Cyprus part 1 Salamis and Famagusta

Monday 22nd January 2018, Exeter
Browsing a journal shortly before Christmas we noticed an offer we could not ignore for an incredibly cheap trip to Cyprus visiting some of the ancient sites of the country north of the Green Line dividing Cyprus into two sectors.

Cyprus has had a troubled history. It was long a British protectorate and crown colony providing us with a useful base in the Eastern Mediterranean. Back in the 1950s the writer Laurence Durrell was living in the northern part of the country, employed as part of the British civil service and at the forefront to observe the rapidly growing unrest between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

The British, working with the advice and mediation of the charismatic Archbishop Makarios, were heavily involved in negotiations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots as a solution to the general discontent was sought. The Greek Cypriots wanted Enosis - unification with Greece, demanding that the island become part of Greece. Unsurprisingly this was completely unacceptable to the Turkish Cypriots. At the time the Archbishop was the only person who seemed able to bring both sides to the negotiating table and stave off full scale violence. Durrell describes this period in his book "Bitter Lemons," as well as the charming nature of both the Greeks and Turks living in Cyprus towards an outsider. Both communities had enormous respect at the time for the British and expected them to find a peaceful solution. As time dragged on however both became increasingly frustrated with the situation and violence began to put the lives of the British living in Cyprus at serious risk. Laurence Durrell was recalled to London and the uneasy situation simmered on until independence from Britain in 1960 with Archbishop Makarios as President. Matters came to a head once more erupting into full scale violence in 1974 when, with no lasting solution any nearer the Turks finally invaded the north, claiming the need to safeguard the minority Turkish Cypriot population, fearful for their lives as the Greek movement for Enosis strengthened and became ever more violent. Cyprus was thus in a state of civil war, the Greeks and the Cypriots at each other's throats. Eventually in 1964 UN forces were called in to keep the peace and have remained ever since. A green line was drawn across the map of the capital, Nicosia, with the occupying Turkish troops to the north of the line and the Greek population to the south. There followed a mass exchange of population as Turks fled north to occupy the homes of Greeks moving south, in turn occupying the former homes of the fleeing Turkish population. This is pretty much the situation as we found it when we visited. Turkish troops are still very much in evidence in the north of the country and the Turkish population seems to avoid travelling into the southern part of the island. There is a checkpoint in the centre of Nicosia and although we crossed over to explore the south of the city our Turkish guide and driver remained in the northern sector.

Since that unhappy time of internal conflict, when many Greek and Turkish Cypriots came to settle in Britain away from the internal conflict raging in their homeland, a uneasy peace has existed with the Green Line now cutting the northern part of the island off completely from the south. Enosis has not happened and the north is now de facto Turkish. With the rest of the world refusing to accept the invasion by Turkey or that country's right to hold the north, it has become isolated, the churches and cathedrals have been turned into mosques, the names of towns changed and no signs anywhere that Greek was, until the 1970s, the official language of the whole island. We have also learned that Northern Cyprus has become an off-shore tax haven for Turkey, whose coastline is just visible on the horizon. Luxury goods are transported from the mainland to huge warehouses on the quayside at Famagusta (now called Gazimagosa in Turkish.) Northern Cyprus, we were told, has a zero rate tax system, so wealthier Turkish people may fly over for the weekend and purchase goods more cheaply than they could in mainland Turkey! There are other things banned in mainland Turkey too, such as prostitution and gambling. Such delights are now just a cheap weekend flight away from the mainland with well appointed hotels and casinos available. Flights from Antalya on the mainland, to purchase a silk carpet and have an inexpensive luxury weekend are very popular, we are told, and a lucrative source of income for northern Cyprus.

Cyprus would be a difficult trip for us to make with Modestine and with driving becoming more difficult for me with each passing year, we seized the opportunity to fly out to northern Cyprus for an eight day cultural visit to some of the ancient Greek and Roman sites of the northern sector. The only remaining available places were in the week up to Christmas. So, for considerably less than the normal return flight from Gatwick we spent eight days on the island in impeccable 5 star hotels with seaview balconies, along with excellent breakfasts. For a small supplement that cannot have covered the cost we were offered an excellent choice of world cuisine suppers. Indeed, the only Turkish lires we needed was for tipping and a few lunches during the daytime. We were transported in a comfortable coach and had the services of an excellent guide who spoke good English. We managed to find the opportunity to slip away on our own quite a bit though sometimes we found the constant company of fellow travellers irritating and even rather embarrassing. Most though were very pleasant. We were fortunate in that we are used to sorting ourselves out and quickly discovered how to use the local buses to slip off on our own. We also made our way independently around the cultural sites where possible, rejoining the group back at the coach. The contrast of a few days in a luxury hotel with the cramped conditions in Modestine that are our usual lot, made us wonder why we continue with our masochistic, cramped and uncomfortable method of travelling! She, meanwhile, dozed peacefully in the front garden of my aunt's home in Purley waiting for our return.

Flying out we were obliged to land in mainland Turkey before taking off once more for the short hop across from Antalya to Ercan in Northern Cyprus. This we discovered is because only Turkey recognise Northern Cyprus as a Turkish state so there are no direct flights. It was particularly annoying when returning home, flying out from Ercan at 3am to land in mainland Turkey thirty minutes later, (and with the local time difference apparently thirty minutes before we'd acually left Cyprus!) Then we all unloaded, checked through customs and collected our unloaded luggage, waited two hours in a draughty hall and them had to go through customs comtrol all over again and wait for our luggage to be reloaded. We returned to our same seats vacated over two hours earlier. Having been woken at 2am for our flight we were exhausted by the time we finally landed at Gatwick to face the long drive to be home with our family for Christmas Day.

Below are a selection of photos that summarise our experience of Turkish Cyprus. We hope they evoke memories for those of you who know this small country. For anyone interested in the atmosphere of the country we would recommend Victoria Hislop's novel "The Sunrise" which evokes the atmosphere of fear and the naive assumption by Cypriots on both sides, that the matter would be swiftly resolved and all would be well on this sundrenched island with its sandy beaches and luxurious lifestyle. Once the invasion came, Greeks and Turks who had lived amicably and formed friendships, and no doubt marriages, found themselves on opposite sides of an ever widening gulf of fear. For the most part I found the novel gripping and the unhappy atmosphere of the island depicted in a vivid and comprehensible manner. In addition, much of Laurence Durrell's account in Bitter Lemons gives a more prosaic, factual account of the situation back in the 1950s as seen by an outsider caught up in the political turmoil.

Salamis, Northern Cyprus
It was 10pm when we finally arrived at the huge 5 star Hotel Salamis. While the coach was unloading our luggage we made our way across the huge central hotel lobby, complete with a pyramid of acrobatic Christmas Santas there to greet us with a horrible rendition of "Silent Night", in search of the restaurant.

Entrance foyer, Hotel Salamis, northern Cyprus

Casino, Hotel Salamis, northern Cyprus

We were all starving having eaten very little all day. There was so much choice it was difficult to choose. Fortunately we would be at Salamis for several nights so could make different choices each evening. Food was included but drink prices, even for water, were high. Indeed, the north has been starved of water since the Greek sector cut off the fresh water supply to the north. Now the sparse amount that falls on the northern mountains is supplemented by a pipeline from mainland Turkey. A huge reservoir there pumps water under the sea while in Cyprus it is then pumped up into another reservoir to serve the needs of agriculture as well as the people.

Our room was quite luxurious with an ensuite bathroom larger than our bedroom back home. Out on our moonlit balcony the sound of the sea breaking onto the darkened beach, the mild temperature and the twinking lights along the shoreline gave a touch of magic to the end of our first, weary day. We slept deeply in our huge and comfortable bed.

View from our hotel room, Salamis, northern Cyprus

Next day we discovered breakfast was as varied and exciting as supper had been. We were reluctantly dragged away from our second bowl of Turkish yogurt to board the coach for our first cultural visit, to the nearby Greek/Roman city of Salamis. Here we were given a general introduction and them we escaped to explore the site on our own. The site is extensive with a harbour and cemetery and was once a major coastal city. Founded in the 11th century BC it was a strategic place along the early trade routes. Today there remains evidence of hypocausts, civic buildings, a huge water cistern and even a communal lavatory.

Bathhouse, Salamis, northern Cyprus

Pavement in the Palaestra, Salamis, northern Cyprus

Columns in the Palaestra, Salamis, northern Cyprus

View across the Palaestra, Salamis, northern Cyprus

Baths showing hypocaust, Salamis, northern Cyprus

Communal latrine, Salamis, northern Cyprus

Water cistern, Salamis, northern Cyprus

Theatre, Salamis, northern Cyprus

View from the top of the theatre, Salamis, northern Cyprus

Later we were driven to the northern area of Nicosia (Lefkosa in Turkish) where we were left to explore the city at leisure and sort out lunch. We were first driven along the northern side of the green line which followed the back streets across the city, winding between people's gardens and down side roads as it wove its way across the city. There was surely more to deciding its route than an arbitrary squiggle from a British officials green biro! Once we left the coach and our driver we entered the city's Venetian walls by the Kyrenia gate just behind the square with its statue of Ataturk. We walked into the city past the Mevleve Tekke, the house of the whirling dervishes which is now a museum. This took us to Sarayonu Square with its granite column brought from Salamis by the Venetians. We continued to the Buyuk Han the Great Inn or Caravanserai, built by the Turks in 1572. This has now been well restored and is currrently used as a craft centre and restaurant.

Kyrenia gate with statue of Ataturk, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Venetian walls, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Mevleve Tekke, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Ataturk Square, also known as Sarayonu Square, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Buyuk Han the Great Inn or Caravanserai, 1572, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Next we visited the Selimiye Camii, formerly the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Sofia constructed between 1209-1326 by the Lusignian dynasty, who purchased Cyprus from Richard the Lion Heart in the 12th century and ruled until 1489 when the Venitians took over. The cathedral was converted to a mosque following the Turkish invasion of 1370. Beside this unlikely looking mosque stands the Bedesten, which used to be the Catholic church of St. Nicholas of the English, later used as a grain store and now an arts centre.

Selimiye Camii, formerly the Catholic Cathedral of St. Sophia, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Selimiye Camii, formerly the Catholic Cathedral of St. Sophia, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Selimiye Camii interior, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Selimiye Camii interior, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Old street in Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Bedesten, formerly the Catholic church of St Nicholas, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

Heading south we gradually made our way towards the Ledra Street crossing point into the Greek sector. Along the way we stopped for lunch at a table on the street outside a typical kebab house. The food did not differ greatly from a lamb Kebab in Clapham or Margate, it was pretty much universal street food, served with warm pitta bread and with dangerously hot green peppers! It was cheap and plentiful.

Ledra Crossing, Nicosia, northern Cyprus

The Green line, originally divided just Nicosia but now divides the entire island into roughly two thirds Greek and one third Turkish. It is patrolled by UN peacekeeping forces. At the checkpoint passports are scanned and people are permitted to cross the line on foot. There are apparently now several other crossing points and freedom of movement, on foot at least, is considerably more straightforward. It is then necessary to follow a path between the buildings which is effectually a No-man's Land beween the two parts of the city. It is then necessary to complete similar formalities before entering the Greek part of the city.

As we left the Turkish city behind, the minaret on the side of the stunningly lovely cathedral of St. Sofia was wailing out its summons to the muslim community to come to prayer. As we approached the Christian part of the city a tanoy was playing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. In No-man's Land we had the dubious benefit of both simultaneously! Once through the checkpoint we came face to face with the Berlin Wall Kebab House! That just about sums up Cyprus! You have to laugh or you'd cry.

Berlin Wall kebab house, Nicosia, southern Cyprus

We found ourselves face to face with the Panagia Faneromeni Church, built in 1792, a large, impressive church whose origins date back to the middle Byzantine period. Here a group of young people were singing Christmas carols. Nearby Father Christmas was sitting beside a large, decorated christmas tree handing out present to passing children and ladies were serving soft drinks and little cakes. A lady, with a small dog wearing a bright red Father Christmas jacket and little hat trimmed with white fur, stood watching.

Panagia Faneromeni Church, 1792, Nicosia, southern Cyprus

A walk around the streets watching the Greeks eating their kebabs and falafals at street tables in the hot december sunshine soon convinced us that apart from the Greek language immediately replacing the Turkish, both on signs and heard around us on the streets, the Greek and Turkish citizens of Nicosia are very much alike. Things may be a little smarter in the Greek sector but generally we found it more interesting in the Turkish part. It is sad that they should be so mistrustful of each other when they are more alike than they are different. Perhaps if they could all see themselves as Cypriots first and foremost and Greek or Turkish secondarily, they could begin to reunite and come to trust each other again. Basically they are all delightful, wonderfully friendly people with far more in common than they would chose to recognise. Big efforts have been made to resolve their differences and a year or two back Kofi Annan came up with a plan that was overwhelmingly accepted by the Turkish speaking community but equally rejected by the Greek community. It had looked hopeful but while the plan is not dead, it appears to be moribund.

Back at the coach we felt footsore and weary. It had been very hot around the city. Many of our fellow travellers were looking fresher than us having spent their time browsing the shops or enjoying chilled drinks in some of the many bars and cafes. Several had been buying presents to take back home. On the way back we stopped off at the monastry of St. Barnabas, a wonderful building now used as a museum and containing stunning examples of early ceramics and saintly icons.

Monastery of St.Barnabas, northern Cyprus

Ceramics museum, St. Barnabas, northern Cyprus

Ceramics museum, St. Barnabas, northern Cyprus

Ceramics museum, St. Barnabas, northern Cyprus

Ceramics museum, St. Barnabas, northern Cyprus

Ceramics museum, St. Barnabas, northern Cyprus

Iconostasis, St. Barnabas, northern Cyprus

Depiction of the discovery of the preserved body of St. Barnabas still holding the gospel of St. Matthew, northern Cyprus

18th December 2017, Hotel Salamis, Cyprus
Once again we had to rush breakfast but not before we'd carried out our quality control on scrambled eggs with toast and mushrooms followed by figs with honey and more delicious yogurt. The coach was waiting to whisk us in comfort up towards the easten tip of the island. Known as the Karpaz Peninsula it projects out as a long, thin strip of land stretching north east from the main body of the island. This area is rural, sparsly populated and covered in scrub and shrubs. The far tip has become a sort of donkey sanctuary. Apparently when a donkey is no longer fit to work it is turned loose by its owner to take its chances against wild animals. There are certainly lots of donkeys around and they have taken to breeding, unbothered by humans or natural preditors. They all look incredibly health and seem to be living the life of Riley. They are a source of curiosity to be used to advantage by tourist guides.

Wild donkey, Karpaz Peninsula, northern Cyprus

We were visiting in winter time, in the spring the area may have been filled with lovely flowers but generally we found the ground dry and bare with rather scabby shrubs and very little colour.

Karpaz peninsula, northern Cyprus

It was though a sunny day and a quiet, peaceful area with the sea frequenetly visible on either side. On the beaches turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in the warm sand. Golden beach is said to be the most beautiful in Cyprus which makes the turtles vulnerable to the competition of tourism. The government has recently decided to close the area, at least during the season of egg laying and hatching. Currently though we were allowed onto the beach and even managed a splash in the waves and a stroll along the wet sand. Sadly we thought the beach in serious need of a clean up, finding it littered with plastic water bottles and decomposing junk. Winter tides were blamed but my feeling is that it is part of the current, world-wide problem with junking rubbish into the seas. Sooner or later it will wash up on some idylic seashore.

On our way to the furthest tip of the panhandle of Cyprus, known as the Karpaz Peninsula, we stopped in a little village so our guide could take coffee with some of his friends who were waiting for him. We left the others and took a stroll around the village on our own. It boasted its regulation statue of Kemil Ataturk on the main street.

Statue of Kemil Ataturk, Karpaz peninsula, northern Cyprus

Seeing both a church and a mosque up a steep slope on the edge of the village we climbed up to investigate.

Dipkarpaz orthodox church, Karpaz peninsula, northern Cyprus

Dipkarpaz mosque and school, Karpaz peninsula, northern Cyprus

We were intercepted by the Muezzin who was very sociable, whipping out his mobile phone and saying something in Turkish. His phone immediately translated it as "Welcome, are you visiting and would you like to see inside our mosque?" We nodded and quickly discovered that with a Samsung mobile there is no such thing as a language barrier! We were lead to the muslim school and mosque where we met several young boys who were eager to sell us bags of carrots to feed to the donkeys further up the peninsula. No wonder they all look so healthy and happy! For a few Turkish liras we purchased a couple of large bagfuls from two five year olds. There then followed an untranslated dispute between the boys and the Muezzin about whether the money belonged to him or them! It was all very good natured and more interesting than having a coffee might have been.

Photo of us taken by our friendly Muezzen, Karpaz peninsula, northern Cyprus

Interior of the mosque, Dipkarpaz, Karpaz peninsula, northern Cyprus

Next we visited the mosque and once we were alone, nipped round the back of the mosque to use the perfectly clean Turkish loo. As I came out an American girl passed me going in. She gave a loud squark and called after me asking what it was? I explained that it was a Turkish toilet and she looked aghast! I suppose staying in hotels it is only in such a situation as this that she would actually discover how much of the rest of the world lives!

We found our way blocked by donkeys as we reached the tip and it was with difficulty that we managed to get past and park. They clustered around and within seconds our bags had been emptied. Suddenly we were popular with everyone as fellow travellers begged for our carrots to feed to the donkeys! I was on a mission and happy to let them take over my carrots. I headed to the seashore where, according to our travel book we should find the holy well of St Andrew. He had been shipwrecked here and came ashore where he struck the rock with his staff. Fresh water gushed forth and he lived on here as a hermit for the rest of his life. The water is reputed to have healing powers and is said to be able to restore sight! I bathed my eye with copious amounts of cold, crystal clear water and filled a bottle to take away with me. I dutifully bathed my eye all week but it has sadly made no difference.

Church of St. Andrew, Karpaz peninsula, northern Cyprus

Jill bathes her eye at the shrine of St. Andrew, Karpaz Peninsula, northern Cyprus

Church of St. Andrew, Karpaz Peninsula, northern Cyprus

St. Andrew, Karpaz Peninsula, northern Cyprus

Our guide had friends all over the island and we were used as a sort of currency. He told us of a lovely restaurant where we would go for what turned out to be a delicious lunch of sea bream in butter with fennel, lemon and herbs served with salad. It sounded, and was, delicious. However, it was also very expensive with no option to have anything cheaper. We had the choice of waiting with a rubbling tummy in the coach, or pay up. We were serve with glasses of chilled white wine as we entered with no indication what we would even be charged for it! Our total lunch bill cost about a third of the complete holiday cost for one of us! Be warned! As our guide of course, he ate free. It was though a delicious meal and the atmosphere was happy but it was all rather underhand.

We continued to a miniature park where scale models of all the important historic sites, mosques, churches and tourist attractions of northern Cyprus are laid out in miniature. We already seem to have seen many of them!

Miniature village with scale model of Bellapais monastery, northern Cyprus

Our final port of call for the day was an echo village selling honey and jams, hand crafted jewellery and hand made garments. We wanted nothing so wandered off to explore the village while we waited. I got scratched by a large cat who seemed to mistake me for a mouse and hurled itself at my ankle! No long- term harm done though its claws really hurt. Back at the hotel we went for a walk on the deserted beach in the dusk after supper where I paddled in the sea around 9pm in the bleak midwinter! It was mild, almost tepid and soothing to my cat scratches.

Paddling at dusk in the Mediterranean, northern Cyprus

On our fourth day, Tuesday 19th December, we transferred in the evening to the northern coast, to a smaller hotel beyond the outskirts of Kyrenia.

During the day we were driven, unsuspectingly, to the outskirts of Famagusta where our driver turned off into the port area. Here were all the warehouses of imported, duty free goods. We'd been hijacked and driven to a huge carpet warehouse and show room. This, we now realised, was the reason our trip was so cheap and subsidised by the Turkish government! We found it all too complicated to fully understand what was happening but decided as there was nothing we could do about it we'd just go with the flow and enjoy looking at the lovely carpets. Fortunately we are unlikely to be influenced however hard the attempt to persuade us, having experienced and survived the souks of Morocco. We were shown into a huge room and learned about the technique of handweaving the carpets and how to tell the quality, the number of stiches per centimetre, whether silk, mercerised cotton or wool. The silk carpets were really intended as an investment and represented many months of a weaver's work. They were priced accordingly. All had their different qualities and we found some of them quite beautiful. All would have been unsuitable in our little home which is, as those who know us appreciate, a sanctuary for inherited bits of dated mahogany furniture, fitted carpets that have been down since we moved here some forty years ago and the rest comes mainly from charity shops and junk shops. We were at little risk of temptation, preferring to spend our pension on our grandchildren and travelling and admiring the artistic products of the countries we visit. We rarely feel tempted to purchase new things, particularly as we become older.

A team of carpet throwers then sent a kaleidoscope of rugs flying through the air to completely cover the floor. They looked superb - and the carpets were amazing too! We once had a rather nice traditional rug inherited from an uncle of Ian. Too big for our house Kate now has it. Something similar in a more realistic size flew across the room to land at our feet. Our interest was immediately registered and the display finished, we found ourselves fielding questions from a couple of salesmen.

Carpet salesmen in Famagusta, northern Cyprus

Innocently we asked them questions. It was most enjoyable. Did they get eaten by moths? Might they be affected by the British climate? What if something was spilled on them? Were they colourfast? The vendors were charming with good English. We advised them not to waste time with us, we were enjoying the chat but as we really did not intend buying they may prefer to concentrate on somebody else. They assured us they were happy to answer our questions and please to continue with them. We quickly realised they had already decided which one they would sell us and continuously returned to it. Well, we had warned them. For well over an hour they pressed the carpet upon us. During this time the price kept dropping until it was little more than half the original offer. At no stage did we mention any figure, simply assuring them it was a lovely carpet, we liked it but would not be buying it unless it could actually fly. We said we could admire something without having any desire to own it. Eventually they offered it together with another, smaller one with free delivery to Exeter. We still said no and they then did give up. We felt so sorry for them, they had worked very hard but as we said, we had warned them beforehand. They were very nice men and we felt so uncomfortable to have disappointed them. It's hard to pretend complete boredom when we were actually eager to look at the many different carpets displayed around the walls.

We then went outside into the sunshine to wait with other escapees in our group. Eventually our guide reappeared saying we would be continuing our journey leaving behind one family group who were deep in negotiations. We saw them that evening looking shell-shocked. The carpet company had sent them by taxi to our new hotel to rejoin us after they had spent £26,000 on a carpet for their son's wedding present! The son was with them and in a fury with his father. What he would really have liked was some money towards a mortgage so they'd have somewhere to lay the carpet! No wonder it's worth the vendors' time to lure us all in! Our guide it seems is employed by these Turkish-run trading organisations to ensure tourists arrive and purchase items. We had two other similar, but less interesting visits during our stay, One to a jewellery company with display cases of brightly lit rings, bangles and baubles. A sign on the wall proclaimed to us British crumblies that a necklace of large sapphires helped distract from our wrinkles! Subtlety is not a byword in Cyprus! It goes more for the sledgehammer approach! The other bait we were made to swallow was to a leather-goods outlet up in the hills. We'd missed lunch that day, having been detained at the jewellers. Here Ian saw his first ever fashion show. Amidst flashing lights and gyrating Garage music young Turkish Cypriot lasses with legs up to their armpits strode the catwalk in knee-high boots with leather jackets casually draped across their shoulders. For the ladies amongst us we had several hunky young men with strong shoulders and arm muscles wearing soft, clinging leather onesies. We'd all had enough by now and refused to show any interest in the merchandise, simply finding sofas around the show room and staging a sit-in until we were free to go. Nobody was prepared to buy.

Our visit to Famagusta was rather more successful. We were left at the Othello Gate to make our own way into the city and find some lunch. Famagusta is thought to be the port where Shakespeare set his play Othello and the entrance to the fort was always known as the Othello Gate during the period of the British protectorate. Shakespeare does not specify Cyprus in the play, just a Mediterranean port. However, the owner of the castle, back in the 16th century, was said to have murdered his wife Desdemona here in the tower in a fit of jealousy. There is a bust of Shakespeare in the gardens fronting the tower and ramparts.

Bust of William Shakespeare in front of the Fortress and Othello gate, Famagusta, northern Cyprus

Othello gate, Famagusta, northern Cyprus

Inside the fortress, Famagusta, northern Cyprus

Inside the fortress, Famagusta, northern Cyprus

Ramparts, Famagusta, northern Cyprus

Ramparts, Famagusta, northern Cyprus

We were particularly interested in visiting Famagusta having finished reading The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop just before our arrival. The area of the city facing the sea was once the luxury tourist resort of Cyprus. Huge hotels lined the sandy beaches and it became something of a millionaire's playground. Then came the sudden Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus back around 1974. It caused panic amongst Turkish and Greek Cypriots alike. Tourists and Greeks deserted the town, fleeing from the advancing Turkish forces back to the safety of Nicosia whilst the Turks, mostly living in the small houses of old Famagusta, moved away and the seaside area, known as Varosa, was sealed off behind barbed wire fences. The area is still completely deserted except for the occupying Turkish military.

Until the invasion many Greeks and Turks had co-existed peacefully, living and working together in the huge tourist hotels. At the time it was expected that the issue would soon be resolved. Over forty years later the coastal tourist area of Varosa is still closed off, occupied only by the Turkish military and surrounded by it strong defences of barbed wire. The real estate is still theoretically owned by the original Greek investors but access north of the Green Line has not been re-established. The whole Cyprus problem cannot be properly addressed until the problem of Varosa has been resolved. There are potentially billions of dollars tied up in the area while over the past half century decay has set in and the hotels, seen from beyond the barbed-wire fence, are now looking like a Syrian battle zone. Tiles have fallen from the buildings, glass is missing from the windows and the roads and gardens within this paradise are filled with weeds and overgrown shrubs. Tall palm trees have dropped their huge fronds and we watched from beyond the wire as a couple of soldiers cut down a heavy, dead and dangerous frond from one of the tall palm trees which was left where it fell. The only sign of life within the area were the armed patrolling Turkish soldiers. It all felt very intimidating and rather creepy. There seems little likelyhood of a solution to Cyprus's dilemma being found any time soon.

View into the deserted compex of Varosa, Famagusta, northern Cyprus

Abandoned high rise hotels and overgrown parkland, Varosa, Famagusta, northern Cyprus

View into the deserted compex of Varosa, Famagusta, northern Cyprus

The old residential part of Famagusta, outside of the sealed off zone, is silently crumbling away. The little houses of this once bustling town where Greeks and Turks co-existed reasonably amicably, were abandoned by both sides back in the 1970s and only gradually have some of the Turkish community moved back, or moved in. Of those houses once the home of Greek Cypriots, many still stand empty. Some are now occupied by Turkish Cypriots who have moved north of the Green Line, out from the Greek occupied sector. It is said that the houses were found as they had been suddenly abandoned, sometimes with food still left on the tables. Many of the new owners have kept the mementos, photos and personal effects of the original owners in case they ever return. We were impressed by the apparent lack of animosity between the former Greek and Turkish communities of Famagusta. Today's current situation of uneasy peace results directly from the Turkish invasion and occupation back in the 1970s.

There are dozens of decaying churches around the streets of old Famagusta. Christianity has been driven out and the churches stand empty and abandoned. Sometimes the stone has been taken for other purposes. The abandoned, skeletal remains of unknown churches where thistles grow amidst the ruins and trees push their branches through the glassless windows made a strong impression. The silent, empty streets, the absence of cars and the almost complete lack of people or voices as we wandered alone through the weed-ridden, stone flagged streets, affected us deeply. We felt, and indeed were, alone in this empty, deserted part of Famagusta.

Ruined church, Famagusta, northern Cyprus

The Venetian lion of Famagusta, northern Cyprus

Eventually we made our way back to the central area of Famagusta where there were bakers, grocers and butchers along with a few tourist restaurants. We welcomed the contact again with people and reality. Outside some of the cafes older men sat chatting, tuning their worry beads or playing at backgammon.

We found a baker's shop for lunch where we sat watching the street as we enjoyed our remembered lunchtime favourite in both Greece and Turkey - spinach pies with cheese along with cups of strong coffee. As we left we noticed our guide reading peacefully in the corner, having pointed out places for everyone to eat in a different quarter of the town! Why not get some peace for a while?

Shops, commerce and restaurants. Famagusta viewed from the ramparts, northern Cyprus

Port area viewed from the ramparts, northern Cyprus

Near the main entrance into Famagusta (Magusa in Turkish) stands the beautiful LaLa Mustapha Pasha mosque. This was originally the Catholic Cathedral of St. Nicholas built mainly in the 14th century. It is a beautiful gothic building and the largest building in the city, consecrated in 1328. Following the Ottoman invasion of Cyprus in 1571 it was converted into the LaLa Mustapha Pasha mosque. Outside the entrance stands a mulberry tree, reputed to have been planted around the same time that the Cathedral was founded.

LaLa Mustapha Pasha mosque, formerly the catherdal of St. Sophia, Famagusta, northern Cyprus