Drones are one of the few ways to see Varosha, Famagusta. The Cypriot town, once a jewel in the Mediterranean‘s luxury resort-town crown, is now out of bounds to civilians. In a coma for the past 43 years, Varosha used to be the kind of town that never slept, but after 40,000 people were forced to flee on a day burned into the memories of generations of Cypriots worldwide, it became a ghost town, frozen in time.
Journalists brave enough to enter the city speak of clothes still hanging in the closets of long-abandoned buildings and car dealerships fully stocked with now-vintage models. Look closely, and you can still see the beach umbrellas stuck in the sand.
The story of Varosha could have been so different. In the 1960s and 70s, it was one of the most popular resorts in the world, and a favourite among the stars. Richard Burton, Raquel Welch and Brigitte Bardot were often spotted on JFK Avenue, the main road that runs from the port of Famagusta, through Varosha and parallel to Glossa Beach.
After the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, new borders were drawn in the sand. The irony is that the island’s most-loved piece of coastline cannot be enjoyed by either now. Instead, it is wasted as a buffer zone, along with Nicosia‘s International Airport, also in disrepair. Quiet apart from the occasional military patrol car, the town remains untouched, and nature has already begun her reclamation.
As metal corrodes, roads crack and windows break, the plants have worked their roots into the walls and pavements. Vines have turned hotels into cascading vegetation, and sea turtles have found sanctuary on the deserted beaches. The once-famous town is now infamous, and excursions to Famagusta will pass as close as possible to the military fence to catch a glimpse of the unnerving landscape beyond.
Tour operators to Famagusta promise visits to the ancient city of Salamis, the 14th Century Gothic Cathedral of St. Nicholas and Othello Castle, but it is the island’s most recent ruins the people come to see, drawn by the macabre spectacle of a one-glamorous, perished society.
Should the dispute ever be resolved and the illegally occupied land returned to its owners, experts say the people will have to start from scratch. Decades of neglect and exposure to the elements means most of the structures are unsafe. The town’s infrastructure has decayed and is woefully outdated.
In a world where it seems more borders are being put up, perhaps one day terms will be agreed that will mean this border can be torn down. For now, paradise remains just out of reach.