Tens of thousands of people have visited the formerly fenced off seaside resort of Varosha / Maraş in Famagusta district following its historic re-opening to the public in October of this year.
The town had laid abandoned for decades after being deserted by its 39,000 inhabitants during the 1974 War in Cyprus.
It was brought under Turkish military control in the aftermath of the conflict, who ensured the area remained strictly off-limits, waiting for a political settlement that would allow property owners to return.
With no deal in sight, the Turkish Cypriot government announced in 2019 that it was willing to unilaterally revive the resort, formerly known as the ‘French Riviera of Cyprus’ for attracting celebrities such as actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
After a basic clean-up, improvements to pavements and the re-laying of tarmac on the two main streets, Varosha / Maraş was re-opened to the public for the first time in 46 years on 8 October 2020, following a decree by the Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister, now President, Ersin Tatar, who was backed by Turkey.
Since then, between 500 and 1,000 people have visited the area each day, rising to as many as 7,000 people at weekends, according to Gazimağusa Council Leader İsmail Arter.
Thousands of people have flocked to see Varosha since its re-opening on 8 October 2020
Visitors are free to wander around the 3.5 kilometres of streets in Varosha / Maraş. Those that wish can also hire a bike for 10 Turkish Lira to explore the town.
Mr Arter told Turkish Cypriot news agency TAK (Türk Ajansı Kıbrıs) that from what he could see, most people left happy after seeing this historic town, but he also noted it was a highly emotional experience for some visitors.
“Naturally, people become emotional. It is something else. I think this opening will positively affect the Cyprus negotiation process that has been going on for years,” Mr Arter said.
He explained that improvements to the area continue, with some landscaping, and a picnic and children’s play areas also added.
He said Gazimağusa Council is investing in infrastructure works so Varosha has running water, electricity and telephone lines again, while police officers on scooters constantly patrolling the streets.
The council leader believes the momentum in revitalising Varosha needs to continue.
“The process should not stop. Otherwise, we only opened the two main streets [measuring] 3.5 kilometres, people will come, [and] come again, what will happen next? The follow-up steps need to be planned.
“For people in the South, the thinking, the planning is to use the Immovable Property Commission formula to enable Varosha property owners to access their properties. Right now, this appears to be the most likely formula going forward.”
Mr Arter stressed that private properties in the town had not been touched and that it was illegal to enter into such properties. These had been marked as ‘off-limits’ to the public.
He added that the re-opening of Varosha should stimulate a solution to the long-running talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, which have been taking place since the 1960s:
“This [re-opening of Varosha] should both motivate and encourage the leaders of the two communities,” adding “One has to think what will happen if we don’t head towards an agreement.”
Image, top, of abandoned properties in Varosha on day it opened to the public on 08 Oct. 2020. Photo © Selim Kumbaraci / Pasedembo