A Large-scale Catch-up: Nicosia, Mağusa and Girne

In my defence the reason I haven’t been talking for the last week is because I hit the road.

N.B. What follows is what I have seen and what I have been told by people on both sides of the Green Line, and my interpretations of that.  Remember the disclaimer.  I use the Turkish names for cities in the TRNC as these names are de facto.

Nicosia (Greek: Lefkosia, Turkish: Lefkoşa) is frankly crazy.  The most obvious fallout of the Turkish invasion is here, with the entire city divided by the Green Line, the creation of the UN during pre-war ethnic strife with (yes, you guessed it) a green pen.  Even on the tourist literature the line ‘last divided capital’ is paraded, which frankly strikes me as tasteless.

Your first clue that something is going on would be the mountains on the Turkish side:

 Photo taken from atop the Ledra Tower, looking north into the TRNC across the Green Line

That there on the right is the flag of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, with the Turkish flag beside it (in all my time here I have never seen the TRNC flag flown alone except once where the Turkish one had flown away), painted on to a goddamn mountain. Turkey, the only nation to recognise the TRNC, essentially treats it as a vassal state, contributing most of the North’s funding and acting as its only legal tradıng partner: this means in practice that the Turkish Cypriots, who consider themselves separate to mainland Turks, have little say in their own affairs).  The writing under the Turkish flag reads ‘ne mutlu türküm diyene’, an aphorism of Atatürk‘s which translates to ‘it is a proud man who can call himself a Turk’.

The Green Line has been crossable sınce 2003.  Crossings can only occur at a few designated points – parts of the Line are over 5km thick, and people who get too close to the three armies that patrol this territory (Greek and Turkish Cypriots along with the UN)  have been known to get shot.  Despite this I would end up living there.

Photo courtesy of Occupy the Buffer Zone, October 2011, beginning of occupation

At the Ledra Street crossing, the Green Line is literally the width of a single street, offering the bizarre opportunity to lie on your back and cross three jurisdictions.  The Occupy activists have been in occupation here since last October, in a building formally claimed by the Greek Orthodox Church (still one of the largest landowners in the Republic of Cyprus), dealing wıth brutal police raids, continual ‘building work’ in areas where their tents were, and an increasing level of harassment as the Greek Cypriot government attempts to clear up this embarassment before it takes the EU presidency in July.  After all – as things stand since the latest talks breakdown in April, Occupy is now the only Cypriot group openly supporting reunification, a policy borne out by the presence of young people from both sides in abundance.

The Green Line is fascinating from an urban exploration view as well, a time capsule from the invasion and population mass movements of 60-74: naturally I had a look.

The street has gone to the trees and the buildings to near collapse.  The foliage made ourmovement a lot less than easy and we also weren’t keen on falling masonry.  The houses themselves are in layers back from the street connected by a series of small courtyards.  Worried about mines, we resolved to go no further than the childrens’ stationery shop we stumbled upon:

The exercise books were piled some three deep.  Basıc guides to French jostled for space with workbooks and English advice on road crossings.  Judging by the mess, the place was looted during the war: when and by who remains a mystery.

I spent a week living here, living in what remains of the occupied building, talking to the people and to the passers-by (tourists flock to the North for cheap clothes and fantastic coffee, and as the main crossing in the city, anyone with business on both sides is through here frequently).  I wish I could have stayed longer, but the rest of the planet beckoned, and I made my way onward.

Mağusa (Greek: Famagusta) is worth seeing for the Old City.

Knocked together by the Venetians (as they did in Nicosia, but we’ll get back to that one day), Famagusta was the last city to hold out against the Ottoman invasion in 1570-1.  The reason it fell, goes the tale, was due to a no-nonsense gentleman on the Ottoman team known as Canbullat.

The Venetians, being Italians, had a long proud track record of ridiculous weaponry which they put to good use, protectıng the main gate with some kind of spinning wheel with blades.  This was not cool with the Ottomans, but what could you do?  It’s not as if you could just charge into it and-

 Wait.  I’m pretty sure this is exactly what Canbullat did.  Riding his horse straight at the wheel, he and his horse managed to stop the wheel with (the remains of) their own bodies, allowing the Ottomans to take the city and win the Fourth Ottoman-Venetian War.  The gate he rode into now bears his name and houses his tomb and museum.

Canbullat Paşha: not in the mood for sieges.

Worth seeing: it also serves as a general purpose Ottoman museum, and when the guys at the door heard in my stilted Turkish that I’m an archaeologist they gave me a student discount and free coffee.

Having seen what I needed to see, I elected to save the 10TL (like 3.50GBP) bus fare and hitchhike to Girne (Greek: Kyrenia) on the north coast.  From here I would get a boat to Taşucu in Turkey, so obviously the port is very nice.

This photo is taken from Kyrenia Castle, a Byzantine-Lusignan-Ottoman-British palimpsest of epıc proportions.  Since the British left it’s been repurposed as a number of seperate museums, both dealing with the history of its occupatıon and, very interestingly, the Kyrenia shipwreck, a 4th century BC trading ship raised from just off the coast.

I’ve been hoping to see this since I heard about the concerns for its safety rolling around, so it was nıce to appraise it in person.  Here it is:

The photo doesn’t show it but I’m rubbing my hands together at this point.

This is underwater archaeology before it was cool.  Before the stories in the media of treasure-hunting and careless excavation, there were people quietly bringing archaeological science to the sea, which is awesome.

It’s hard to gauge from here the exact state of the wreck, conservation-wise, but the very good museum also has a set of photographs from the period of the excavation itself:

From Kyrenia Castle Shipwreck Museum

At least any decline hasn’t yet damaged the structure: at a distance, the ship looks unchanged from the time of its restoration.  Hopefully it stays that way.

Anyway.  Well done for getting this far if you’re still reading.  Tomorrow’s entry will be a bit shorter: I intend to cover the Turkish cities of Konya and Adana in one go as well.


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