Prior to July 1974, Varosha, a resort in Famagusta on the east coast of Cyprus, was one of the most popular resorts in Europe, and certainly one of the most glamorous. The rich and famous came here for their holidays and many a tourist from far and wide enjoyed sunning themselves on the golden beaches and staying at one of the many luxury hotels that graced the resort.
After this date Famagusta changed forever. Literally. The Turkish Army invaded Cyprus in what was known as ‘Operation Attila’ and this resulted in a coup.
As the army approached Varosha inhabitants fled, intending to return when the violence ended.
When they fled their possessions remained, just as they were last used. Newspapers were left open on tables. Bottles were left on bars. Most people thought they were leaving for just a few hours, so literally walked out with only the clothes they had on their backs.
The Turkish Army controlled Varosha when a UN brokered ceasefire was declared in August 1974 and they fenced it off and have refused any visitors or former residents to return. Over forty years later this is still the case.
Famagusta is now a ghost town frozen in time, surrounded by barbed wire. Time has stood still and that newspaper is still where it was in 1974 on the table with spectacles laid on top and half a cup of coffee at its side.
So what happened to the people who lived there?
Once people fled Varosha they started to arrive in Nicosia. Some families tried to go back to Varosha the following day to collect belongings but they were only able to collect a few things, some returned with nothing due to the fact it was far too dangerous to stay around for too long.
The fighting in Varosha lasted for just three days, but the Turks put up barbed wire separating north from south. The former residents of Varosha were soon to realise they were not going back to what was once their home.
A great way to get a real feel of what life was like and how the town is today, is to do a trip to Famagusta. It does remain sealed off, but you will get to view this abandoned ‘ghost town’. The feeling is a mix of eeriness and strong emotions of what it must have been like to leave behind everything and start again.
A trip we would recommend is ‘Famagusta Spirit’ which is a half day trip which combines a tour to Varosha with a visit to Saint Nicholas Cathedral and free time in Famagusta. You will then head to the beach which is overlooked by the derelict homes and hotels of Varosha.
Another idea is to do one of the many boat trips that go right to the border. You will get to see the deserted beach and hotels from a distance. The guide on the boat tells the story of Varosha over the loudspeakers which makes the trip more interesting. The boat trips start from Ayia Napa and Protaras and have a couple of swim stops and some also include lunch as part of the price.
Famagusta is just one of many places worth seeing in Cyprus and given it’s turbulent history it is definitely one of the most interesting and certainly eerie. It captures the hearts and minds of all who visit.
Have you visited any ghost towns ? If so, where?