The forbidden pleasure city: Inside the abandoned town Varosha that was destroyed by war but may become a tourist hotspot once again under new post coronavirus plans
- Varosha, near Famagusta in Cyprus, was abandoned in 1974 due to war between Greece and Turkey
- It once attracted famous faces like Elizabeth Taylor but it has been home only to Turkish militia since 1974
- Turkish officials say they hope to reopen the town and work will pick up once the Covid-19 pandemic is over
The Cypriot resort of Varosha, which was abandoned decades ago when it suddenly became a battleground of a war between Greece and Turkey, may become a tourist hotspot once again under new post-coronavirus plans.
The once-glittering Mediterranean seaside town, a southern suburb of the eastern city of Famagusta, has been fenced off and abandoned since Turkey invaded Cyprus five days after a Greek-inspired coup on July 15, 1974.
It was considered one of the most popular holiday resorts in the world in the early 1970s, with high-profile visitors including Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton seen wandering along its golden beaches.
As well as attracting tourists, Varosha was home to over 39,000 residents who were forced to flee their homes like these in 1974
While the city is, as the sign says, a ‘forbidden zone’, in 2003, travel restrictions were eased for the first time, allowing Cypriots on both sides to cross the UN Buffer Zone, commonly known as the ‘Green Line’
Now derelict, the high rise hotels in the resort once attracted celebrities like Brigitte Bardot and Elizabeth Taylor. The Argo Hotel on JFK Avenue was said to have been Taylor’s favourite
Because of the conflict, UN peacekeepers have been among some of the only people allowed in the resort since 1974, patrolling outside empty churches like these
A postcard (circa 1970s) titled ‘Famagusta Beach’ captures the sprawling coastline of the Cypriot city in its former glory
It is even thought that ABBA played their first concert here, while on holiday in 1970 before they were officially a band. They are said to have rehearsed in one of the rental apartment blocks in the town, Twiga towers.
Now Turkish officials say the seaside town could one day reopen and work on the crumbling area is expected to pick up again once the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is a de facto state recognised only by Turkey which comprises the northeastern portion of the island of Cyprus. The international community considers the TRNC’s territory as Turkish-occupied territory of the Republic of Cyprus.
Buildings like these were abandoned without warning in 1974, at the height of the tourist season due to the conflict
The resort lies near Famagusta, on the east coast of Cyprus. Tourist may soon be able to enjoy its once idyllic beaches again as plans to reopen it gain momentum
The abandoned city is full of decrepit buildings like these, with flaking paint. It is thought that ABBA used Twiga Tower (right) to rehearse for a concert they played in 1970.
A Greek coup sparked a Turkish invasion of the island on July 20, 1974, and the town has remained eerily silent ever since the second wave invasion a month later.
The invasion drove out 39,000 inhabitants of the city, before the Turkish forces took control the area, and has remained derelict ever since.
Journalists are banned from entering the town, which is now recognised by Turkey as being under the sovereignty of the TRNC.
Turkish and northern Cypriot officials met in the abandoned town on February 15 to discuss plans to reopen it
A UN resolution of 1984 calls for the handover of Varosha to UN control and prohibits any attempt to resettle it by anyone other than those who were forced out but it failed to work
Buildings have been damaged beyond repair meaning the town will need to be completely rebuilt again
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (pictured on The Sandpiper set in 1965) were two stars who visited the Cypriot city in the 70s. In its hey-day, the population grew to nearly 40,000
Tourists pile on to a beach at the tourist destination in its heyday. A UN general tried to allow the city’s original inhabitants to return to the city but this was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a referendum in 2004
In 1984 a UN security resolution barred resettlement of the area.
Residents have never returned to their homes or even re-entered the fenced-off area where now only Turkish military are allowed.
In its hey-day, the population grew to 39,000 and became a millionaire’s playground where they soaked up the rays across vast beaches or on the balconies of their deluxe apartments.
The land alone is expected to be valued at around $100billion.
After decades of neglect, high-rise hotels and apartments, restaurants and residences are crumbling, and the land has been reclaimed by overgrown vegetation, although the untouched beach and crystal-clear water look as inviting as ever.
The deserted city has become almost trapped in time and one of the world’s most famous ghost towns, attracting photographers from around the world.
Previous attempts to reopen the resort have failed. A UN resolution of 1984 unsuccessfully called for the handover of Varosha to UN control and prohibits any attempt to resettle it by anyone other than those who were forced out.
Nature has started to reclaim this abandoned gas station in the Varosha quarter. Turkish officials hope to restore the area to its former glory
One of the many derelict buildings that fascinate those who manage to get a glimpse of the town
The town from afar: Turkish officials met in the abandoned town on February 15 to discuss potentially re-opening the area after 46 years
Meanwhile, in 2003, travel restrictions were eased for the first time, allowing Cypriots on both sides to cross the UN Buffer Zone, commonly known as the ‘Green Line’.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan tried to allow the city’s original inhabitants to return to the city but this was rejected by the The Republic of Cyprus in a referendum in 2004.
Now, Turkey is acting without Greece to reopen the town to the tourist industry.
Turkish officials met in the abandoned town on February 15 to discuss potentially re-opening the area after 46 years.
Speaking in Varosha after touring the area, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said: ‘Keeping this coast of paradise under the sovereignty of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus idle is not acceptable legally, politically or economically.’
The area is now overgrown and left for nature to take its course. Prior to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the abandoned quarter of Varosha was the modern tourist area of the city, and one of the most important tourist destinations in the world
At its peak, Varosha was described as the French Riviera of Cyprus and attracted a host of star names from Hollywood
The buildings in Varosha were built as high rises to deal with the demand of increasing tourist numbers visiting the region before conflict destroyed it. People still use some the beaches but sea-front buildings are in disrepair
TRNC premier Ersin Tatar recently issued a statement announcing that work to reopen the town had been delayed for the past months due to the coronavirus outbreak, but that it will gain momentum again once the pandemic is over, Turkish publication Daily Sabah reported.
It remains to be seen how the TRNC authorities will prepare the area for reopening, and what will happen to the hundreds of abandoned Greek Cypriot properties currently under Turkish control.
Some experts say the town requires rebuilding almost from scratch as many of the buildings have become dilapidated and overrun with nature, requiring demolition and rebuilding from scratch.
While beaches still attract crowds at the resort, the buildings that surround them are crumbling and falling down
Because of the lack of footfall, the empty beaches of Varosha have become a nesting place for sea turtles
Since its closure, Varosha has been a popular destination for photographers who are interested in its worn out style. They have to ignore signs showing that it is a strictly forbidden zone and dodge those who patrol its borders
While these spots will soon open their doors once more, for the first time in almost 50 years, no agreements have been made with the Greeks