In the 1970’s Varosha, Cyprus was a vacation destination for the wealthy and famous, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Raquel Welch, and Brigitte Bardo. The location in an upscale quarter in Famagusta Bay rivals today’s most popular resorts with it’s creamy white beaches and clear water.
“Anyone who comes from Varosha has a romanticised notion of it,” says Vasia Markides, 34, an American Greek-Cypriot whose mother grew up there. “They talk about it being the hub of art and intellectual activity. They describe it as the French Riviera of Cyprus.”
The population steadily increased, peaking at 39,000, but it came to a sudden halt in 1974 when the town was be conquered by Turkish troops, fenced off completely, and be left with a population of zero. The take-over occurred after years of inter-ethnic violence that culminated in a coup inspired by Greece’s ruling military junta. The inhabitants fled the town with the assumption that they would return when things had cooled down. But they never did. Today the former resort remains fenced off and guarded by solders while the resort crumbles behind them. Signs warn tourists peering across the fence that “photos and movies are forbidden.” Trespassers risk death.
But the town itself remained relatively untouched. Homes remain as the fleeing residents left them; full of appliances, clothes, and dishes. Even a car dealership sits with never used 1974 model cars.
Photographs are relatively rare; even when they do circulate, photographers aren’t quick to claim taking them. That is because the patrolling Turkish soldiers are authorized to imprison or even execute anyone they may find; lethal force is authorized.
The town’s standstill is due to a 1984 UN Security Council resolution that states the empty town can only be resettled by its original inhabitants. This has prevented the Turkish authorities from re-opening access as it would put the Greeks back in town.
After 50 years of decaying the elements, there isn’t much hope of a recovery for Varosha. The buildings and their foundations are crumbling, and would likely need to be razed and rebuilt. For the foreseeable future, Varosha will only be seen by soldiers and the rare photographer brave enough to hop the fence.