Can you visit Varosha (Maraş) North Cyprus?

varosha maraş

What do you know about Varosha (Maraş) North Cyprus?

Varosha, once a jewel on Cyprus’s golden east coast, is now a ghost town.

Varosha (Maraş) is the southern half of Famagusta, a de jure Cyprus region now held by Northern Cyprus. Varosha has a total area of 6.19 km. Varosha got its name from the Turkish word varoş, which means ‘suburb’ in Turkish. Famagusta’s walled city was once a valuable and renowned tourist destination. Varosha’s current location was once empty pastures where animals roamed. Varosha was a tiny Turkish village governed by the Turkish Ottoman Empire from 1571 to 1878. The Turkish Cypriot religious foundations owned Varosha’s land (Abdullah Pasha Vakif, Lala Mustafa Pasha Vakif, and Bilal Aga Vakif). The Turks rented the island of Cyprus to the United Kingdom in 1878.

varosha maraş

The British administration transferred Turkish estates in Varosha to Greek Cypriots in the early 1900s without telling the Turkish owners and without their knowledge and authorization. John F. Kennedy Avenue, which extended from near the port of Famagusta through Varosha and parallels to Glossa beach, was one of Varosha’s most notable features. Many well-known high-rise hotels lined JFK Avenue, including the King George Hotel, The Asterias Hotel, The Grecian Hotel, The Florida Hotel, and The Argo Hotel, which was Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite. With views of Protaras and Fig Tree Bay, the Argo Hotel is near the end of JFK Avenue.

Another important street in Varosha was Leonidas, a prominent thoroughfare that ran west from JFK Avenue to Vienna Corner. Leonidas was Varosha’s main shopping and entertainment strip, including pubs, restaurants, nightclubs, and a Toyota dealership.

Where is Varosha (Maraş) located?

If the relics of the Ottoman siege may be found in the old town of Famagusta, the “new town” of Varosha, now officially Maraş, is a melancholy memory of a more recent struggle. The Greeks created a flourishing hamlet here, surrounded by orange trees, after being evicted from the old town in the 1570s. Over time, the new town’s population surpassed that of the old, and its beach section, Glossa, became a high-end resort known as “the Monte Carlo of the Middle East,” attracting celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.

The Turkish army conquered Varosha in its entirety during the 1974 military intervention, forcing the Greek populace to migrate to the south. It festers in the sun now, surrounded by walls, barbed wire, and checkpoints, its high-rise hotels disintegrating and its broken tarmac overtaken by weeds and bushes.

varosha
before closure

Varosha’s fate has been a source of frustration among Greek Cypriots for nearly four decades, as well as a powerful negotiation tool for the Turks, who have purposefully delayed any development of the resort. Various proposals have been made to break the deadlock, the most recent of which is to turn the town into a UN-managed buffer zone, allowing Greek Cypriots to return as a gesture of goodwill rather than as a prelude to reunification. This, it is assumed, would assist lubricate the wheels of Turkey’s EU membership.

Varosha “may, as in the past, be a bridge of peace, optimism, collaboration, and cohabitation,” President Demetris Christofias declared in August 2012, and it has been one of the subjects discussed in ongoing negotiations in 2015 and 2016. In the latest move in Turkey’s power play in the eastern Mediterranean, Varosha, formerly a stylish resort, is being renovated. The idea of resurrecting the eastern Mediterranean’s most famous ghost town as a 21st-century amusement park would have been inconceivable not long ago. There has been almost no activity among the battle debris allowed to rot with the passage of time for more than four decades.

varosha
after reopening

Construction workers have been sprucing up a spot whose fate could be a game-changer in the drive to put the divided island back together again, laying cement, removing garbage, and roping off edifices locked off from public view since Ankara brought in troops and tanks in 1974. Since the beachfront sector of Turkish Cyprus was partially reopened to the public in 2020, more than 200,000 tourists have visited Varosha. Varosha had effectively become a ghost town after being sealed off from the rest of the world for 47 years.

Since last October, a part of the region, around 3.5 percent of the overall area, has been reopened, with visitors welcome from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The municipal authorities of Gazimağusa, which encompasses the coastal Varosha area, have set up refreshment kiosks and bike rental stations for visitors. Along the two main beaches, sunbeds and umbrellas have been constructed, and a variety of social activities are held on a regular basis.

After Turkey’s military intervention on the island in 1974 as a guarantor power to safeguard Turkish Cypriots from persecution and violence, Varosha was abandoned. However, according to a United Nations Security Council resolution from 1984, the town can only be resettled by its legitimate residents. Only Turkish military forces stationed in Turkish Cyprus were allowed to enter the town. Despite a succession of diplomatic efforts by the United Nations to seek a comprehensive settlement, Cyprus has been stuck in a decades-long dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In recent years, there has been a sporadic peace process, including a failed 2017 proposal in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkey, Greece, and the United Kingdom.

varosha

Ersin Tatar, the Turkish Cypriot leader, will travel to New York in September for the United Nations General Assembly, where he expects to meet with Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades once more in an attempt to find enough common ground to restart formal negotiations for the first time since UN-brokered talks collapsed in 2017.

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