Around four decades ago, time was frozen in the coastal Cypriot district located in Vorasha.
Eggs that were being boiled still lay on rusty stoves. Child’s toys have remained strewn across living room floors.
Clothes had been left on their hangers inside of brimming closets. This shows that thousands of everyday lives had been abandoned in an instant
The Greek Cypriots had believed it was temporary when the Turkish military ordered them out of their homes in the summer of 1974. Yet 42 years has gone by, and Varosha remains a ghost town.
The beaches used to be filled with families playing beach volleyball. Now there are barbed wire fences that cut across the sand, patrolled by armed soldiers.
Children run in and out of the shallow surf, trying to remain oblivious to the present tension. It has always been this way all their lives.
Cyprus is now a country divided. Centuries following the Ottoman rule this tiny island nation formally subordinated itself to Britain in 1914, prompting resistance from the Greek Cypriots who had wanted to unify the country with Greece.
Five years of freedom fighting warfare had ended with Cyprus getting their independence in 1960. Yet regardless of the power-sharing deal struck between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, the tensions between the two communities continued
In 1974, ten years after the United Nations created a peacekeeping force in Cyprus to stop the rising violence, Greece staged a takeover, trying to seize control of the island from the former President Archbishop Markarios III.
The move had failed, and Turkey responded by sending military forces to northern Cyprus.
Tens of thousands of Greek Cypriots had fled south, while the smaller population of Turkish Cypriots living in southern Cyprus fled north.
The military occupation and divisions still last to this day, with the six square kilometer ghost town of Varosha standing on one of its more iconic emblems.
Yet negotiations between Greek and Turkish leaders still continue. There is a joint progress report expected to be released this week; one group wants to change this situation
Varosha represents the ongoing problem of Cyprus. It is a physical representation of a decades-long conflict that just does not stop. This is causing despair in the spirits of their people.
Vasia Markides is leading the Famagusta Ecocity Project, an initiative aimed at reviving Varosha with the rest of Famagusta, hoping to make it “Europe’s model ecocity” and creating a solar powered, walkable, environmentally sustainable hub.
Her documentary on this project is waiting to be released later this year. Her ultimate goal is to see Famagusta and Varosha as a whole begin to be an ecocity.
Markides mother had grown up in Varosha, on a once-thriving stretch of coastline that was a destination for films stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, and Richard Burton.
For Markides mother, her strongest memories include the smells of citrus blossoms and jasmine that floated through the air. She remembers spending her childhood playing among the reeds on the beach.
Through the past years, Markides has gotten together a small team that includes the Turkish Cypriot architect Ceren Bogac as well the Greek Cypriot urban planner Nektarios Christodoulou.
Amongst others, they are helping to create momentum and collecting ideas on how to convert Famagusta into an ecocity.
The project would involve the whole city, and not just the deserted district of Varosha.
It involves rethinking the electrical infrastructure, building design, and the streetscapes, as well as aiming to preserve as many of the historic structures as possible.
They are hoping to provide a time when the issues can be talked about in cooperation with both communities.
For Bogac, the story is also personal. Her father’s family had come to Famagusta from the southern port city of the Larnaca, after the 1974 partitioning.
She had grown up in a house that looked over the fence that was around Varosha. Now a tangled barbed wire, sheet metal, and wooden planked fence declared the Forbidden Zone.
Bogac at all time was facing the border, and it was very traumatic and terrible. He had seen the same curtains deteriorate every single year. He would think about the people who were staying there.