In the early 1970’s, the Varosha quarter in Famagusta, Cyprus was one of the Mediterranean’s most popular and glamorous tourist destinations. The bright blue waters and beautiful sandy beaches were draws for such stars as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Raquel Welch, and Brigitte Bardot. Population of the area grew to about 39,000 people, but by the end of 1974 the town would be conquered by Turkish troops, fenced off completely, and have a population of zero. Today the former millionaire’s playground resort still stands vacant and fenced off, guarded by Turkish soldiers and doubtful to open anytime soon.
The island of Cyprus has been the subject of a constant tug-of-war battle between Greece and Turkey for centuries. Until 1974, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots were able to live together on the island largely without incident. However in August of 1974 the Turkish military seized the predominantly Greek Varosha quarter of Famagusta. Residents – fearing being slaughtered by the advancing tanks – fled the city with only the clothes on their backs, leaving all possessions behind. Other sections of Varosha were bombed by the Turkish air force, destroying many buildings. Once the Turks had gained control of the area they fenced it off, and have since refused admittance to anyone except the Turkish military.
Homes still have closets full of clothes, cabinets full of dishes, and there is even a car dealership still stocked with ‘brand new’ 1974 model-year cars. Dozens of hotels along the coastline sit empty with broken windows and fully furnished rooms and countless cars sit collecting dust in garages. There is even a construction crane still towering above the skyline – the future hotel it was to build never finished.
So why is the area still barricaded and patrolled by Turkish troops? Varosha is protected by a 1984 UN Security Council resolution that states the empty town can only be resettled by its original inhabitants. This resolution has prevented Turkish authorities from re-opening Varosha as they are in no hurry to return it to the Greeks (if I can’t have it, you can’t have it either). Some speculate Turkey is holding Varosha as a bargaining chip for future concessions from Greece.
Until Turkey relinquishes Varosha, it will continue to be battered by the elements and slowly crumble over time. Turkish troops still routinely patrol the region and trespassers are imprisoned or executed; troops are authorized to use lethal force. No official visits have been granted, and the only photographs we have are from bold tourists brave enough to jump the fence and risk personal harm eluding Turkish troops in order to snap pictures.
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