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Victoria Hislop, Cyprus

Famagusta, Cyprus,Ghost City...

Famagusta, on the east coast of Cyprus, was once one of the most glamorous resorts in the Mediterranean. Its miles of pale sand and clear turquoise sea made it a destination for the Seventies jet-set, attracting thousands of visitors each year.

Along with the tourists, the strong population enjoyed a life rich in culture, with art, music and theatre that was the best on the island. The modern district, where the luxury hotels and apartments were situated, was inhabited mostly by Greek Cypriots, while the walled city that contained the historical treasures of Famagusta – including numerous Byzantine churches and a spectacular 14th-century cathedral from the Frankish period was lived in by Turkish Cypriots.

But 40 years ago this month, Famagusta’s reign as a paradise for islanders and tourists came to an abrupt and untimely end. Following a Greek military coup in July 1974, Turkish forces invaded, ostensibly to restore constitutional order and to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority. After a brief period of ceasefire, Famagusta was bombarded and Turkish tanks then advanced.That city was Famagusta, a city that had become a symbol for the island’s division.

The year of my first visit, the border was entirely sealed, and it remained so for another 25 years. Then, in 2003, the Turkish authorities opened it to allow people to visit their old homes . Many found them occupied by Turkish Cypriots or settlers from Turkey. It was a traumatic experience in every way, many finding their houses had been destroyed or altered beyond recognition.

Today, one part of Famagusta still remains entirely sealed off by rusting barbed wire, fiercely guarded by Turkish troops. Comprising the stretch of golden sand, behind which stand skeletons of bombed and abandoned hotels and apartments, and streets of looted shops, restaurants, mansions. The ghost town is heavily guarded by soldiers, and aggressive signs make it clear that this is a forbitten area. Through huge holes in the plastic netting there is a provocatively clear view of the dereliction that lies behind. Weeds sprout between the paving stones, window panes are broken, the atmosphere eerie and sinister.

Famagusta is known to the Greeks as Ammohostos “buried in the sand”. I hope that the issue of its rightful return will not meet this fate.

Victoria Hislop’s novel, 'The Sunrise’...


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