Nicosia, October 2014
Our trip starts early. We pack our bags with food and bathing suits and we head down the road to cross the other side; we are heading to Famagusta. We are driving the road of free Cyprus now, close to the city. To our left there is a line drawn by dry grass, the buffer zone, the dead zone, the Green Line. Beyond this line we see the Turkish side. To our right we see British military bases and United Nations outposts. Towards Famagusta, close to the Sovereign Base Areas, photographs are forbidden. We cross endless dry fields where nothing seems to exist. Even nature looks remotely dead here.
At the checkpoint to enter the Turkish side we feel watched, exposed. The sign with the flag mocks us as we enter back to our car and slowly ride towards the city. Our passports are checked, the car is checked. Moments later we are crossing the streets of Famagusta. A weird statue stands in a roundabout, new and polished, trying to say something I assume, to prove something to the visitors. To me it sounds as breathless sounds with no meaning. Emptiness.
After we park our car, we head towards the famous beach in Varosha (Βαρώσια). My first steps echo strangely in the atmosphere. The air is suddenly heavier here. I notice the plastic fences cover many parts of the area we walk. I stumble. I look at the red sign and then I stop. Not so further beyond the artificial barricades and meters of black plastic fences, tens of ruined buildings stand silently in front of me. The corner of one of them is completely destroyed. It is the closest to where I stand and it looks strange, stopped in time. I ask and quickly learn it is bombed. It looks to me like an elevator shaft. The elevator itself is scattered on the ground floor in pieces. Wild nature blooms around it. This building stands here in this exact same condition for 40 whole years. Untouched and barricaded.
We take the small path and we enter the golden sandy beach. I think they call it Palm Beach. Some tourists sunbathe and some others swim inside a peaceful sea. It is a cloudy day. I look behind the beach and then I see it: lines of buildings, deserted from the war and again those ugly black plastic fences around them. Photos are forbidden. But who is checking either way? Except the tourists around me, nobody seems to be there to reassure it. The ghosts of the past drift around here sometimes at day, they do not care about photos. They care only about what they lost. They are grieving for a lost home, a lost relative, a lost store, a lost life. I don’t see those ghosts here today. But I do see something.
Not even a hundred meters by where we stand, to our right side, we discover more barricades blocking our way through the endless beach side. The rusty, dangerous nets scream silently “do not pass”. A guard appears from the other side. He walks slowly out of his small observatory, like a puma ready to attack. He comes to reassure no pictures are taken beyond this point and I know why. What looks at first glance as a coastline full of hotels and buildings, is actually a ghost town next to the sea. And it extends till the eye can see. Further in the horizon.
A group of Turkish students come close and start a conversation with the guard in Turkish. They probably protest why they can’t take pictures of this disturbing view. He slowly moves his tail and comes to a proud position. It is time for him to explain to these youngsters all those things he has so eagerly rehearsed in his lair. He responds with a long explanation that sounds like preaching. We can’t stop wondering what he is saying. I am doubting whether I should ask an English translation. Those students probably know English. But I stop and think: do I really want to know what he is saying?
After what seems like a thousand years, we decide not to swim there. How can we either way? I’ve been told that since 2004, when the line opened, hundreds of people who lost their properties, their families and lives, come here often and swim in the waters and they feel good about it. Because they can have at least that. A swim next to the old stolen life.
We are heading towards the car. Somehow we feel we need to witness more of this. I know we will never come back here again during the course of our lives, so the necessity to see more is evident. I can’t stop feeling this deep burden on my chest the whole afternoon. And the weather is really not helping today. All those menacing clouds above us. We ride around the barricaded city to see more of the protected ruins. A destroyed orthodox church here, an old deserted bar there. The sign of it still stands silent. The rest of it – probably the owner’s name – is painted with dark red color. Like the color of blood.
Next to the fenced ghost city, I can’t help but notice that life here keeps going on. Why wouldn’t it either way? It always does. Small houses, old and new, are inhabited with people brought by the government in order to occupy the city as proper as possible. Every morning they wake up and they look at this.
A few blocks down we see an old deserted church. This is in the village area, so we can enter. There is no door. There is actually no roof. Only some remains stand there, yellowed by time. The pictures on the walls seem scratched, like someone tried to erase history. It seems to be a very very old church. So old that its historical importance and need for restoration shout out at our bewildered faces. And absolutely nothing can be done.
We take a small alley and we reach the center. Some touristic shops, an old catholic church turned into a mosque and tens of people sitting and talking. Suddenly I feel observed. I feel the eyes of the people on me. Strange feeling. I decide to ignore it. We take a small break and we reach out to our car to head to the mountains. The city is too much for us to bear.
After an hour and a half of driving, we reach the castle we were planning to visit: the Buffavento castle. We think we are alone here, but we soon realize there are more crazy people like us who drove in the middle of nowhere for an old forgotten castle. We look up and we see it. It must be quite high, but to our ignorant eyes it looks like we can easily reach it. It takes us 40 minutes to climb the endless stone stairs in order to finally enjoy the view. It is breathless.
The ruins of the castle reflect a mystery. How many wars those stones have seen? We are ecstatic and our camera’s can’t stop capturing moments. Tons of fresh air enter our tired heavy lungs and it is time to descend. On the way back with the car I notice how neglected the area is. The excitement of the adventure didn’t allow me to see this before. Garbage is everywhere, a sign of complete neglect.
As we ride down towards the main road, next to Pentadaktylos Mountain range, we see the “biggest flag on the world”. All made out of stones. White and red. Down the street two white beautiful dogs stare at us like guards who are staring at intruders. We drive and we drive towards the Ayios Dhometios (Άγιος Δομέτιος)/Metehan gate, in order to escape from all the feelings, all the burden, all the pain this land carries. The words of my beloved friend echo in my head again and again: “Who cries for these buildings, these streets, these trees? Who weeps for all this?”.
Famagusta, Cyprus, October 2014
All Rights Reserved © Vicky Griva Photography
(Repost from the Archive.)