Ghost Town: It Was Abandoned 40 Years Ago, But Clothes Still Hang In Closets.

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Remains of Cyprus Airways Hawker-Siddeley Trident on the airport site. – By Dickelbers – CC BY-SA 3.0
Remains of Cyprus Airways Hawker-Siddeley Trident on the airport site. – By Dickelbers – CC BY-SA 3.0

In the coastal Cypriot district of Vorasha, time seemed to stand still for about 40 years ago, when people lived there.

Eggs that were being boiled are still on old stoves. The child’s toys haven’t been cleaned up yet.

There were a lot of clothes in closets that were full. Clothes were left on hangers. This shows that in a split second, a lot of people had to leave their normal lives behind.

The Greek Cypriots thought that when the Turkish military took them out of their homes in the summer of 1974, it would be short-term. Yet 42 years have passed, and Varosha hasn’t changed.

In the past, the beaches were always full of families having fun with beach volleyball. There are now barbed wire fences that run across the sand, and armed soldiers keep an eye on them.

Children run in and out of the shallow water, trying to stay oblivious to the tension that is going on around them at the moment. They have always done this.

Cyprus is now a country split in two. Centuries after the Ottomans ruled this small island, this tiny island nation formally agreed to be ruled by Britain in 1914. The Greek Cypriots, who wanted to unify the country with Greece, were not happy about it.

Five years of fighting for freedom had come to an end when Cyprus became an independent country in 1960. As a result, even though Turkish and Greek Cypriots agreed to share power, there were still tensions between them.

Ethnic distribution in 1973. The yellow colour shows land with predominantly Greek population, while purple shows predominantly Turkish population.

ten years after the United Nations set up a peacekeeping force in Cyprus to stop the violence, Greece tried to take over the island. The former President, Archbishop Markarios III, was still in charge at the time.

The move didn’t work, so Turkey sent military forces to northern Cyprus.

Many Greek Cypriots had fled south, while the small number of Turkish Cypriots living in southern Cyprus had fled north.

Today, military occupation and divisions are still very much a part of the country. The six square kilometer ghost town called Varosha stands on one of its most well-known symbols.

Negotiations between the leaders of Greece and Turkey are still going on. There will be a joint progress report this week. One group wants to change this situation.

Ghost Town
Abandoned hotels in Varosha – By Vikimach – CC BY-SA 3.0

Varosha is a symbol of Cyprus’s problems. Physically, it shows a conflict that has been going on for a long time and never ends. This is making their people feel down in the dumps.

Vasia Markides is in charge of the Famagusta Ecocity Project, which aims to make Famagusta “Europe’s model ecocity” by reviving Varosha and the rest of Famagusta. She wants to make it solar-powered, walkable, and environmentally sustainable.

Her documentary about this project will be out later this year. When she grows up, she wants to see Famagusta and Varosha become more environmentally friendly as a whole.

It used to be that Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, and Richard Burton were all big names in movies. Markides’ mother grew up in Varosha, which is now a ghost town.

For Markides mother, the smells of citrus blossoms and jasmine that filled the air are what she remembers the most. As a child, she used to play with the reeds on the beach.

The Turkish Cypriot architect Ceren Bogac and the Greek Cypriot urban planner Nektarios Christodoulou are part of a small team that Markides has put together over the last few years.

They are also helping to build momentum and gather ideas for how to make Famagusta an ecocity.

The whole city, not just Varosha, would be a part of the project.

People are trying to keep as many of the old buildings as possible, while also rethinking the electric infrastructure, building design, and streetscapes.

They want to set up a time where both communities can talk about the same things at the same time.

For Bogac, the story is also close to home. In 1974, her father’s family moved from the southern port city of Larnaca to Famagusta. Her father’s family had been living there for a long time.

: She had lived in a house that looked over the fence around Varosha. Barbed wire, sheet metal, and wooden planks now make up the Forbidden Zone.

People in Bogac always had to deal with the border, and it was very painful and terrible. He had seen the same curtains get worse and worse every year for the last 10 years. There were people who were living there.

Political problems are ahead.
Even though there has been a lot of interest from both Turkish and Greek Cypriots in the ecocity project, there are still a lot of problems.

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There is a chance that the negotiators will come up with a solution to the bigger Cyprus dispute. Varosha will stay frozen until then.

Varosha could still be open to the public even if there was a resolution and the developers were able to get their hands on the properties that were left behind.

Afterwards, there would be a big problem with coming up with a general plan for how to make the city better for both groups of people who live there now.

With the reopening of Varosha, the population could rise to about 200,000. At the moment, there are about 40,000 people.

This would be a big change for the city. It would be a lot of work. One or two people would not be ready for what they might find.

It is romantic for people who lived there in 1974. In their minds, everything was the same as it had been.

Large trees are growing through some homes, but many people don’t even know that there are trees growing through them. Everything has been destroyed and there isn’t much left to save.

A few years ago, Christodoulou did a “mental map” study of Famagusta. She asked 500 Greeks and Turkish Cypriots to sketch their picture of the city’s existing urban fabric.

The results showed a big difference in how they thought about the city, with Greek Cypriots remembering the southern parts of Famagusta, like Varosha, and Turkish Cypriots remembering the north.

Ghost Town
Remains of Cyprus Airways Hawker-Siddeley Trident on the airport site. – By Dickelbers – CC BY-SA 3.0

Few people have been able to sneak into the city of Varosha and look around.

When Paul Dobraszczyk, a visiting lecturer from London’s Bartlett School of Architecture, came to visit, he said he was struck by how peaceful the empty homes looked. He is the author of The Dead City: Urban Ruins and the Spectacle of Decay.

He thought it would be upsetting, but he thought it was peaceful and quiet; he felt calm and relaxed.

Everything had been taken over by the natural world, so there was nothing left. Pigeons and other animals lived in a lot of the buildings, but not all of them. If you were outside of the Forbidden Zone, you could also hear a lot of different sounds.

Around an hour’s drive from the west of Varosha, there is another reminder of the 1974 war. The Nicosia Airport has been empty for 40 years.

Since May of 2015, UN talks have been taking place in this building for the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci. Seiko watches and Bata shoes are still on the walls.

There is still good progress being made in the Cyprus peace talks. Both of the leaders have said that they hope to reach a full agreement by the end of 2016.

There will be a general vote if both sides agree to it.

Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly in favor of unifying with Cyprus in the past. However, those votes didn’t work out. Most of the Greek Cypriots didn’t like it in 2014.

There is a fence around Varosha, and tourists can see over it. Turkish soldiers are on the rooftops near by, Al Jazeera said.

The fence goes around the city of Varosha. They have to look at it from their front porches every day. Emptiness can be seen in the view. The buildings and the city itself are in bad shape.

Rusty doors that are falling off their hinges are next to iron balcony railings on a porch in this picture. As time goes on, some parts of the fence around the city start to bend.

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