Into the Forbidden Zone: Varosha, ghost city of Cyprus

30 03 2013
Varosha from Palm Beach

Varosha from Palm Beach

In 1974, the glamorous resort town of Varosha in Cyprus was abandoned by its 35,000 mainly Greek Cypriot residents after the Turkish army invaded the northern part of the island. Now fenced off and forlorn, Varosha has never been resettled, being set aside by the Turkish authorities as a possible bargaining chip should negotiations even begin with the south. Today, nearly 40 years after being abandoned, Varosha remains one of the largest modern ruins in existence, on a par with Pripyat in the contaminated zone around Chernobyl in Ukraine.

2. Fence around Varosha

1. Fence around Varosha

As part of the militarised zone between northern and southern Cyprus, Varosha is effectively off limits to all but official visitors: a ‘Forbidden Zone’ as the countless signs along the fence proclaim (1). The fence itself is a formidable barrier to any would-be explorers: a mixture of barbed wire, corrugated iron, Prickly Pear cacti, oil drums and signs warning off intruders. Yet, away from the obvious observation towers on the town’s seafront, where lone guards sit or stand in abject boredom or blow whistles at anyone trying to take photographs, there’s surprisingly little security: gaps have opened in the fence and it’s easy to slip in and out unnoticed.

2. View over Varosha from a former apartment building

2. View over Varosha from a former apartment building

3. Vegetation in Irakleus Street, Varosha

3. Vegetation in Irakleus Street, Varosha

4. Former workshop in Ermou Street, Varosha

4. Former workshop in Ermou Street, Varosha

5. Ermou Street, Varosha

5. Ermou Street, Varosha

So, my two visits inside the abandoned town were not fraught with danger; neither did they involve anything more physical than slipping through a large hole in the fence. Yet, once inside everything is different. You are at once an illegal trespasser in danger of arrest or even of being shot; an explorer of unimaginable ruins stretching as far as the eye can see (2); and the ‘Last Man’ (or woman) of Mary Shelley’s invention (and countless fictional end-of-the-world stories since). Almost 40 years without human intervention have resulted in the streets becoming overgrown with lush vegetation (3); former shops and bars disintegrating in the hot sunshine (4); signs becoming simply vacant spaces in the sky (5); and former apartments turning into the homes of pigeons and crows (6). Everyday spaces and objects left by fleeing residents now take on an uncanny or surreal quality: omnipresent peeling paint creates a new kind of interior aesthetic (7); broken chairs and rusted fridges and stoves become reminders of the accelerated redundancy of modern objects (8); a stripped motorcycle metamorphoses into a human skeleton (9); and a strange animal-like sculpture creates a mysterious presence in an empty room (10) (is it a post-abadonment intervention or just an unsalvageable leftover?)

6. Line of pigeon droppings in a former house in Varosha

6. Line of pigeon droppings in a former house in Varosha

7. Peeling paint in a former house in Varosha

7. Peeling paint in a former house in Varosha

8. Rusting 1970s fridge on a rooftop terrace in Varosha

8. Rusting 1970s fridge on a rooftop terrace in Varosha

9. Rusting bicycle

9. Dismembered motorcycle

10. Mysterious object in a room in Varosha

10. Mysterious object in a room in Varosha

Ruins on this city-like kind of scale always invite an immersive form of meditation. Sit still for a while and you hear the sounds of nature reclaiming the human environment: the cooing of pigeons, the cawing of crows, the wind rustling old curtains and rattling decrepit doors and windows (11). This, together with the obvious abolishment of what was once private property, is the emancipatory power of urban ruins: they calm, liberate and offer visions of different kinds of futures freed from the constraints of the normative present. However, ruins on this kind of scale are also always deeply unsettling, especially if we think of the violence that made them what they are. Embedded somewhere in the present peaceful spaces are traces of the tens of thousands of stories of violent rupture and loss that accompanied the abandonment of Varosha. All these silent spaces were once imbued with human qualities, whether those of the home, workplace or places of play. It is these stories that are waiting to be reconnnected with the spaces as they are now.

11. View over Varosha (video)

More of my photographs of Varosha can be found here.

About these ads

Actions

Information

50 responses

30 03 2013
Quintin Lake

Wow this is extraordinary. Book on ghost cities in the works? Was it more harrowing that Pripyat?

20 02 2014
Hugo Uyttenhove (@HugoUyttenhove)

Verosha plays a big role in my newest adventure/mystery novel The Cyprus Conceit. See http://www.cyprusconceit.com

30 03 2013
dobraszczyk

Thanks Quintin. I’m planning a book on the subject – but this is a long-term project! I’m hoping to get to another 4 sites over the next few years (the Oil Rocks near Baku, Detroit, empty new cities in China, and possibly Hashima Island near Nagasaki) and will apply for some funding in the summer.

Very different from Pripyat. I felt the place was wonderfully peaceful and not harrowing at all. There isn’t the sense of violence in Varosha that I felt quite strongly at Pripyat, or the obvious threat of radiation. However, I think my feeling about the whole Pripyat experience was bound up with what happened to us afterwards! On this trip I was staying in a luxury hotel for the whole time and nothing bad happened…

31 03 2013
Quintin Lake

Excellent concept for a book – good luck with that. The photographs look peaceful. Glad you had some luxury and no Ukraine nightmares! Have you seen this list http://www.buzzfeed.com/awesomer/the-33-most-beautiful-abandoned-places-in-the-world would make an epic journey to do them all on one trip!

31 03 2013
dobraszczyk

No, hadn’t seen that list. Great stuff. Yes, planning on applying for funding for just such a trip (maybe not all 33 though!).

30 03 2013
decayetude

Very haunting and evocative, Paul

30 03 2013
dobraszczyk

Thank-you for your kind words.

30 03 2013
Nicholas PHILPOT

Brave man ! but rewarded with fine photos. I would have done the same when I was there 2 years ago, but felt somewhat inhibited, being the guest of diplomats ! Nicholas

_____

31 03 2013
dobraszczyk

Thanks Nicholas. I guess it might have seemed a bit rude!

1 04 2013
East of Elveden

Excellent photos and text of a fascinating place. I saw the apartment blocks of Varosha in the distance when I visted Famagusta in TRNC a few years ago. I didn’t realise that it was so easy to slip through the fence or I would have been tempted. Have you ever visited the abandoned towns and cities in Nagorno-Karabakh – or been tempted to?

1 04 2013
dobraszczyk

Thanks Laurence. I haven’t visited the abandoned towns in Nagorno-Karabakh. Do tell me more! Were they abandoned due to ethnic conflict?

3 04 2013
Elizabeth

Very interesting. Some of my students have been researching sites in the Caribbean which have been abandoned/devastated due to natural disasters.

3 04 2013
dobraszczyk

Thanks Elizabeth. Was one of those sites Plymouth in Montserrat? I’d like to go there…

18 04 2013
Ghosts in the city: the ruined churches of Famagusta | rag-picking history

[...] battleships in the industrial port; barracks sealed off by barbed wire; and, in the distance, the ghost city of Varosha, the modern formerly-Greek suburb that’s now a sealed-off forbidden [...]

8 07 2013
Misplaced Places’ International Ghost Towns: Varosha, Cyprus | prettyawfulthings

[…] Simon Ward, Abandoned Places, Japanese Nostalgic Car, Sometimes Interesting, Forbidden Places and Rag-Picking History. Video via Sertaç Yıldz. Via The Weather Channel, Wikipedia, Urban Ghosts, The New York Times and […]

3 09 2013
Olympiada

This is my home town which we were forced to leave in 1974 following the Turkish invasion. Not a day goes by without thinking of it. I have the most wonderful album of images of how it was. Sadly it is not one can print. Together with other Famagustians we walk through the streets of Famagusta daily through our past memories. We often think about just going in and going back home. The consequences of getting caught by the Turkish army have so far prevented us. But seeing these photos makes me really want to do it. We are all tired. We want to go home. 39 years is a long time to wait to return home. I would like to make one comment. We did leave in a hurry as the Turkish planes were bombing the town. But we took nothing with us! The town was subsequently looted of all that was movable by the Turks.

4 09 2013
dobraszczyk

Thanks so much for your comments. I’m currently researching the long-term social impact of abandoned towns/cities and would really appreciate talking to you some more about your memories of Varosha and your feelings about its abandonment. Would it be ok to email you with some questions? Thank-you, Paul

4 09 2013
Olympiada

Yes you can email me even though i feel very sad that we have become the subject of study!

3 09 2013
Avghi F.

As a Famagusta born and raised citizen it is very devastating to watch such photos……we were forced, and i was a child then, to evacuate the town as the Turkish Military were advancing in 1974……the city, a beautiful city upto 1974, full of life and the number 1 tourist resort of Cyprus has ever since 1974, contrary to various UN Resolutions been kept uninhabited and a hostage to the Turksh Army still occupying nearly 40% of the island……a disgrace to the International Community, but, who cares for a small island in the Mediterranean??…..only us the people of Cyprus…….

4 09 2013
dobraszczyk

Thanks so much for your comments. I’m currently researching the long-term social impact of abandoned towns/cities and would really appreciate talking to you some more about your memories of Varosha and your feelings about its abandonment. Would it be ok to email you with some questions? Thank-you, Paul

4 09 2013
Avghi F.

Of course…..please do so…..

4 09 2013
lina dugan

AVGI………. KEEP THE HOPE ALIVE !!!! CYPRUS HAS AN EXTREME GEOGRAPHICAL POSITION….. (THAT IS WHY IT SUFFERS) BUT ALL NEED TO USE CYPRUS FOR THEIR PURPOSE…….. ALL CYPRIOTS NEED IS A STRONG LEADER TO RENEGOTIATE WITH THE PLANET RULLERS WHEN THEY NEED TO USE CYPRIOT SOIL FOR THEIR PURPOSE.

4 09 2013
Avghi F.

…..and unfortunately Lina our island has not enjoyed any such president……we are a spot in the Mediterranean with yes, alas, this geographical position…..through the centuries we have suffered for this position…..lets hope that now with the natural gas things will change….but I wonder, natural gas found on Cypriot territory is a bless or a curse??!!!!!……

3 09 2013
lina dugan

GHOST TOWN ???? UNDER THE TURKISH MILITARY BOOT. 39 YEARS NOT “ALLOWED” TO GO HOME? THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY NOT DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT. HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN UNDER THE PROTECTION OF THE UNITED NATIONS “PEACE KEEPERS? ASK YOURSELVES FIRST.

4 09 2013
Olympiada

One further comment: we might have been forced to leave but we have not abandoned our home town, we have not and we will not ever forget it.

8 11 2013
Can

I wish we people learn how to live in peace someday ,I know it will be because has to be, sorry for who left their home just because some greedy world powers was playing a game on Cyprus.,I am saying that as a Turkish origin (from Istanbul) also North Cyprus and US citizen…love and peace

8 11 2013
dobraszczyk

Thank-you for your wise words on what is understandably for many a very emotive subject.

7 12 2013
Martin Standage

I also did the same as you but many years ago and I can appreciate what you wrote about the atmosphere of the place etc…….you cannot describe it in words and have to experience it to understand.But I was also very nervous about getting caught and did not go far in or stay very long!The consequences are quite unpleasant if they do catch you because the Turkish Military consider that trespassing in any of their restricted zones is a serious offence and will interrogate,try and then prosecute you!Several hundred Euros is the minimum fine and there may also be imprisonment for 30 days!I would be glad to correspond-here is my e-mail:newmart2004@yahoo.co.uk

7 12 2013
dobraszczyk

Thanks Martin – I will be touch (thanks for your email address). Yes, I was aware of the dangers of being caught and I guess I weighed that possibility up against the potential value of the experience. I nearly did get caught when I went in for the first time but that actually made it easier the second time because I knew exactly where the guards were. But it was risky and I’d have felt completely differently if I had been caught. The thought of being imprisoned in a place that has no diplomatic relations with Britain still makes me feel pretty awful. But I felt that the likelihood of being caught was quite low (& I was extremely careful and very quiet).

8 12 2013
Martin Standage

Thanks for replying-I will be waiting eagerly for your e-mail!Martin.

14 01 2014
Ksanthos

I can see my flat in one of those photos. Thank you for risking your freedom to take them. It’s interesting that although the place has no diplomatic relations with Britain but the British Council has their cultural department in the occupied area of Nicosia. There is a game being played and the losers are the Cypriots belonging to any ethnicity.

14 01 2014
dobraszczyk

You are quite right – Britain has a lot to answer for and my guess is that they know that all too well. Can you tell me more about your flat? Which photo is it in and where exactly? Would I be able to email you with some more questions? Thanks so much for your comment!

30 12 2013
14 01 2014
chrisrdh

In 1971, I was a disk jockey at the (nearly finished) Appolonia Beach Hotel, a few miles out of Limassol, on the Nicosia Road. (To the right, after the bridge over the …whatever it was called … river.) It was a gas. The workmen building the disco were Greeks and Turks. Indeed the head gaffer (a Greek) was madly in love and engaged to a beautiful Turkish girl. I used to sit with their fathers in the town square (in front of the restaurant that the father of the bride-to-be, owned). They were despondent about the future. Like an idiot I was effusively optimistic (well, I was young and British). But they clinked their glasses of Ouzo / Raki and smiled indulgently at me. You’ll see my boy, they chorused, perfectly in synch.

“So,” I asked, “won’t your son and daughter get married, then?”

They looked at each other and smiled. A mediterranean smile.

“Unfortunately, no.

And, sadly, they were right.

14 01 2014
dobraszczyk

Thanks for this interesting story – I’d love to hear more about your experiences of Varosha pre-1974.

14 01 2014
Steve Jones

I visited the area last September and walked up to the beach front wire. I noticed people in the distance playing in the sea. Probably half a mile away. I was informed by our tourist guide that Turkey had refurbished a couple of hotels and were being occupied by Turkish troops and their families. Can this be confirmed as being correct.

14 01 2014
Elizabeth Kelly

I would love to go there with my camera,then stay & work to rebuild the town. With the former inhabitants. They should all get their homes back.

14 01 2014
dobraszczyk

I think that is correct – the Turkish army have a large barracks on the edge of Varosha and part of it is within the fenced-off area (and this includes some buildings used for accommodation).

15 01 2014
Martin

Absolutely-since 1975 they have used the Sandy Beach Hotel and a number of adjacent buildings-there are some excellent photos via Mike Ogs facebook page under the Gazi Magosa Ordu evi section.

15 01 2014
emsyjo

Thank you for sharing the fascinating photos. I am very interested in the history and would dearly love to explore the area ‘behind the wire’ . I have lived in Cyprus for 4 years and my apartment overlooks Varosha, my son learns about it at school and one day I would dearly love it to be opened up, both for the rightful inhabitants and future generations.

18 01 2014
Martin Standage

Without a doubt,the area still has some fascinating curios,despite extensive looting by the Turkish Army after they captured it in 1974 and we must remember that these articles have great personal significance for their owners and their descendants,if and when the area is ever opened up again.The current eco-city project seminar which ends tomorrow aims at promoting a unique future via the re-building of Varosha on an ecological basis for the benefit of all its inhabitants but for this to happen we need a political breakthrough on the Cyprus question and Turkey hold the keys to Varosha…the big question is,will they now use them at last???

14 04 2014
Francesca

This article and the photos greatly intrigue me. I’m heading to Cyprus, Ayia Napa this summer and I’d absolutely love to visit Varosha. I have two questions, how far is Ayia Napa from Varosha? And just how did you manage to slip in? I really commend your bravery and your words and photos are beautiful. Well done.

16 04 2014
Martin

Ayia Napa is about 10kms south of Varosha and although we all commend the bravery of the person who went in secretly and took these fascinating photos I don’t recommend you try it Francesca because it is very risky and the penalties from the Turkish Army in the likely even that you are caught will definitely ruin your holiday in Cyprus-that I can promise! Actually there is once again a lot of discussion about opening-up Varosha so its inhabitants can return and rebuild it etc. but that is unlikely to happen in the very near future?

16 04 2014
lina dugan.

I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMEND FOR EVERYONE TO WATCH “MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” FILMED YEARS AGO. NOTHING MUCH HAS CHANGED WITH REGARDS TO BRUTTALITY. EVEN TURKISH CYPRIOTS HAD ENOUGH OF THEM.

16 04 2014
Martin

I wouldn’t go quite that far but Turkey does class Varosha as a Grade 1 military area and therefore trespassers are subject to military law and not civilian law. People caught in Varosha without permission are subject to arrest and then verbal interrogation by MIT the Turkish military Intelligence, who then decide what to do with them: at best it will be release with a severe warning and probable deportation to the south of Cyprus if you are staying on this side, along with blacklisting so that you cannot go over there again for an indefinite period! More than likely though you will be tried by a military court after several days detention in uncomfortable conditions, fined the equivalent of several hundred euros and possibly imprisoned for a short period, which will be almost certain if you cannot pay the fine or get someone else to on your behalf! This could also involve confiscation of your car in lieu if you are not using a hired vehicle and have a private one!
Regardless of the ins and outs of whether they have the right to or not, they will tell you that there is no excuse that you didn’t know because there are multi-lingual signs on the fence at regular intervals warning that it’s a prohibited area and therefore you deliberately broke the rules etc! They don’t mess around and consider that trespassing is akin to spying, especially if you are staying or living in the south of the island……

24 04 2014
lina dugan

WHEN I WAS FIRST INVOLVED WITH THE ABOVE SUBJECT OF “VAROSI” YOU MANAGED TO TOUCH A CHORD IN MY HEART.
NOW I FEEL YOU HAVE THE AUDACITY & TENACITY TO HIDE BEHIND SEMANTIC WORDS.
FREEDOM MEANS FREEDOM MY FRIEND , UNLESS YOU BELONG TO WORLDS FAR APART. OUR ULTIMATE GOAL IS NOT TO PATRONISE. WE DO NOT ASK FOR SYMPATHY BUT PERHAPS EMPATHY.
WHAT YOU WROTE IS PROPOSTEROUS!!!!! AND YOU KNOW IT, OTHERWISE WHY DID YOU RISK GOING TO THE “FORBITTEN ZONE”
IF YOU HAD A RELATIVE REPEATETLY RAPED BY MULTIPLE TURKISH MILITARY INVADERS, INFRONT OF YOUR FIANCEE THEN KILLING HIM IN FRON OF YOU……… YOUR BROTHER TAKEN AS PRISONER OF WAR AND TAKEN TO MAINLAND TURKEY…… BEING FORCED TO SURVIVE ON HIS OWN URINE………ANOTHER HAVING A BERKOLA BOTTLE PUSHED UP IN HIS RECTUM OR A PREGNANT GIRL HAVING HER UNBORN BABY RIPPED OUT LETTING HER BLEED TO DEATH, PERHAPS YOU MAY UNDERSTAND HOW AND WHY OUR CYPRIOT PEOPLE FEEL.
NOT ONE TWO THREE FOUR OR FIVE YEARS………… THIS IS FOURTY YEARS OF MENTAL TORTURE AND ABUSE, (THIS TIME ROUND) OF LOOSING OUR YOUTH AND MEMORIES AWAITING FOR THE RETURN BACK HOME.
PEACE AND STABILITY IS A VERTUE MY FRIEND………AND IF YOU HAVE THE GUTS , PLEASE JOIN US TO ACHIVE OUR RETURN H O M E
HELP US BY SPREADING THIS TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY IN ORDER TO ENJOY THE REST OF OUR LIVES AND OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN CAN HAVE THEIR RIGHT TO INHERRITANCE IN PEACE

25 04 2014
Martin

Sadly we all live in a very unjust world and the way I described current conditions in Varosha is how things are, whether we like them or not, of course we don’t. From what you wrote it seems that you are a Greek-Cypriot who has relatives who had very bad experiences in 1974 in Cyprus and of course nothing can change that…….but we have to try to learn from the mistakes of the past and try to look forward to the possibility of building a better future for everyone who lives on this island, regardless of their name, religion etc. I was not attempting to ‘whitewash’ anything but just being factual about how things stand at the moment and I really hope this has cleared up any mis-understanding?
Although Cyprus matters a lot to people like us, this conflict is over 50 years old and since 1974 there has been no further serous trouble here, while we only need to look at Ukraine and what Russia is doing there at this very moment to remind us that we still have a hell of a long way to go and a lot to learn for our planet to become a better place! Time is said to heal all things but it also fades memories and that is something never to be forgotten?

16 04 2014
dobraszczyk

There are also plenty of places where you can see Varosha without breaking the law. The best place is Palm Beach where the abandoned hotels front the beach. I would not recommend to anyone to try and sneak into Varosha even though, as I’ve said, it’s easy because the fence is so long and riddled with holes. If I had thought for too long about what would have happened if I’d have got caught I would never have risked it. But I was very very lucky and I’d never try it again…

16 04 2014
Martin

Paul, can we discuss this direct by e-mail-I think it would be better for a number of reasons! here is my address:newmart2004@yahoo.co.uk
Thanks.

23 04 2014
7 Creepy Abandoned Cities | Cheapest Online Books

[…] Source: Ragpicking History […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,625 other followers

%d bloggers like this: