Since the attempted coup by the Greeks and subsequent Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the country has been divided. Around a third of the Mediterranean island is occupied by the Turkish, a non-state, unrecognised internationally by everyone but Turkey.
The resort town of Varosha lies within the Northern side of the country- we crossed through a British Overseas Territory, through the UN buffer zone and through a “Turkish” border to reach it.
History of Varosha
Varosha was once a popular tourist destination, a vibrant enclave in the city of Famagusta, mostly populated by Greek Cypriots. Home to some of the best beaches in Cyprus, it attracted visitors from all over the world, including Bridget Bardot and Elizabeth Taylor. The town saw massive growth, becoming one of the most popular destinations in the world in the early 70s, giving rise to fancy shopping streets, and glamorous high-rise hotels.
After the invasion in 1974, Varosha’s Greek Cypriot residents fled to the south, part of a 200,000 strong ethnic migration shift across the island. Around 60,000 Turkish Cypriots also fled from the South to the North. This left the chic town, once home to 40,000, abandoned, stuck in the 70s, and no longer welcoming nearly a million tourists a year. Varosha fell silent, its hotels and shops empty, left to crumble and decay.
In 1984 a U.N. resolution called for the handover of the city to UN control and said that only the original inhabitants, who were forced out, could resettle in the town. This cemented the abandonment of this concrete metropolis by the sea- its original inhabitants aren’t allowed back, and new inhabitants aren’t allowed in.
Exploring the Ghost Town of Varosha
Parts of the ghost town, which has now been abandoned for nearly four decades, have recently been opened to the public, much to the dislike of the Greek Cypriots and United Nations.
We passed through the security gates, with guards and soldiers on patrol and CCTV cameras following our every move. The streets are freshly paved, with ropes fencing off the derelict buildings. As we wandered deeper into the ghost town, we passed through streets of decaying buildings- souvenir shops, hotels, houses and even a car dealership. The sun was beating down, adding to the peculiarity of the widespread abandonment in such a beautiful location.
Views of the pristine beach, lined with palm trees swaying in the light breeze are interrupted by towers of derelict concrete hotels. Cranes which once worked hard to keep up with the building boom now loom over the previously bustling ghost town. Balconies cling precariously to once grand and ornate buildings. The entire town lies in ruin; with time now contributing to its decay rather than its development.
As we headed out of the town, a call to prayer shattered the silence, an eerie reminder of the political limbo Varosha finds itself trapped in, left to rot whilst politicians argue its future.
The Future of Varosha
Varosha remained totally closed off to all but the Turkish military until Turkish Cypriot leader, Ersin Tatar, announced in a partial lifting of the military status in 2021, allowing for public access. The UN Security Council called for the reversal of this, and the international community have criticised the move as unhelpful toward restarting Cyprus peace talks.
Those who once lived and worked in the town can now return to view houses that they once inhabited, unable to return to land that is legally theirs. Turkey continues to attempt to regain full control over the area, against the will of the UN and of course the Greeks who once lived there.
According to Hubert Faustmann, a professor of history and politics at the University of Nicosia, talking to the Guardian “It’s part of a wider Turkish strategy, pursued in recent years, to create facts on the ground that improve their bargaining position, or become permanent gains,”
Last Updated on 16 February 2023 by Michael