The southern section of the city of Famagusta / Varosha, in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, has been emptied of all residents since 1974. At one time it was a major seaside resort and tourist destination, visited by the like of Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. It has been held on to as a kind of bargaining chip by the Turkish army. The city's fate, like the Cyprus conflict, remains unresolved today.
I visited the city with a Turkish Cypriot friend who grew up in Famagusta, just across the road from the fenced-off edge of Varosha. We started our tour at the Palm Beach Hotel. In many ways this looked just like a regular resort beach, with some paddle boats and beach-side huts. But looking a bit further, you can see that the edge of the beach is defined by a fence separating it from Varosha. The empty 11 or 14-story former luxury hotels form the backdrop to beach-time activities.
This is one of the few points of access to the seashore in this coastal city. There is this small sliver of beach and small seaside promenade with some cafes. The rest of the coast is taken up by a Turkish military base and a working harbor. There is a small island (near the hotel) and it is off limits – for use by the military.
The other point of access is Derinye beach. And to get there, you must drive for quite a long time alongside Varosha. There is nothing along this drive but a chain link fence to shield the eye from the ghost town beyond. On the other side of this narrow road is a living part of Famagusta, lined with homes, and even a school. People live their lives facing the slow action of time on this restricted site. Their front doors open on to ti, and their living room windows face it. Residents here say that the vegetation grows so quickly and thickly out of Varosha and in to the roadway, that they often need to cut it back.
This road ends in a checkpoint that was manned by two soldiers – checking passports of those wanting to go to the beach. It is only open in summer so we were not able to pass. But normally you leave your ID card there and then go down to the beach.