Varosha is an abandoned tourist resort in Cyprus
Miles of sand where it’s just you and nature. Dozens of grand hotels where you’ll have the pick of the rooms.
Just remember to pack your bolt cutters to make a hole in the fence – and watch out for the army patrols with orders to shoot on sight.
Before the division of Cyprus in 1974, Varosha – a resort in Famagusta – was booming. The rich and famous were drawn by some of the best beaches on the island. Richard Burton and Brigitte Bardot all dropped by – the Argo Hotel on JFK Avenue was said to be Elizabeth Taylor’s favourite.
“Anyone who comes from Varosha has a romanticised notion of it,” says Vasia Markides, an American Greek-Cypriot whose mother grew up there. “They talk about it being the hub of art and intellectual activity. They describe it as the French Riviera of Cyprus.”
But 40 years ago, after years of inter-ethnic violence culminating in a coup inspired by Greece’s ruling military junta, Turkey invaded Cyprus and occupied the northern third of the island.
As its troops approached Varosha, a Greek-Cypriot community, the inhabitants fled, intending to return when the situation calmed down. However, the resort was fenced off by the Turkish military and has been a ghost town ever since. A UN resolution of 1984 calls for the handover of Varosha to UN control and prohibits any attempt to resettle it by anyone other than those who were forced out.
After the invasion, hundreds of thousands of people on both sides were forced out of their homes, leaving a legacy of resentment and mutual recrimination. But the numerous other Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot villages that were abandoned were resettled or occupied. Varosha is an anomaly, kept like a petrified urban museum, enclosed, boarded up and frozen in time. And so Varosha, a section in the northeastern city of Famagusta, remains stuck in a time warp. Its hotels sit on vacant beaches, windowless, bullet-pocked. On the beach bordering the area, young women in bikinis throw beach balls and sip cocktails, seemingly oblivious to the hulking bombed-out buildings behind them. A Turkish officer stares down sternly from a guard tower, a sign nearby warning that trespassers risk being shot.
Cypriots who have had a rare glimpse behind the barbed wire described trees bursting through the roofs of abandoned houses and mannequins in 1970s bell-bottoms staring out of shattered storefront windows. The few grand pianos not looted by Turkish soldiers were sitting idle and dust-covered in abandoned living rooms. For some Turkish Cypriots in the area, the occupation of Varosha — still heavily patrolled by Turkish soldiers — is an outrage and embarrassment.
Why is Famagusta known as a ‘ghost town’?
Varosha, a suburb of Famagusta was once a popular tourist destination on the East Coast of Cyprus, however on 20th July 1974 the Turkish invaded and its occupants fled. The Turkish Military fenced off the area and it became a deserted and abandoned town. For a long time after remnants of the town’s former life could still be seen through the windows of the houses; tables were still laid, possessions still scattered around. It is for this reason that Famagusta became known as a ‘ghost town’.
Famagusta was once a thriving holiday destination of turquoise seas and pale sandy beaches, and particularly popular with British tourists in the seventies.
Today the beaches are deserted and surrounded by barbed wire; houses, shops and businesses lie derelict. The city is now a ghost town.
The reopening of Varosha is one of the bargaining chips used by both sides but has proved to be a constant stumbling block. The south wants to reclaim it but is not prepared to accept the north’s contention that although the Greek Cypriots lived there, the land was leased to them by an Islamic charitable foundation.
Varosha would have been returned to the Republic of Cyprus as part of the Annan Plan, but the plan was rejected by the Greek Cypriot voters.