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Nestling in a corner of Nicosia’s history June 10, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Cyprus, Cyprus Nicosia, Greek Taste Local.

One of the first parts of the old town to be successfully renovated was Chrysaliniotissa. The area has its own crafts centre which now boasts a very European coffee shop.

A lot has been written about the historical centre of Nicosia, the old inhabitants, its multicultural image, not as new as one might think, and the efforts for its revival. Part of that effort is the Nicosia Master Plan and the rehabilitation of the inner city, which includes Chrysaliniotissa and the area’s craft centre. The area takes its name from the oldest Byzantine church in Nicosia, dedicated to “Our Lady of the Golden Flax” that was built in 1463 by the Lusignan Queen Eleni Paleologina, whose origins were Greek. The Chrysaliniotissa revitalisation project was selected as the first to be implemented because of the outstanding architectural character the area displayed, and taking a look around proves just that.

An Icelander has now been added to the long list of foreigners that have fallen in love with the old part of Nicosia. Inga Hadjipanayi came to the island as a tourist in 1983, a young teenager not knowing what the future held. More than two decades later, Inga is still here, trying her hand at an exciting new challenge. The mother of four has never worked in her life and venturing into business on her own was daunting to say the least. “When the first customer came through the door of the Coffee Nest, I was petrified,” she said. The small, quaint coffee shop come diner started operation under Inga’s management back in November 2006 at the Chrysaliniotissa Craft Centre. “A few years before, I came with a friend to tour the area and the nearby sights and fell in love with the whole concept of the centre as well as the area. At the time, an old lady was running the coffee shop and just the basics were on offer.” Nothing came of it until recently when the shop was vacated. The establishment is found at one end of the complex, neighbouring the craft shops.

The Coffee Nest’s main door, flanked by a tall window on each side, opens to the road and the slow daily grind of the ageing residents. The east-facing door opens on to a little square and wooden pergola with a canvas ceiling, offers solace from the summer heat. A small number of tables and chairs scattered on the stoned surface beckon the weary traveller to quench his thirst. The shop also offers wholesome food at reasonable prices, friendly faces and good service. It provides an alternative menu to the stale and unimaginative dishes that major outlets offer and also has the advantage of being a venue steeped in history.

Inga plans on holding knitting club meetings at the shop as she is an accomplished knitter too. The idea is to attract likeminded people that crave some companionship or knitting guidance. An art exhibition of prints by English-born Alexandra Storer is currently displayed on the coffee shop’s walls.

Outside the coffee shop, an easel with a green slate board states the day’s special dish and once indoors, the sparkling clean, open, stainless steel kitchen is in full view. On the working surface an array of homemade cakes and pies look delectable. Inga is promoting a healthy, all natural ingredients menu. Some of the pies and cakes on offer are local favourites such as the olive cake and the tahini pie while others are more European, such as the quiches and fish cakes or the vegetarian lasagne. “When I first started, it was going to be mainly sandwiches but it is anything but that now. I much prefer cooking vegetarian or the odd chicken fillet or fish cake for light lunches,” said Inga. The shop is open from 9am to 6pm but now the summer is upon us will stay open until 9pm. “Once the sun disappears behind the rooftops, there is nowhere I’d rather be, there’s such a lovely breeze.”

The centre as a whole has something of a 50s neighbourhood feel to it as one of the artisans at the centre explained: “it reminds me of my hometown, Kyrenia. I can hear the Christian church bells tolling and after a while I can hear the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from the nearby mosque.” Inga says she feels “at home” and “right to be here” and if it wasn’t for some minor problems with the hot weather everything would be perfect. “The first five years were the worst. I couldn’t bear the heat but now it’s a lot better,” she said.

The complex does not really allow for expansion plans but Inga is happy with the way things are: “I really like; it’s more intimate and cosy this way. But I’d like to expand to more tables and chairs in the square. I would love to organise poetry evenings or other affiliate subjects. The evenings in the walled city are magical and especially here at the Craft Centre.”

Chrysaliniotissa Craft Centre, 2 Dimonaktos Street, Nicosia. For info call 22 344674.

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