Cypriot ghost town waits for life to begin again

Mon Nov 9, 2009 10:17am EST
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By Sarah Ktisti

NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - An eerie silence lingers over Varosha, an abandoned Greek Cypriot neighborhood left in beachfront limbo since war split the Mediterranean island.

Derelict apartment blocks and crumbling hotels riddled with bullet holes sit on empty beaches behind barbed-wire fencing after Varosha's 15,000 residents fled in 1974, when a Turkish invasion sparked by a Greek-inspired coup split Cyprus.

Since then Varosha -- the Greek Cypriot quarter of the now Turkish Cypriot-controlled city of Famagusta has been sealed off. Turkish soldiers patrol a perimeter fence, with visitors only allowed to look at Varosha from afar.

If peace talks between estranged Greek and Turkish Cypriots succeed, Varosha could be one of the first Greek Cypriot areas to be revived, one of scores of abandoned areas creating a buffer separating the island's Turkish and Greek populations for three decades.

Town planners will face a mammoth task of restoring a town badly damaged by bullets and bombs and then left to crumble over 35 years of neglect.

"We want to take back our sleeping princess and turn her into a queen again," said Alexis Galanos, Varosha's municipal mayor in exile.

Varosha was once a suburb renowned for its artistic vibrancy and as a thriving business hub. What remains is reminiscent of an abandoned movie set. Snapshots taken by witnesses show furniture and upholstery still hanging from once pristine balconies that were badly damaged by the fighting.

Despite an estimated 10 billion euros ($14.97 billion) in reconstruction costs, Galanos says the economic returns of a rebuilt Varosha far outweigh the cost.   Continued...

<p>Deserted houses and streets are seen in this February 27, 1997 file photo taken during a press tour in the deserted town of Varosha, in northern Cyprus. REUTERS/Fatih Saribas</p>