the Republic of Cyprus since the Turkish Invasion in 1974.

Nicosia has been in continuous habitation since the beginning of the Bronze Age 2500 years BC, when the first inhabitants settled in the fertile plain of Mesaoria. Nicosia later became a city-state known as Ledra or Ledrae, one of the twelve kingdoms of ancient Cyprus built by Achaeans after the end of the Trojan War. Remains of old Ledra today can be found in the Ayia Paraskevi hill in the south east of the city. We only know about one king of Ledra, Onasagoras. The kingdom of Ledra was destroyed early. Under Assyrian rule of Cyprus, Onasagoras, was recorded as paying tribute to Esarhaddon of Assyria in 672 BC. Rebuilt by Lefkonas, son of Ptolemy I around 300 BC, Ledra is described as a small and unimportant town, also known as Lefkotheon. The main activity of the town inhabitants was farming. During this era, Ledra did not have the huge growth that the other Cypriot coastal towns had, which was primarily based on trade.


In Byzantine times the town was also referred to as Lefkousia and also as Kallinikisis. In the 4th century AD, the town became the seat of bishopship, with bishop Saint Tryphillius (Trifillios), a student of Saint Spyridon.

After the destruction of Salamis by Arab raids in 647, the existing capital of Cyprus, Nicosia became the capital of the island around 965, when Cyprus rejoined the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines moved the islands administration seat to Nicosia, primarily for security reasons as coastal towns were often suffering from raids. Since then it remains as the capital of Cyprus. Nicosia had acquired a castle and was the seat of the Byzantine governor of Cyprus. The last Byzantine governor of the Island was Isaac Comnenus who declared himself emperor of the island and ruled the island from 1183–1191.


Selimiye Mosque
On his way to the Holy Land during the Third Crusade in 1187, Richard I of England fleet was plagued by storms. He himself stopped first at Crete and then at Rhodes. Three ships continued on, one of which was carrying Queen Joan of Sicily and Berengaria of Navarre, Richard's bride-to-be. Two of the ships were wrecked off Cyprus, but the ship bearing Joan and Berengaria made it safely to Limassol. Joan refused to come ashore, fearing she would be captured and held hostage by Isaac Comnenus, who hated all Franks. Her ship sat at anchor for a full week before Richard finally arrived on the 8th of May. Outraged at the treatment of his sister and his future bride, Richard invaded.

Richard laid siege to Nicosia. Richard finally met and defeated Isaac Comnenus at Tremetousia. Richard became ruler of the island but sold the island to the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar ruled the island having bought it from Richard the Lionheart for 100.000 gold byzantiums. Their seat was the castle of Nicosia. On Easter day on the 11th of April 1192 the people of Nicosia revolted and drove the Knights Templar off the city. Having driven the Knights Templar away, fearing their return the Nicosians demolished the castle of the city almost to its foundations.

Guy of Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, bought Cyprus from the Knights Templar and brought many noble men and other adventurers, from France, Jerusalem, Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch and Kingdom of Armenia, to the island. The Frankish rule of Cyprus started from 1192 and lasted until 1489. During this time, Nicosia was the capital of the medieval Kingdom of Cyprus, the seat of Lusignan kings, the Latin Church and the Frankish administration of the island. During the Frankish rule, the walls of the city were built along with many other palaces and buildings, including the gothic Saint Sofia Cathedral. The tombs of the Lusignan kings can be found there. 

In 1489 Cyprus was captured by the Republic of Venice. Nicosia was their administrative centre and the seat of the Venetian Governor. Since the threat from the Ottomans was visible, the Venetian Governors of Nicosia emphasized in their letters the need for all the cities of Cyprus to be fortified. In 1567 Venetians built the new fortifications of Nicosia, which are well-preserved until today, demolishing the old walls built by the Franks as well as other important buildings of the Frankish era including the King's Palace, other private palaces and churches and monasteries of both Orthodox and Latin Christians. The new walls took the shape of a star with eleven bastions. The design of the bastion is more suitable for artillery and a better control for the defenders. The river Pedieos used to flow through the Venetian walled city. In 1567 it was later diverted outside onto the newly built moat for strategic reasons, due to the expected Ottoman attack. 

On July 1 st 1570 the Ottomans invaded the island. On the 22nd of July, Piale Pasha having captured Paphos, Limassol and Larnaca marched his army towards Nicosia and laid siege to the city. The city managed to last 40 days under siege until its fall on 9 September 1570. Some 20,000 residents died during the sige and every church, public building, and palace was looted. After its siege it was reported that the walls that were ruined, Nicosia retained very few inhabitants. The main Latin churches were converted into mosques, such as the conversion of Saint Sofia Cathedral into the Selimiye Mosque. From 1570 when the Ottomans took over Nicosia, the old river bed through the walled city was left open and was used as a dumping ground for refuse, where rainwater would rush through clearing it temporarily.

The House of Hadjigeorgakis Kornessios
At the time of British administration, Nicosia was still contained entirely within its Venetian walls. Although full of private gardens and amply supplied with water carried to public fountains in aqueducts, the streets remained unpaved and just wide enough for a loaded pack animal. In 1881, macadamized roads through the town were completed to connect with the main roads to the coastal towns but no roads were asphalted until after World War I. On 5 July 1878 the administration of the island was officially transferred to Great Britain. On 31 July 1878, Garnet Wolseley, the first High Commissioner, arrived in Nicosia. He immediately established a skeletal administration by sending officers to each district to supervise the administration of justice and obtain all possible information about the area. Garnet Wolseley immediately established a Post Office at his camp at Kykko Metochi monastery outside Nicosia. Garnet Wolseley lived at ‘Monastery Camp' until a prefabricated residence had been built for him near Strovolos on the site of today's Presidential Palace.

In 1955 an armed struggle against the British rule began aiming to unite the island with Greece, Enosis. The struggle was led by EOKA, a Greek Cypriot nationalist military resistance organisation, and supported by the vast majority of Greek Cypriots. The unification with Greece failed and instead the independence of Cyprus was declared in 1960. During the period of the struggle, Nicosia was the scene of violent protests against the British rule.

In 1960 Nicosia became the capital of the Republic of Cyprus, whose constitution was based on the co-operation of the island's two main communities, Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In December 1963, during the aftermath of a constitutional crisis, skirmishes broke out between Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. Nicosia was divided into Greek and Turkish Cypriot quarters. The dividing line, which cuts through the city, was named Green line because the pen used by the United Nations officer to draw the line on a city map was green.

On the 15th July 1974, there was an attempted coup d'état led by the Greek military junta to unite the island with Greece. The coup ousted president Makarios III and replaced him with pro-enosis nationalist Nikos Sampson.

On the 20th July 1974, the Turkish army invaded the island on the pretext of restoring the constitutional order of the Republic of Cyprus. However, even after the restoration of constitutional order and the return of Archbishop Makarios III to Cyprus in December 1974, the Turkish troops remained on the island occupying the northeastern portion of the island. The invasion was given the codename Operation Attila and included two phases.

The second phase of the Turkish invasion was performed on the 14th August 1974, where the Turkish army advanced their positions, eventually capturing a total of 37% of Cypriot territory including the northern part of Nicosia and the cities of Kyrenia and Famagusta. The fighting left the island with a massive refugee problem. Out of a population of 600,000, an estimated 200,000 Greek-Cypriots had been uprooted and forced to flee south of the Attila line, while an estimated 60,000 Turkish-Cypriots remained south of the Attila line, uncertain of their fate.

On February 13, 1975 the Turkish Cypriot community declared the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus in the area occupied by Turkish forces. On November 15, 1983, Turkish Cypriots proclaimed their independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Makarios III
The Turkish invasion, the continuous occupation of Cyprus as well as the self-declaration of independence of the TRNC have been condemned by several United Nations Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council. The Security Council is reaffirming their condemnation every year.

Despite the division Nicosia has managed to become a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city, rich in history and culture that combines its historic past with the amenities of a modern city.

Without a doubt, the 1000 year old capital should be on every visitor's agenda. It lies roughly in the centre of the island, within easy reach of the other towns. A day in Nicosia will be a day well spent. To walk through the old city is to step backwards in time. Narrow streets and old houses with ornate balconies jut from weather beaten sandstone walls, and craftsmen in small workshops practice trades unchanged for centuries.

Apart from the unique places of interest left from the ancient times with memories of many generations, the present Nicosia is a dynamic metropolitan city with highly developed infrastructure and an attractive modern look. The uniqueness of such combination makes the capital of Cyprus a place worth knowing and certainly a place worth visiting.


The traditional shopping district runs along Ledra street and its tributary roads within the medieval walls of the city. A bustle of traditional jewelers, shoe and fabric shops give a blend of Middle Eastern and European feel.Laiki Geitonia is a pedestrianised neighbourhood that has been preserved in its original architecture and is the best quarter if you are after souvenir shops. Big chains (e.g. Marks and Spencer, Zara etc) line the more modern Makariou Avenue. Stasikratous street has evolved into a mini local version of 5th Avenue/Bond street with expensive brands such as Armani and Versace stores. All the above are within walking distance of each other.

There are no real department stores in a purist sense, but Ermes (this chain inherited and re-branded the old local Woolworths) has several mini department stores across the island and a couple on Makarios Avenue. Alpha-Mega and Orphanides are local hypermarket chains (worthy equivalent of a Tesco or Wal-Mart) where it would be difficult not to find what you were after. Most of their stores however, are located in the suburbs.

Ledra Street
Traditional Cypriot cuisine is a melting pot of south European, Balkan and Middle Eastern influences. You will find most Greek, Turkish and Arabic dishes, often with a local name or twist. It is now decades since Cyprus has established itself as a tourist hotspot and as a consequence many of the local chefs have trained in Europe and elsewhere, bringing their experiences back home with them. As such most international cuisines are well represented (but unfortunately so are McDonalds & gang). In summary good food is not difficult to come by and most westerners will find dining quite affordable.

The shopping district is dotted with local tavernas and the likes of KFC and Pizza Hut. Virtually all restaurants allow smoking, (and unfortunately some don't even have a non-smoking area, and most restaurants with the non-smoking area don't enforce it). Al fresco dining is a luxury that can be enjoyed for over half the year. It would be a crime not to try (at least once) a mixed pork kebab with a chilled local KEO or Carlsberg (which is brewed locally and tastes different to the same brand overseas) beer. Carnivores are spoilt for choice, whilst vegetarians might find it a tad difficult.

The food is high quality and somewhat cheaper than in the most Western capitals. Snacks should be available from €2-4, kebabs from €7 and whole meals from €15-20. Local KEO beer costs around €4 a pint in bars, local wines starting from €10 a bottle. Hygienic standards are followed and even foods that usually are not recommended in the Mediterranean destinations, such as mayonnaise and salad-based foods, can be safely eaten.

The substantial student population supports a flourishing industry of bars, pubs and nightclubs which keep the old city alive. Cypriots are true socialites and spend most of their time out as opposed to at home. In line with other south European countries going out is unheard of before 10-11pm. There is no official nightlife reference point but Makarios avenue turns into a catwalk cum cruising strip for Porsche owner show-offs. If you are after a more traditional flavour (generally catering for an older population) you could try a bouzouki bar.

Bars will stock the usual international brands of spirits. Local giants KEO beer and Carlsberg (the only other brand brewed on the island) have a universal presence. Local wines are now making a comeback after years of medioaracy and decline. Commandaria is the pride of Cyprus' dessert wines. The local spirit zivania (very similar to grappa) is usually drank as shots straight from the freezer. Cyprus brandy was introduced about 150 years ago and differs from other continental brandies in its lower alcohol content (around 32%). As such it is is often drank by locals whilst eating (and before and after) and is the basic ingredient for a local cocktail, The Brandy Sour. Local Ouzo is also another favourite.

Coffee culture is a way of life in Nicosia. It is the place to see and be seen in the afternoon to early evening. In the summer months, tables spill on to the streets. The posh cafes line Makarios avenue, intertwined with shops. Starbucks and Costa coffee have invaded the island but local equivalents also survive. For a change don't stick to the latte/capuccino, try a greek coffee. In the summer you must order a frappe (iced coffee).






                                                        Nicosia’s Top 5:
       
  1. Ayios Ioannis Cathedral. Is within the Archbishopric, Arch. Kyprianos Square. built by Archbishop Nikiforos in 1662, the recently restored 18th century wall paintings depict biblical scenes and the discovery of the tomb of Saint Barnabas at Salamis. Dedicated to Ayios loannis (Saint John). The archbishopric is the centre of the Cyprus Orthodox Church, the new Archbishopric built in a neo-byzantine style in 1960, contains the private suite of the late Archbishop Makarios. Open to the public only on special occasions.
  2. Selimiye Mosque or Agia Sofia Cathedral, formerly Cathédrale Sainte Sophie, is located in the Turkish controlled northern part of the walled city of Nicosia. It is the main mosque in the city. Possibly constructed on the site of an earlier Byzantine church. The building belongs to the pure Gothic style of the beginning of the 12th century. Due to the building’s large scale, lack of money and various historical events it took 150 years for the cathedral to be built and still, it was never entirely completed since the southwest tower and the portico’s upper floor were never constructed. The cathedral’s first construction phase began during the first years of Frankish rule (possibly in 1209) and already by 1228 the eastern part of the building was completed. By the end of the 13th century the side aisles and a large part of the middle aisle were completed. From 1319 to 1326 the Latin archbishop Giovanni del Conte or Giovanni de Polo was responsible for the completion of the middle aisle, the construction of the roof buttresses, the cathedral’s façade and the building of a chapel (which functioned as a baptistery) in the western part of the southern wall. He also adorned parts of the cathedral with frescoes and sculptures. In November 1326 the cathedral’s official inauguration took place.
  3. The Venetian City Walls. This fortification complex has a circumference of 3 miles, and contains eleven pentagon-shaped bastions named after eleven families, pillars of the Italian aristocracy of the town, who donated funds towards the construction of the walls and the three gates, Porta San Domenico Paphos Gate, Porta Guiliana -Famagusta Gate, and Porta del Proveditore -Kyrenia Gate-. Experts contemporary to the construction of the walls have considered them as a prime example of 16th century military architecture. Their design incorporates specific innovative techniques, marking the beginning of a renaissance era in fortification construction. These include the positioning of gates to the side of the adjoining bastions, so they could be more easily protected in times of siege, and leaving the upper half of the wall unlined with masonry, so as to increase its ability to absorb the impact from cannon shot.
  4. Cyprus Museum. This museum was established to collect, study and display archaeological artifacts from all over the island. Some of the exhibits are as old as 8,500 years. The museum is arranged in chronological order. The first hall contains pottery and implements from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods whilst the other rooms trace the history of Cyprus through the ages from the Bronze Age, Hellenic Period, Mycenaean times, and Roman Period to the earlyByzantine. A unique feature of the museum lies in the basement, where several graves rest in a dark cellar complete with skeletal remains and grave adornments that have been reconstructed.
  5. The House of Hadjigeorgakis Kornessios. Originally a Venetian Building. It is probably the most important 18th century building in Nicosia. It was once the house of the Dragoman Hadjigeorgakis Kornessios. The house is being restored and will house the Cyprus Ethnographic Museum. Hadjigeorgakis Kornessios house has won the Europa Nostra award in 1988.


    Venetian City Walls