Cyprus ghost town: a new eco centre?
Posted on 16/01/2014

CultureCyprus

Twitter Facebook

A barbed fence, and little else, has for years separated locals and travellers alike from one of the Mediterranean's best-kept secrets. Things look set to change from today, as a new project is launched to transform a historical part of Famagusta, Cyprus, into a thriving ecological centre.

Nicosia, Cyprus

Nicosia, Cyprus
Gabi Neumann / age fotostock

Markides hopes that the Famagusta Ecocity Project will help bring together Cyprus' log-divided communities.

A barbed fence, and little else, has for years separated locals and travellers alike from one of the Mediterranean's best-kept secrets. Things look set to change from today, as a new project is launched to transform a historical part of Famagusta, Cyprus, into a thriving ecological centre.

Once a modish holiday resort for the icons of the age (think Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot), Varosha now accommodates a more earthen clientele.

Squatted by snakes and a legion of fauna, this decrepit slice of Northern Cyprus is a shadow of the booming beach destination it once was, before the division of the country in 1974.

DIVIDED COMMUNITIES

Ethnic divisions and conflict were to follow a military coup effort in Cyprus - the impetus drawn from that which occured in Greece - which culminated in Turkey occupying the northern third and the Greek Cypriots the southern regions.

Forty years after fleeing the chaos, not one of Varosha's 15,000 overwhelmingly Greek-Cypriot residents have been able to return to their homes after the resort was barred by the Turkish military.

With the UN resolution of 1984 prohibiting anyone other than its former inhabitants to reclaim the territory, the situation seemed unlikely to change. However, a change in legislation in 2003 saw Cypriots permitted to cross the 'Green Line' for the first time.

PARADISE LOST

"The picture that I had in my mind was of a kind of paradise." Vasia Markides, an American of Greek-Cypriot origin whose mother was a residents, had high hopes. "They talk about it being the hub of art and intellectual activity. They describe it as the French Riviera of Cyprus," she mused, speaking to the BBC.

Initially disheartened on stepping foot in the "ghost town" ("You're seeing nature take over. Prickly pear bushes have overrun the entire six square kilometres. There are trees that have sprouted through living rooms"), Markides has since launched an initiative to transform her ancestral home into an exemplary model for ecological sustainability.

Having earned the support of Cypriot communities both Greek and Turkish, the Famagusta Ecocity Project - which models itself on eco-friendly technologies - launches this month.

ECO-CITY PROJECT

"We need to pay attention to the signs that nature is giving us," says Markides, referring to the way nature has reclaimed the town. "It's about using the energy of the sun - that we have so much of in Cyprus - rather than relying on fossil fuels.

It is a collaborative enterprise between Markides and Ceren Bogac, a 34 year-old Turkish Cypriot, whose family home overlooked Varosha. Now an architect and psychologist, Bogac made contact with Markides after seeing a documentary by the latter which catalogued how the division affected both 'sides' of Famagusta's population.

"From the moment I saw it, I felt driven to see this place revive," Markides says. "You could feel the energy, its potential, the energy that was once there." Bogac, "haunted" by the history behind the quarter, soon came on-board the project.

The Famagusta Ecocity Project, the process of which will be filmed by Markides, begins today (16 January). Experts from the region and abroad will commence plans towards the sustainable development of the area, with a focus on fostering greater social cohesion.

"To take a symbol of war, neglect, hatred and abandonment, and turn it into a model for the rest of the world, that's a success story."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

- Travel guide: Cyprus
- Venice's trash island-cum-theme park