The Ghost City of Cyprus – November 02, 2005

Michael J. Totten’s
Middle East Journal

November 02, 2005

Just on the north side of the Attila Line that partitions the island of Cyprus, the ghost city of Varosha (a suburb of Famagusta) is surrounded with barbed wire. 

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In 1974 the Turkish military invaded and carved up the island. Greek Cypriots in the north were forced to move south side of the line. Turkish Cypriots from the south were forced to move north. Greek Cypriot citizens in Varosha fled the Turkish invasion in terror. They expected to return to their homes within days. Instead, the Turks seized the empty city and wrapped it in fencing and wire. They forbid anyone from entering it to this day.

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You can walk right up to it, though, and take a look. Photographing the dead city is not permitted. But if no one is watching there is nothing to physically stop you.

It’s a beach-front city. At least it was when it was alive. Part of that beach is still open. You can walk along that beach and literally reach out and touch some of the ghost buildings. (All the buildings pictured below are empty and off-limits.)

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Right next to the northernmost ghost hotel inside Varosha is an open Turkish resort. Except for the freakish backdrop behind the beach on the Greek side, it’s a nice place. The sand is soft and golden. The water is shallow and turquoise. Beach umbrellas are set up just above the high tide line.

I wanted to take a photo of those beach umbrellas in the foreground with the haunting buildings behind them. The juxtaposition is out of this world. But just as I snapped a picture of the skyline of Varosha, a Turkish military patrol came around the corner on the other side of the fence and saw me with my camera. The driver of the jeep slammed on his brakes just on the other side of the building pictured below.

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A soldier got out of the passenger side and turned aggressively toward me. I had to get out of there fast before they confiscated my camera. As I was leaving the area, I held the camera down at my side and took a few remaining pictures – more or less blindly – as I walked briskly away. Those photos are tilted because I could not look at the view screen or steady the camera.

Below are two old Greek hotels, both rotting and missing windows, that face the part of the beach that is still open. You can walk all the way up the sand and touch the buildings with your hand if you want to. I would have done so had the army not chased me away.

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Here is someone’s house that sits just inside the forbidden zone.

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Take a look at the charming neighborhood pictured below. Turkish Cypriots live on one side of the street. You can see their parked cars in the foreground. Directly across the street is the edge of the Varosha ghost city. That crane in the upper-left corner has been idle for 31 years. Supposedly, according to Lonely Planet, there is a car dealership somewhere in the city that still has 1974 models in the showroom.

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In some places the fence would have been easy to cross. In some places the fence showed obvious signs that it had been crossed repeatedly. But since the Turkish military patrols the inside of the zone, I thought it best to stay on my side of the line.

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For 31 years Varosha has been uninhabited. Turkey ought to be ashamed of itself. Since the military won’t let me take pictures, I imagine that on some level they are ashamed – or at least a bit embarrassed – by what they have done and are doing. They did not want you to see this.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at November 2, 2005 10:31 AM

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