The Büyük Han, or Great Inn, was one of the first great public works to be initiated after the Ottoman conquest. It may have been some kind of statement of intent on the part of the Ottomans that the new rulers intended to maintain Cyprus as a long-term investment in its great mercantile tradition. These kinds of hans were dotted all over the Ottoman Empire as the staging posts for the caravanserais that brought goods to the administrative centres from the empire’s outlying regions.
The basic style is the same as all hans:-an upper storey consisting of small rooms, each with a small hearth where the merchants stayed and an attached room on the lower floor for the merchants to keep their camels and horses, or a place to barter their goods.
It is constructed on a square plan and has sixty-eight rooms entered from vaulted galleries. On the road facing front are ten shops. In the central courtyard raised on marble columns is a small mescit or chapel under which is the ablutions fountain.
During the British administration, an unintended use was found for sixty-eight small rooms when the authorities used it as a prison. Soon after though, it was put to a use more in keeping with its original design when it became a hostel for the destitute, a role it fulfilled until the 1960s. Political events on the island led to the neglect of the ageing building and it was in a sorry state until the extensive restoration work that was carried out right through the 1990s culminating in its re-opening in 2002 as the fine building we see today.
The han now is a busy hive of activity, with cafés and restaurants providing traditional Cypriot dishes and several art and craft shops many producing and selling local wares.
The immediate area around Büyük Han is a pedestrianised area teeming with all manner of shops, restaurants and cafés. This is mainly around the well-signposted Arasta Street area, taking in the recently restored old municipal market or bandabuliya . Change is occurring here quite rapidly — new cafés and artisanal shops are opening up all the time helped by municipal renovation and restoration projects. It’s an exciting time to visit old Nicosia!