Nicosia, Selimiye Mosque (formerly Cathedral of Saint Sophia)
Nicosia, Selimiye Mosque (formerly known as Cathedral of St Sophia)
Selimiye Mosque, historically known as Cathedral of Saint Sophia, is a former Roman Catholic cathedral converted into a mosque, located in North Nicosia. It is the main mosque of the city.
The Cathedral of St Sophia was the largest and oldest Gothic church of Cyprus. It was built on the ruins of an older Byzantine church between 1209 and 1570 and was never completed. The church was built in the French Gothic style with influences from eastern Latin art. The church, built from Kyrenia limestone, is the best example of early Gothic art in Cyprus. It was here that the Lusignan kings were crowned and many of them were buried here. When the Ottomans occupied Nicosia in 1570, they converted the Cathedral into a mosque. Two minarets were added in the western part.
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. In total, the mosque has a capacity to hold 2500 worshipers with 1750 m2 available for worship. 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". It was the coronation church for the Lusignan kings of Cyprus.
The name of the cathedral derives from Ayia Sophia, meaning "Holy Wisdom" in Greek. The dedication of the cathedral to the Holy Wisdom may be a remnant from the Byzantine cathedral, which occupied the same place.
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. 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 or Albert.
After a 50-day Ottoman siege, the city fell on 9 September 1570. During the same year, the two minarets were added, as well as Islamic features such as the mihrab and the minbar.
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.