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The Mediterranean's Forbidden Resort
Posted on 07/06/2017

SocietyCyprus

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Welcome to a Mediterranean beach paradise, no crowds, no drunken tourists only drawback is that if you are ever caught inside of this Cypriot resort you will be shot dead on sight.

Best admired from behind the fence

Best admired from behind the fence
© Anton Kudelin/123RF

Golden sand sparkles in the sunlight, a few meters away waves leisurely roll onto the beach. The waters of the Mediterranean seem almost uncharacteristically clean, in fact so does the beach, with not a single wrapper, stubbed out cigarette or plastic bottle in sight. The only signs of civilization are a few old beach umbrellas pop out of the sand like giant mushrooms. Welcome to the Varosha neighborhood of the bustling Cypriot city of Famagusta. If you think that what is being described is a beach paradise, a luxury resort for only those with extra deep pockets, you wouldn't be entirely wrong. However there is a catch - Varosha is a ghost town where if you are caught trespassing you would be shot on sight.

It all started almost 43 years ago, on 20 July 1974, when Turkish military forces invaded northern Cyprus and ordered some 40,000 residents of Varosha to leave their homes, who fearing a massacre fled south. The Turkish army's decision to invade northern Cyprus followed decades of mounting tensions between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The situation reached breaking point in early summer of 1974 when Greece attempted to seize control of Cyprus by staging a coup and removing then President Archbishop Makarios III and replacing him with a military junta.

However the coup was a failure, Turkish armed forced invaded, thousands of people were killed or injured and Varosha was assigned a new role of a military buffer zone between the two hostile nations. However, after a peace was brokered and Turkish forces withdrew, they refused to hand over Varosha, instead keeping it as a 'bargaining chip' in order to broker a better deal in the future. In 1984 the UN Security Council Resolution 550 ordered that Varosha be handed over to the administration of the United Nations, and was to be resettled by its original inhabitants who were forced out a decade earlier. Unfortunately the Turkish government refused to comply and Varosha remained a no-go zone.

The best way of seeing Varosha today is with a drone

The best way of seeing Varosha today is with a drone
© Anton Kudelin/123RF

Today one of the few ways of seeing what Varosha is like is with the use of a drone. There have however been journalists bold enough to climb over the high military fence and sneak into the once famous and now infamous resort. Upon their return from the dangerous excursion the stories they tell are of a town which seems to have suffered some apocalyptic cataclysm. Reportedly clothes still hang in closets, plates and cups remain on kitchen tables and in sinks, all evidence of a town that one day saw its entire population disappear without a trace.

According to experts, even if an agreement can be reached between Turkey and Greece, and those that were forced to leave Varosha be allowed to return home, the city would have to be rebuilt almost from scratch. In the four decades since the occupation, the city has been reclaimed by nature and the buildings and infrastructure have suffered years of neglect and exposure to the elements, becoming unsafe as a result of it. Photos of Varosha show overgrown gardens which are starting to resemble forests, crumbling building covered in vines which look more like temples of a civilization long forgotten than luxury hotels from the 70s and tree roots pushing up through the concrete of streets which were once the stomping ground of such celebrities as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Raquel Welch, and Brigitte Bardot.

Visitors to the city of Famagusta, which is the island's most important port city, are offered excursions to a 14 century gothic cathedral of St. Nicholas, the ancient city of Salamis and Othello Castle. However it's the ruins that date back less than half a century rather than those from half a millennium ago, which generate the most interest. So popular in fact is the 'ghost district' than local tour operators have begun organizing guided tours which pass as close to the military fence as possible, giving thrill seeking tourists a chance to witness for themselves Varosha's apocalyptic landscape.

While the military fence stands, Turkish army patrol cars continue rolling through Varosha's abandoned streets and local residence are prevented from returning to their homes this will remain a luxury beach resort that should best be admired from afar.

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