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Entries in Cyprus (7)


The land of the first kittens

Cyprus has a claim to fame that is dear to Lydia’s heart. While Egyptians were once thought to be the first to keep cats as pets, the relationship of humans with cats goes much further back than the 4000 years of Egyptian history. It was actually in Neolithic Cyprus that the first evidence of domesticated cats is found, where the symbiotic relationship of food in exchange for cute dates back to 7500 BCE.


Pafos, Cyprus



Kykkos Monastery



A post-apocalyptic world

No, these are not pictures of Detriot, they are from the Maras/Varosha district in Famagusta.


Famagusta was once the economic hub of a unified Cyprus, being the centre of the tourist trade and the key port for industry. During the Turkish invasion/liberation (depending on your allegiance) on the 15th of August, 1974, the Turkish Army advanced towards the city. With a battle between the Greek Cypriot Army and the Turkish Army, the civilian population fled. With the Turkish Army victorious, the Turkish Cypriot residents returned, while the Greek Cypriots stayed on the south side of the island.

While most of the land occupied by the Turkish Army was returned to civilian ownership, the Maras/Varosha district of Famagusta was fenced off and restricted. The neighbourhood was mainly owned by Greek Cypriots and was a bustling tourist area, one of the international hot-spots of the time. While everyone expected the situation to be soon normalized, 35+ years after the evacuation the neighbourhood still lies desolate, abandoned behind barbed wire. Buildings have decayed, roads are being overgrown with grasses and the pavement is littered with shattered glass. Nearby residents claim to see the flickering lightbulbs, left on 30 years ago and still connected to the mains.

The 2004 Cyprus Peace Plan, negotiated by Kofi Annan, would have returned the Varosha district to Greek Cypriot rule. The plan proposed to reunify Northern Cyprus with Southern Cyprus in a Switzerland-style Federation, giving a large deal of autonomy to the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. In a referendum across Cyprus, the peace plan had overwhelming support in the north and overwhelming animosity in the south, and so fell through. The situation is slowly being repaired, but ironically enough there would be more integration if the EU just recognised the north and accepted it into the EU - with a common currency and open borders, the regions would be better integrated as formally separate EU nations, rather than the current formal unification with de facto seperation.


Ancient Salamis



A divided capital and the Green Line

We drove up to Nicosia, the Capital of the Republic of Cyprus and the last divided capital in Europe, and crossed over the Green Line on foot, into North Nicosia, the Capital of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. Cyprus has been divided into two countries since 1974, the culmination of bloody violence where Greek Cypriots wanted unification with Greece, while Turkish Cypriots were supported by Turkey in wanting the country to remain independent. The Green Line dates earlier, to 1964, when Major-General Peter Young drew a cease-fire line on a map with dark green crayon.

For thirty years this Green Line was an absolute border, uncrossable, and the country was segregated along religious and ethnic lines. The idea of a “line” is a bit of a misconception, however. In Nicosia the UN monitored buffer zone is only 3.3 metres wide, but at other parts of its 180.5 kilometre length the width of the zone is as much as 7.4 kilometres. 10,000 people live within the zone, in several villages and farms, still ethnically mixed, a faint reflection of the Cyprus that is now lost.


Thanks to the current President, Dimitris Christofias (incidentally, the only elected Communist Head of State within the EU), these borders are now starting to show cracks. We walked down Leda Street to one of the points where you can cross over into the north, and our passports were quickly checked and stamped on a removable page. Same city, different country, we were now in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. Everything was similar, yet slightly different. Architecture and people are indistinguishable from the south side, but multinational brand-name stores on the south are replaced by street vendor stalls selling a hodge-podge of band-name rip-offs. Closer to my heart, the ubiquitious Keo and Carlsburg were replaced by Efes, and even Diet Coke in the south became Coke Light in the north. Once a single community, the two sides have firmly become distinct economies. How deep the divisions have grown in other walks of life is not for me to know.


Russian Mafia in the Republic of Cyprus

So we spent the day lounging by the pool with heavily tattooed Russians and trying to figure out the best way to cross the Green Line and get into Turkish Cyprus.