Selimiye Mosque, Nicosia

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Selimiye Mosque (Greek: Τέμενος Σελιμιγιέ Témenos Selimigié; Turkish: Selimiye Camii), historically known as Cathedral of Saint Sophia or Ayasofya Mosque (Turkish: Ayasofya Camii), is a former Christian cathedral converted into a mosque, located in North Nicosia. It has historically been the main mosque of the city. The Selimiye Mosque is housed in the largest and oldest surviving Gothic church in Cyprus (interior dimensions: 66 X 21 m) possibly constructed on the site of an earlier Byzantine church.

Selimiye Mosque
Τέμενος Σελιμιγιέ / Selimiye Camii
Nicosia 01-2017 img20 View from Shacolas Tower.jpg
AffiliationSunni Islam (1570–present)
DistrictLefkoşa District (de facto)
Nicosia District (de jure)
Year consecrated1326
LocationNorth Nicosia
State Northern Cyprus (de facto)
 Cyprus (de jure)
Selimiye Mosque, Nicosia is located in Cyprus
Selimiye Mosque, Nicosia
The location of Saint Sophia Cathedral in Cyprus
Selimiye Mosque, Nicosia is located in North Nicosia
Selimiye Mosque, Nicosia
Selimiye Mosque, Nicosia (North Nicosia)
Geographic coordinates35°10′35″N 33°21′52″E / 35.1765°N 33.3645°E / 35.1765; 33.3645Coordinates: 35°10′35″N 33°21′52″E / 35.1765°N 33.3645°E / 35.1765; 33.3645

In total, the mosque has a capacity to hold 2500 worshipers with 1750 m2 available for worship.[1] It is the largest surviving historical building in Nicosia, and according to sources, it "may have been the largest church built in the Eastern Mediterranean in the millennium between the rise of Islam and the late Ottoman period".[2] It was the coronation church for the Lusignan kings of Cyprus.


Earlier Byzantine churchEdit

The name of the cathedral derives from Hagia Sophia, meaning "Holy Wisdom" in Greek. According to Kevork K. Keshishian, the dedication of the cathedral to the Holy Wisdom is a remnant from the Byzantine cathedral, which occupied the same place.[3] However, such a cathedral is absent from Byzantine sources and is not associated with any excavated ruins. In spite of this, there is evidence of the existence of such a cathedral; an 11th-century manuscript mentions the existence of an episcopal church dedicated to Holy Wisdom in the city.[4]

Construction and Frankish periodEdit

It is not certain when the construction of the cathedral began, it may have gradually replaced its Greek predecessor or may have been built alongside it.[5] The date cited for the laying of the foundation stone is 1209, and the Latin archbishop of Nicosia responsible for this is named in various sources as Thierry[6] or Albert.[5] There are claims of evidence indicating an earlier beginning date,[7] and even the Knights Templar may have made some effort for the construction of a new cathedral during their rule in 1191-92. Under the early years of the reign of Archbishop Eustorge de Montaigu (reigned between 1217 and 1250), the construction is thought to have accelerated.[5] By 1228, the church was "largely completed" under Eustorge.[6] Although it is held in some sources that the arrival of Louis IX of France in Cyprus in 1248 for the Seventh Crusade gave a boost to the construction,[8] there is no evidence to support this claim.[5] By the end of the 13th century the side aisles and a large part of the middle aisle were completed.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the cathedral was damaged twice by earthquakes, in 1267 and 1303.[8][5] The 1267 earthquake caused significant delay in the construction of the nave.[9] Archbishop Giovanni del Conte, oversaw the completion of the nave and the narthex until 1319[7] and that of the middle aisle, the buttresses of the chevet, the façade and a chapel/baptistery from 1319 to 1326. He also initiated the adornment of the cathedral with frescoes, sculptures,[10] marble screens and wall paintings. In 1326, the cathedral was finally consecrated and officially inaugurated with a great celebration.[9][10]

During the Lusignan rule, the cathedral served as the coronation church of the Kings of Cyprus. After the Genoese conquest of Famagusta, it also became the coronation church of the Lusignan Kings of Jerusalem, and finally, the Lusignan Kings of Armenia.[11] It also housed the Trials of the Knights Templar in 1310.[2]

Even though the cathedral was inaugurated, the building was still incomplete and in 1347 Pope Clement IV issued a papal bull for the cathedral to be completed and renovated since it had been affected by an earthquake. The bull gave a 100-day period of indulgence for those who participated in the completion of the cathedral,[12] however, this effort did not achieve its aim.[3] The portico and the northwest tower were constructed at this time and the three gates of the western wall were embellished with structures. Kings, prophets, apostles and bishops were depicted at the reliefs in three arches.[10]

In 1359, the Papal legate in Cyprus, Peter Thomas, assembled all Greek Orthodox bishops of Cyprus in the cathedral, locked them in and began preaching in order to convert them. The sound of shouting coming from the cathedral gathered a large crowd outside the cathedral, which soon began a riot to free the priests and burned the doors of the cathedral. The king ordered the rescue of the preacher, who would later be reprimanded, from the mob, and the freeing of the bishops.[13]

In 1373, the cathedral suffered damage during the Genoese raids on Cyprus.[8]

Venetian periodEdit

Cathedral of Saint Sophia, seen as a central feature in a map of Nicosia, created in 1597

In 1491, the cathedral was severely damaged by an earthquake. A visiting pilgrim described that a large part of the choir fell, the chapel of sacraments behind the choir was destroyed and a tomb that purportedly belonged to Hugh III of Cyprus was damaged, revealing his intact body in royal clothing and golden relics. The golden treasure was taken by the Venetians.[14] The Venetian Senate ordered the repair of the damage and set up a special commission, which taxed an annual contribution of 250 ducats from the archbishop. The repair was very extensive and thorough; in 1507, Pierre Mésenge wrote that despite the fact that the building was "totally demolished" 20 or 22 years ago, it then looked very beautiful.[15]

When the Venetians built their walls of Nicosia, St. Sophia's Cathedral became the center of the city. This reflected the position of medieval European cathedrals, around which the city was shaped.[16]

Ottoman periodEdit

Selimiye Mosque in 1878, immediately after the British takeover of the city

During the 50-day Ottoman siege of the city in 1570, the cathedral provided refuge for a great number of people. When the city fell on 9 September, Francesco Contarini, the Bishop of Paphos, delivered the last Christian sermon in the building, in which he asked for divine help and exhorted the people. The cathedral was stormed by Ottoman soldiers, who broke the door and killed the bishop along with others. They smashed or threw out Christian items, such as furniture and ornaments in the cathedral[3] and destroyed the choir as well as the nave.[17] Then, they washed the interior of the mosque to make it ready for the first Friday prayer that it would host on 15 September, which was attended by the commander Lala Mustafa Pasha and saw the official conversion of the cathedral into a mosque.[3] During the same year, the two minarets were added, as well as Islamic features such as the mihrab and the minbar.[18]

The first imam of the mosque was Moravizade Ahmet Efendi, who hailed from the Morea province of the Ottoman Empire.[19] All imams maintained the tradition of climbing the stairs to the minbar before Friday sermons while leaning on a sword used during the conquest of Nicosia to signify that Nicosia was captured by conquest.[20]

Following its conversion, the mosque became the property of the Sultan Selim Foundation, which was responsible for maintaining it. Other donors formed a number of foundations to help with the maintenance.[21] Okçuzade Mehmed Paşa, a governor of Cyprus in the 16th century, donated a shop to provide income for the Sultan Selim Foundation; other donations include estates in the countryside and other shops. The foundation employed trustees (mütevelli) to look after the funds and transferred 40,000 akçe annually to Medina in late 16th century.[22] During the Ottoman period, it was the largest mosque in the whole island, and was used weekly by the Ottoman governor, administrators and elite for the Friday prayers. In the late 18th century, a large procession that consisted of the leading officials in the front on horseback, followed by lower-ranking officials on foot, came to the mosque every Friday.[21]

The Friday prayers also attracted a large number of Muslims from Nicosia and surrounding villages. Due to the crowds frequenting the mosque, a market developed next to it and the area became a trade center. The area around the mosque became a center of education as well, with madrasahs such as the Great Madrasah and Little Madrasah being built nearby.[17]

In 1874, upon rumours that Sultan Abdülaziz would visit Nicosia, a new gate, called the "Aziziye Gate" after the sultan, was built at the east end of the building. The gate was an enlargement of a pre-existing Lusignan window on the site, and pieces of marble and other material from the surroundings were used in its construction. The decorations of the gate include an inscription by calligrapher Es-Seyyid Ahmet Şukri Efendi, the calligraphy teacher of the local high school. The inscription consists of a praise of the sultan and mentions that the gate was built on Abdülaziz's orders by Nazif Pasha. It is surrounded by two ornate figures depicting cypress trees. The gate was afterwards used as the women's entrance, and later fell into disuse, remaining permanently locked.[23]

British rule and 20th centuryEdit

In 1949, the imams stopped climbing to the minaret to read the adhan and started using loudspeakers instead. On 13 August 1954, the Mufti of Cyprus officially renamed the mosque "Selimiye Mosque", in honor of the Ottoman sultan Selim II, who headed the empire during the conquest of Cyprus.[3]


The choir does have a surrounding ambulatory, but does not possess any apse chapels. This follows the plan of Notre Dame de Paris, which had in turn influenced a number of other cathedrals, including Notre Dame de Mantes at Archbishop Thierry's hometown. The transepts consist of chapels that have the same height as that of the aisles, and are attached to the second bays to the west of the ambulatory. This follows the plan of the Poitiers Cathedral, which is the episcopal church of the French town of Lusignan, the hometown of the House of Lusignan. The north and south entrances had initially been in the fourth bay of the nave, although the Ottoman-built Aziziye Gate is at the eastern end of the cathedral. The initial arrangement is thought to have been modelled after Sens Cathedral.[5]

Burials in the churchEdit

(burials there when it was still a church)


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Lefkoşa'ya 3657 mümin aranıyor". Haber Kıbrıs. 20 February 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  2. ^ a b Schabel 2012, p. 158.
  3. ^ a b c d e Keshishian, Kevork K. Nicosia: Capital of Cyprus Then and Now (2nd ed.). Nicosia: The Moufflon Book and Art Centre. pp. 173–8.
  4. ^ Papacostas 2006, p. 11.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Schabel 2012, p. 155.
  6. ^ a b Coureas, Nicholas (1997). The Latin Church in Cyprus, 1195–1312 (illustrated ed.). Ashgate. p. 211. ISBN 9781859284476. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  7. ^ a b Riley-Smith, Jonathan (1999). A History of the Crusades. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191579271.
  8. ^ a b c Güven 2014, p. 424.
  9. ^ a b Setton 1977, p. 168.
  10. ^ a b c "Latin Cathedral of St. Sofia (Selimiye mosque)". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  11. ^ Schabel 2012, p. 159.
  12. ^ Papantoniou, Giorgos; Fitzgerald, Aoife; Hargis, Siobhán, eds. (2008). POCA 2005: Postgraduate Cypriot Archaeology : proceedings of the fifth annual Meeting of Young Researchers on Cypriot Archaeology, Department of Classics, Trinity College, Dublin, 21–22 October 2005. Archaeopress. p. 18. ISBN 9781407302904.
  13. ^ Andrews 1999, p. 67.
  14. ^ Setton 1977, p. 169.
  15. ^ Enlart, Camille (1987). Gothic art and the Renaissance in Cyprus (illustrated ed.). Trigraph Limited. p. 88. ISBN 9780947961015.
  16. ^ Erçin, Çilen (2014). "The Physical Formation of Nicosia in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus from 13th to 15th Century" (PDF). Megaron Journal (in Turkish). Yıldız Teknik University. 9 (1): 34–44. doi:10.5505/megaron.2014.25733. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  17. ^ a b Gürkan, Haşmet Muzaffer. Dünkü ve Bugünkü Lefkoşa (in Turkish) (3rd ed.). Galeri Kültür. pp. 117–8. ISBN 9963660037.
  18. ^ Alasya 2002, p. 363.
  19. ^ Bağışkan, Tuncer (31 May 2014). "Lefkoşa Şehidaları (1)". Yeni Düzen. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  20. ^ Fehmi, Hasan (1992). A'dan Z'ye KKTC: sosyal ve ansiklopedik bilgiler. Cem Publishing House. p. 129. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  21. ^ a b Bağışkan 2013.
  22. ^ Jennings, Ronald C. (1993). Christians and Muslims in Ottoman Cyprus and the Mediterranean World, 1571-1640. New York and London: New York University Press. p. 54.
  23. ^ Bağışkan 2005, p. 101.
  • Alasya, Halil Fikret (2012). "Kıbrıs". İslam Ansiklopedisi (in Turkish). 25. Türk Diyanet Vakfı. pp. 383–4.
  • Andrews, Justine M. (1999). "Santa Sophia in Nicosia: the Sculpture of the Western Portals and Its Reception". Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies. UCLA. 30 (1): 63–90. Retrieved 15 March 2015.CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  • Bağışkan, Tuncer (2005). Kıbrıs'ta Osmanlı Türk Eserleri (in Turkish). Turkish Cypriot Association of Museum Lovers.CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  • Bağışkan, Tuncer (21 September 2013). "Ayasofya (Selimiye) Meydanı ve Mahallesi" (in Turkish). Yeni Düzen. Retrieved 15 March 2015.CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  • Güven, Suna (2014). "St Sophia in Nicosia, Cyprus: From a Lusignan Cathedral to an Ottoman Mosque". In Mohammad, Gharipour (ed.). Sacred Precincts: The Religious Architecture of Non-Muslim Communities Across the Islamic World. BRILL. pp. 415–429. ISBN 9789004280229. Retrieved 17 March 2015.CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  • Olympios, Michalis (2018). Bulding the Sacred in a Crusader Kingdom: Gothic Church Architecture in Lusignan Cyprus c. 1209 - c. 1373. Turnhout: Brepols. ISBN 978-2-503-53606-4.CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  • Papacostas, Tassos (2006). "In search of a lost Byzantine monument: Saint Sophia of Nicosia". Yearbook of Scientific Research Centers. Nicosia: 11–37. Retrieved 15 March 2015.CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
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  • Plagnieux, Philippe; Soulard, Thierry (2006). "Cathédrale Sainte-Sophie". In de Vaivre, Jean-Bernard; Plagnieux, Philippe (eds.). L'art gothique en Chypre (in French). Paris: L'Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres.
  • Schabel, Chris (2012). "Frankish & Venetian Nicosia 1191-1570: Ecclesiastical Monuments and Topography". In Michaelides, Demetrios (ed.). Historic Nicosia. Nicosia: Rimal Publications. ISBN 9789963610440.CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  • Setton, Kenneth M.; Hazard, Harry W. (1977). "The Arts in Cyprus". A History of the Crusades: The Art and Architecture of the Crusader States (PDF). University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 165–207. ISBN 9780299068240. Retrieved 18 March 2015.

External linksEdit