The Concrete Corpses of Cyprus
Story and photos by Darrin DuFord

Standing in the shadows of Cyprus' youngest ruins triggers both an aversion to political obstinacy and an appreciation of nature's relaxed style of reclaiming human-created structures.

North Cyprus

Phantom hunger—that is what I will call it—had just hit me. A sign on the fence beside the entrance to the empty beach had endeavored to warn me about the risk of death by bullets or explosives, but the sign’s design, with its basic colors and simple, high contrast shadowing, had instead triggered vague thoughts of salty fast food.

Military signSuch an illustration technique is often used for logos of restaurant chains to provide punch and instant identifiability. And punch it did. The arrangement of smooth, simple black and white shapes depicted a humorless soldier, holding a semi-automatic firearm, his finger on the trigger, over a bright, value-meal red background. FORBIDDEN ZONE was written in five languages below the image.

Varosha, the neighborhood behind the fence, used to be a Greek Cypriot neighborhood with an enviable crescent beach, one of the most desirable on the island of Cyprus. After Turkey invaded in 1974, Varosha’s buildings were abandoned and fenced off. Now only Turkish troops and United Nations personnel are permitted entry.

A raised, box-like structure with windows on all sides came into view from inside the fenced-in area. It stood near a hotel, but unlike the hotel’s skeleton of weathered brick and cracked, leprous concrete, the box looked newer, clearly not part of the original resort experience. It was a lookout post. I decided to hide my camera—after a few pictures.

Pork, Paintball, and Partitions

Several days earlier, my passport had received the entry stamp of a territory recognized by only one country. Animosity between the island’s majority Greek and minority Turkish populations, dating back to the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus in the sixteenth century, led to bloody confrontations after the island gained independence from Britain in 1960. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus in response to a Greek-instrumented coup. Turkey has since occupied a strip of the island’s northern side. The occupied territory declared independence in 1983, calling itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized by Turkey alone. Attempts at an agreement between Greek and Turkish Cypriots to end the occupation have thus far failed.

Abandoned building in CyprusBut that does not stop Britons and other foreigners from retiring along the territory’s deliciously sunny coast. English-language signs declaring PAINTBALL and DARTS drifted past the window of the taxi as my wife and I headed to our hotel during our first hour in the territory. On the other side, I spotted a drawing of a grinning, bow-tied pig tempting drivers to stop at the PORK SHOP—featuring a protein technically prohibited by the Turks’ Islamic faith, but not for most of the thousands of visitors and expatriates from cooler climes. (The bilingual OPEN sign hinted that some Turkish Cypriots may also fancy the other white meat).

The rest of the view went something like this: scrub-covered mountains, orange trees, signs indicating fenced-off military bases, stuccoed vacation houses, repeat. It’s as if the whole occupation thing presents little more than an occasional inconvenience to visitors and residents.

Emre, our cab driver, was in his early thirties, his lean frame suggesting an athletic interest outside the hours of driving. Recalling how soccer owned the sports pages of the Turkish Cypriot newspapers I had seen online before my arrival, I leaned toward Emre and asked him if he played.

He raised his brows and bobbed his head up and down in a slow, indulgent nod. “Yes!” And then, “But internationally, Northern Cyprus can only play amateur games, due to the embargo.” His words flowed out softly, without the sharpened consonants of bitterness, even when he explained that international soccer federations only recognize the Greek Cypriot government of the south as the legitimate government of Cyprus.

He saw me gazing at a bowling alley passing by. “That place is new,” he said. “Bowling is very popular here.” I began imagining scenes of families, bad pizza, fun, the sweet thunder of balls hitting pins, normalcy.

Emre was born after the invasion. A divided Cyprus is the only Cyprus he has known. As he brought us to our hotel in Lapta—Turkish for Lapithos, a town whose 3,000 Greek residents fled to the south during the invasion—Emre beamed about the tourist sites of Northern Cyprus, including a copious assortment of ruins: crumbling castles, blunt-tipped cathedrals, and the remaining posts of Roman structures. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t mention the island’s newest ruins. While the buildings of Varosha are not as camera-friendly as those of the centuries-old sites, my wife and I felt they were just as important in telling the story of the island.

Strangers in their Houses

Conveniently, at the eastern port city of Famagusta, ruins from several eras stand practically side by side. The city’s walled old quarter, known for its medieval cathedrals from the Venetian and Lusignan periods in various states of integrity, stands less than a mile from the abandoned buildings of the neighborhood of Varosha.

The hulking wall of the old quarter greeted us from across the city’s bus stop. Arched openings in the wall that once held cannons were now dotted with empty beer bottles. Inside the walls, mannequins wearing discount clothing crowded onto narrow streets while competing for foot traffic with bakeries and shoe stores. But the street-level activity seemed like a sideshow when we looked up and never seemed to be able to hide from jagged stumps of broken flying buttresses gesturing obscenely into the Mediterranean sky; or the seven-hundred-year-old St. Nicholas cathedral (now a mosque), still imposing after an Ottoman invasion and an earthquake had lopped off the tips of its towers.

Monuments of religions past and present found themselves in a curiously irreligious setting. Across the street from the cathedral hung a sign for a lingerie store, with a three-foot photo of a young blonde woman modeling black panties and a bra. I spotted the sign from inside the cathedral through a window. Other ruins served as barriers for parking lots, imparting an oddly casual attitude towards past layers of history.

Continue to Page 2

Read this article online at: The Concrete Corpses of Cyprus

Copyright (C) Perceptive Travel 2017. All rights reserved.

Also in this issue:

Books from the Author:

Buy Is There a Hole in the Boat? Tales of Travel in Panama without a Car. at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK
Fishpond (Australia)

Buy Breakfast for Alligators: Quests, Showdowns, and Revelations in the Americas at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Sign Up