The beauty and charm of three continents

Has culture overcome the checkpoints?

The Rock of Aphrodite.

Two and a half million tourists visit Cyprus every year. It’s an island that seems to have something for everyone. Some are attracted by the silence and serenity of the archaeological sites, others by the beautiful beaches or snow-covered summits. There are wonderful museums and other cultural attractions for art-lovers and places of fun and entertainment for partygoers. With never more than an hour’s drive between the two, the island also offers a taste of exoticism, having mixed its Greek heritage with so many Oriental and even African influences. All the prestigious archaeological sites are in fact Roman and not Greek, its painting is Byzantine and its craftwork Venetian. Cyprus is in fact truly Cypriot, which is its greatest quality. Christina Mita, a professional tourist guide, sums up her country as follows: “The dance, music, and dialect are different to Greece. The Greek influence prevents Cyprus from being Oriental and the very present Orient prevents it from being 100 per cent Greek.” 

Since Nicosia airport closed following the occupation, the charming town of Larnaca on the southeast coast has become the country’s main place of entry. It has the charm of a bygone age, in particular the old Turkish quarter offering romantic and picturesque walks along the seashore at dusk. The churches and chapels of some of the region’s villages ¬– Pyrga and Kiti for example – bear superb testimony to the passage of the kings of France. 

North of Larnaca lies the formerly thriving town of Famagusta. Only a small part of its southern suburbs is under the control of the Republic of Cyprus. Today it is the sleeping beauty, emptied of all its inhabitants, retained as a possible bargaining chip for a hypothetical recognition of the North by the Republic of Cyprus. 

On the south coast lies Limassol, an important beach resort with its thronging crowds and nightclubs. But just outside it is the serenity of the archaeological site of the Greco-Roman city of Kourion, long coveted by Egypt (Ramses III) and which was first to become Assyrian and then Persian. Its theatre, with the sea as a backdrop, hosts a major arts festival, and experts are continuing to unearth whole sections of the Roman city.

Between Limassol and Paphos on the coast further to the west, almost at the entrance to this most fashionable of Cypriot towns, imagination takes hold at Petra tou Romiou where Aphrodite, the goddess of love, emerged from the foam (aphros) of the sea. If you have any doubt about the reality of the myth, you can still see the rock that reproduces her profile and that emerged from the waves at the same time as Aphrodite herself. Further to the north, and inland, is another world. Find the calm of the monasteries in the high mountains of the Troodos which are also a destination for skiers.  

The checkpoints as places of culture

With its archaeological sites and monasteries, the past is present everywhere on Cyprus. This is especially so in the capital, Nicosia, known as Lefkosia in Greece and as Lefkoşa in Turkish. Nicosia is probably the most relaxed divided city in history. Even as you approach the demarcation line, there is no air of tension, just a moving symbol. On the demarcation line between the checkpoint for the Republic of Cyprus and for Northern Cyprus, the UNFICYP forces are based in the Ledra Palace. Once or twice a week the Bi-communal Choir rehearses there. Made up of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, each member has to pass through the checkpoint to attend choir practice. The two choirmasters, one from each community, speak mainly in English. The choir, created in April 2003 as soon as the first crossing point was opened, gives concerts in the north and south of the island. The songs are drawn from both communities, sometimes the same song is sung in the two languages, such as Niksarin Fidanlari, an old Turkish melody also adopted by the Greeks. Lenia Melanidou and Costis Kyranides, the two choirmasters, recounted the long history of their choir, the only bi-community association to have lasted so long, despite the trials and tribulations.  

Nicosia is home to a rich patrimony, such as the unique Museum of Byzantine Art. Many cultural associations and foundations, such as the Symphony Orchestra Foundation, popularise the culture. The northern part of Nicosia also has much to offer. Of particular note is the cathedral of Ste. Sophie, transformed into a mosque. Theatres, concert halls, cinemas and festivals covering all fields of international art and culture combine to make the island a treasure for art-lovers and tourists alike.


Hegel Goutier

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