Nothing sums up the futility of the Cyprus conflict quite like the ghost town of Varosha in Famagusta. Located on the east coast of Cyprus, the city of Famagusta has had a long and remarkable cultural heritage but now lies abandoned following the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island.
Photini Michaelides and her husband George Michaelides visited Famagusta in Cyprus for them its a sad story in that they were both from Famagusta and were forced to flee their homeland in 1974 after the Turkish invasion to come and live in the UK.
Famagusta is just one of the many casualties from the as-yet-unresolved-war which tore Cyprus in half and left it divided between north and south. Today buildings which were to be constructed in Famagusta remain unbuilt, while various clothes in the fashions of the time still sit in the fashion stores unbought. Unmade beds and uneaten breakfasts have been preserved in time, but the citizens of Famagusta did not allow themselves to become paralysed by the headlights of the Turkish tanks. As the army approached they fled, leaving the city in a strange state of flux.
The breakfast tables are still set, the laundry still hanging and the lamps still burning. Varosha is a ghost town.”
Aggression has long been the emotion which has shaped Famagusta’s destiny. The city was fought over for years because of its geographical position. A deep port was welcoming for vessels arriving from the Mediterranean Sea and Famagusta became of great strategic importance for traders from Europe and the Middle East. Before the 1974 invasion Famagusta dealt with almost 90% of trade which came through the island of Cyprus.
Famagusta is furthermore one of the most fertile areas of Cyprus with its rich red soils being the ideal place for farmers to cultivate a number of crops. Despite this, the name Famagusta was the Latin translation of the original Greek name Ammochostos – meaning buried in sand.
When Acre in Palestine fell to the Egyptians in 1291, Christians fled to Famagusta. It was this Diaspora which changed Famagusta from being a small fishing village into one of the richest communities in Christendom. In the 13th century Famagusta was a great commercial trading hub which was fought over by the Genoese (who took the port in 1372) and the Venetians (who gained control in 1489). Both the Genoese and the Venetians built further on the city’s original impressive fortifications which had been constructed by the Byzantines and the Lusignans.
The Genoese and the Venetians made Famagusta incredibly prosperous, so much so that it was said that ordinary merchant’s daughters wore finer jewels than the kings of Europe at the time. The other symbol of their wealth was the many churches which were built, leading Famagusta to be known as the district of churches.
However, the rivalry between these two peoples led to the city’s decline, much as the emnity between the Turkish and the Greek Cypriots threatens to put a complete end to Famagusta’s illustrious place in history. It is not the first time that the Turkish have acted on their intentions towards Famagusta, which they had captured before in 1571 following an 11 month siege. At that time it was the Christian inhabitants of the city who were forced out of the main city of Famagusta. This expulsion led them to form their own suburb, which is still known as Varosha. As the two Cypriot communities search for an end to their differences, Famagusta is being used as a bargaining chip in the settlement.
In 2004, following the rejection of a proposal known as the Annan Plan to reunify Cyprus, the Famagusta Refugee Movement (FRM) formulated and circulated a proposal calling for the return of the sealed-off section of the city to its rightful owners. They maintained that this could be done without too much difficulty as no-one has lived in Famagusta since that fateful day in 1974. Zaharias Spyridonos, who used to be vice president of the FRM which no longer exists, said: “There are endless discussions about Famagusta with no result.
“It is frustrating and disappointing. One side blames the other and we don’t know who to turn to. We are left in limbo.
“The longer Famagusta is deserted the harder it will be to live there again. Many of the buildings are ruined and there is no water supply or any communications.
“The Famagusta refugees were young when we left but now we are getting old. It is a tragedy.”
Famagusta and the old tourist quarter of Varosha have become a symbol of the Cyprus conflict and the inability to resolve it. And the people who once lived there will remain haunted by the past until the matter is addressed.
Why is Famagusta known as a ‘ghost town’?
Varosha, a suburb of Famagusta was once a popular tourist destination on the East Coast of Cyprus, however on 20th July 1974 the Turkish invaded and its occupants fled. The Turkish Military fenced off the area and it became a deserted and abandoned town. For a long time after remnants of the town’s former life could still be seen through the windows of the houses; tables were still laid, possessions still scattered around. It is for this reason that Famagusta became known as a ‘ghost town’.
Famagusta was once a thriving holiday destination of turquoise seas and pale sandy beaches, and particularly popular with British tourists in the seventies.
Today the beaches are deserted and surrounded with barbed wire; houses, shops and businesses lie derelict. The city is now a ghost town.
The pictures below show George and Photini Michaelides in Famagusta as you can see the buildings in the background deserted.