The modern suburbs offer little to the visitor besides good shopping, but as you approach the centre from the north, the one-way system does a wide loop and sweeps round to bring you in through the fine medieval walls at the Kyrenia Gate, which now stands isolated like a traffic island. It looks more like a bewildered little chapel than a major gateway, as cars and trucks whistle past either side of it, through the two breaches in the walls made by the British in the 1930s. An Arabic inscription above the gate reads, "O Muhammad, give these tidings to the Faithful; Victory is from God and triumph is very near. O opener of doors, open for us the best of doors." In 1878 when the British annexed the island of Cyprus, it was here that the Turkish doorkeeper permitted the British officers to enter the capital. This colourful character, Ali the Cock, as he was known, also made history by living to the age of 121. Today, the gate has found a new purpose as the home of the city’s tourist office, one of the best on the island. Ask for a map and you’ll receive postcards, brochures – and the map – as well. Upstairs there’s a few photos of Lefkosa from yesteryear. The office claims to be open Monday-Friday 08.30-16.30, Saturday and Sunday 09.00-13.00. Just outside the gate, near the Ataturk statue, are a couple of huge iron cannons, two of several which are to be found displayed here and there in public gardens or on the ramparts. They were British, made in about 1790 at the Woolwich Arsenal, and were used in the Napoleonic wars in Egypt. They found their way here after they were acquired by the Turks. Lefkosa has been a walled city since medieval times, but the walls in their current manifestation are the work of the 16th-century Venetians, who where intent on bolstering Cyprus in its role as a major outpost in the Mediterranean to secure their trade routes. The medieval Crusader walls before then had been tall with high towers to defend against catapults and arrows, but with the coming of gunpowder, the priority in wall design was to make maximum use of cannons. Hence the Venetian walls are not high, but colossally thick, to allow cannons to be rolled up the ramparts. The population in Venetian times had shrunk, and along with it, the circumference of the Venetian walls shrank from 5km to 3km. Historical records show that the demolition this entailed meant that many Gothic buildings were razed and some 80 Crusader churches lost. The wide moat area below the walls was never intended for water, but rather as the open space where, unprotected, the enemy soldiers could be fired at as they approached. In times of peace, the town’s dung and rubbish was tossed over the walls as natural fertiliser and good yields of corn were obtained. Today these open spaces serve well as football grounds or public parks, or occasionally, alas, as dumping grounds. From the air they still define the outline of the walls very clearly as you fly over Lefkosa. At regular intervals around the circumference of the walls are 11 huge bastions, six of them now in the Turkish sector, five in the Greek. Of the three fortified gates, the Famagusta Gate and the Paphos Gate, now in the southern, Greek sector, were always larger than the northern Girne Gate, reflecting the relative importance of the size of the ports in Venetian times. The Venetians, belying the beauty and grace of their architecture, were nevertheless unsympathetic rulers. Having built their magnificent fortifications, they proceeded to bleed the islanders of every last drop of revenue, even resorting to such ruses as selling the serfs their own freedom. A Christian abbot at the time spoke for the rueful islanders when he wailed: "We have escaped from the grasp of the dog [the Lusignan king] to fall into that of the lion [the Venetian lion of St Mark]". The Venetians acquired the island through diplomatic trickery, manoeuvring to have the Lusignan James II marry the daughter of a Venetian patrician, Catherine Comaro. Her husband, and later her son were then poisoned, leaving the hapless queen nominally in charge of the island. In 1489 she was persuaded to retire to Asolo and hand the island over to the Venetian Republic. The Venetian nobles then ruled for the next hundred years, till they lost it to the Turks in 1571. Unless you are feeling energetic, it is best to drive a quick circuit of the walls on the internal ring road. Forking east (left) on entering the Kyrenia Gate, you can follow the northern perimeter and pass some older-style houses before the road ends at the slogans of the Green Line barricading the street ahead and bisecting the Flatro Bastion. Near the Loredano Bastion on this perimeter street, it is also worth knowing about the patisserie selling cakes and good ice cream, invaluable on hot and dusty afternoons.