For the first time in 30 years, Greek and Turkish Cypriots are freely able to cross the line that divides their island.

There were emotional scenes at both Greek and Turkish border checkpoints in the Cypriot capital Nicosia. To shouts of encouragement and applause from onlookers, hundreds of Greek Cypriots crossed into the Turkish-controlled north of the island, while only a few yards away, Turkish Cypriots headed in the other direction.

It is the first time since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north of the island in response to a Greek-backed coup, that members of either community have been authorized to freely cross the so-called U.N. Green Line. Only a few days ago such scenes would have been unthinkable.

After the collapse of recent U.N. efforts to reunify the island, and the accession last week of only the Greek south to the European Union, the divide in Cyprus seemed deeper than ever.

But earlier this week, Rauf Denktash, the veteran Turkish Cypriot leader who blocked the U.N. reunification plan, announced the easing of travel restrictions between ethnic Greeks and Turks.

The only condition on his decree was that people from both sides would have to return by midnight.

Authorities on the Greek side are deeply suspicious of Mr. Denktash's move, claiming that the border controls inherent in the scheme legitimize the partition of the island. But they have not blocked the plan, which some are calling a Mediterranean echo of the destruction of the Berlin Wall.

And although only a few hundred Cypriots crossed the breach in their island, rather than the hundreds of thousands who scrambled to pull down the Berlin Wall, the shockwave of the event rippled throughout the island.

People wept as they waited to cross the no-man's land, which has been off limits for decades. As the first visitors from either side completed the bureaucratic formalities they were applauded by crowds of onlookers.

Many younger Cypriots, who have never lived without the Green Line, said they could not imagine life without the barrier.

Hassan, a student from the northern port town of Kyrenia who crossed to the south, said he was looking for a job.

But older Cypriots will have different reasons to travel. They can return to homes they have not seen for decades.

An estimated 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled to the south before the advancing Turkish army in 1974. Meanwhile tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots left their homes in the south and headed in the other direction.

Now, like 51-year-old Greek Cypriot customs officer Paschalis Nicolaou, they can return to visit the homes they abandoned. With his eyes brimming with tears, Mr. Nicolaou said he was heading north to his birthplace in Famagusta.

Many more Cypriots are sure to follow his example in the days and weeks ahead.