From 1970 to 1974, Varosha in the Famagusta Province of Cyprus was the preeminent vacation destination on the Mediterranean. It even had a John F. Kennedy Avenue which ran along its main beach. For those who visited the resort town, and those who lived in it, it was a Cypriot equivalent of the French Riviera. A who’s who of movie stars and millionaires frequented its beautiful beaches.
But in 1974, everything changed. Turkish forces invaded the island to quell a coup ordered by the Greek military government against the Turkish-backed Cypriot government. The northern third of the island was eventually taken over and occupied by Turkish military guards, and is now the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. (This included Famagusta and Varosha.) Fearing massacre, the 40,000 residents of Varosha fled in a day, leaving behind everything they could not carry, as Turkish forces invaded the island.
Car dealerships are still full of cars. Clothing stores remain stocked with the mannequins displaying 1970’s fashion. Houses are full of possessions. Hotels are still furnished. A once bustling resort town is now silent and empty.
Turkish guards still patrol the “Green Line” between the Republic of Cyprus and the the Turkish Cypriot Republic. Varosha lies on this border and is fenced off from the public with signs warning that trespassers will be shot. UN peacekeeping forces patrol the DMZ between northern and southern Cyprus to reduce conflict. Protesters and expats pin notes and memorabilia to the fence. There are some who hope that Varosha will be reopened, but its state of decay is such that the site would have to be leveled rather than repaired.
Sand dunes have invaded the ground floors of most of the buildings. Trees and bushes have grown up in and around the buildings. Turtles and gulls now lay eggs on the beaches once frequented by Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.
That’s it, except to say that Cyprus is the only foreign location of an English Royal Wedding. In 1191, King Richard I married Berengaria of Navarre in the Chapel of St George in Limassol, Cyprus. Her ship had been stricken there by a storm, and Richard didn’t want to delay his marriage. So long, until next week.