A ghost town abandoned for 40 years

In the 1970s it was the perfect destination for seaside holidays on the island of Cyprus. But for the past forty years, the Varosha district and its luxury hotels have been neglected. The Greek Cypriots had believed it was temporary until the day when the Turkish army invaded the north of the island in 1974 and ordered them to leave their homes. Cyprus is separated into two parts.

Varosha, which is located in the middle of the North-South border of Cyprus, was then emptied of its inhabitants, and becomes a ghost town. During his years, everyone knew Varosha, the seaside district of the city of Famagusta in north-eastern Cyprus. Many stars went to the most beautiful hotels and palaces like Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Richard Burton … all the big names in international cinema were enjoying holidays in Cyprus on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Cyprus is now a country divided. Centuries following the Ottoman rule this tiny island nation formally subordinated itself to Britain in 1914. Five years of freedom fighting warfare had ended with Cyprus getting their independence in 1960.

Yet regardless sharing deal struck between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, the tensions between the two communities continued. In 1974, ten years after the United Nations created a peacekeeping force in Cyprus to stop the rising violence, Greece staged a takeover, trying to seize control of the island from the former President Archbishop Markarios III. The move had failed, and Turkey responded by sending military forces to northern Cyprus.

What future for Varosha?
The military occupation and divisions still last to this day, with the six square kilometer ghost town of Varosha standing on one of its more iconic emblems. Negotiations are said to be underway to reopen the old city and bring down the barbed wire. It is about rebuilding a city on ecology, with new hotels and reopening the port of Famagusta to international trade.

Project?
Varosha represents the ongoing problem of Cyprus. It is a physical representation of a decades-long conflict that just does not stop. This is causing despair in the spirits of their people. Vasia Markides is leading the Famagusta Ecocity Project, an initiative aimed at reviving Varosha with the rest of Famagusta, hoping to make it “Europe’s model ecocity” and creating a solar powered, walkable, environmentally sustainable hub.

Her documentary on this project is waiting to be released later this year. Her ultimate goal is to see Famagusta and Varosha as a whole begin to be an ecocity.Through the past years, Markides has gotten together a small team that includes the Turkish Cypriot architect Ceren Bogac as well the Greek Cypriot urban planner
Nektarios Christodoulou.

Amongst others, they are helping to create momentum and collecting ideas on how to convert Famagusta into an ecocity. The project would involve the whole city, and not just the deserted district of Varosha.It involves rethinking the electrical infrastructure, building design, and the streetscapes, as well as aiming to preserve as many of the historic structures as possible.They are hoping to provide a time when the issues can be talked about in cooperation with both communities.

Political challenges ahead !

Regardless of the growing interest among both the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, the ecocity project is still facing large obstacles.There is a chance of the negotiators coming to a solution within the broader Cyprus dispute. Until that time, Varosha will stay frozen in its current state.

Even if a resolution were to happen, and Varosha was able to reopen to the public, there could possibly be several claims on the abandoned properties by the developers. Then there would be the significant challenge of reaching a general agreement on how to recreate the city in a manner that worked for both groups of current residents.

The current population is at 40,000, and could increase to around 200,000 with the reopening of Varosha. This would be a large redevelopment for the city. Several would not be prepared for what they could find when they arrive. Are only a few people who have been able to sneak in and take a look at the city of Varosha.

Everything had been taken over by nature. Several of the buildings were inhabited by pigeons and other animals. You could as well hear several sounds outside of the Forbidden Zone. Around an hour’s drive from the west of Varosha is another relic of the 1974
conflict.

The Nicosia Airport has been standing abandoned for 40 years. Not far from the old airport terminal that still has decaying posters that were advertising Seiko watches and Bata shoes, is a building that since May of 2015 has hosted UN negotiations for the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.The Cyprus peace talks are continuing to make good progress in an atmosphere of goodwill and trust. Both of the leaders have expressed their hope of reaching a complete agreement by the end of 2016.If the agreement is reached, both sides intend to hold a general vote to decide the outcome.

However,despite being backed by the majority of Turkish Cypriots, previous general votes calling for unification had failed. Three-quarters of the Greek Cypriots had voted against it in 2014. Located on the edges of Varosha, tourists peek over the fence that is surrounding the deserted city, while Turkish soldiers stand on the rooftops nearby,

Al Jazeera reported. The fence goes around the perimeter of the city Varosha. Famagusta residents that live along this line have to look at it every day from their front porches. The view is of emptiness and of the buildings and the city itself decaying. Rusted doors that are falling off the hinges sit against iron balcony railings. The fence that surrounds the city has been there so long it is starting to slump in places.

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