Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Turkish Side

Something many of you might not realize is that part of Cyprus is occupied by Turkey. In 1974, following a military coup, Turkey invaded and bombed Cyprus and now occupies about a third of the country. For decades, they closed the border of the occupied area and filled it with settlers and dubbed it the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Six years ago, the opened the border because they wanted to join the EU and to do that they have to take care of the Cyprus situation.

Last Saturday, we went to the Turkish side. First we went to the St. Hillaron Castle. It was perched on the peak of a mountain and was just amazing. This is one of the older castles in Cyprus and it predates the Crusades. From the castle you can see Kyrenia, a fishing city, as well as a large portion of the Cyprus coastline. You could even see the coastline of Turkey, 60 miles across the Mediterranean to the North. The castle had many towers and it was quite a climb of old stairs to the top. There were some amazing rooms, but mostly the views took your breath away.

The next place we visited were the Salamis ruins on the Eastern shore of the Turkish part. People have inhabited Salamis since 7500 BC. Most of the ruins there are from the classical period though. There are amazing large pillars and gorgeous marble statues all without heads (originals). We were very curious about the whole headless thing, so we asked Alexia's uncle Ricos when we got home. He told us that the early Christians removed the heads of the statues to turn people away from Paganism. The cool thing about these ruins was that they were a lot more accessible than the previous ones we visited. We could climb all over them and all but a few areas were completely accessible and not blocked off.

After we explored the ruins we had dinner at this little restaurant right next to them. The food was similar to standard Cypriot fare, but was still unique. They had different spicing, and it was exceptional. After dinner, we decided to go swimming, and look for more ruins underwater. We found a lot of evidence of the ancient culture underwater. Everywhere you looked there were shards of pottery and foundations. The foundations and the pottery had become fused with the rocks on the sea floor over the ages and had various sea life growing on them. You could find some lose shards. Supposedly, in the deeper waters you can find entire vases according to Alexia's uncle Ricos. These are also fused onto rocks and need to be removed carefully; otherwise, you end up with just the handles or the top.

We all found some cool shards and sea shells. After taking a shower and drying off, we drove to Famagusta. Famagusta has an interesting story. Like Nicosia, it has a medieval section inside castle walls. The buildings and churches in there are old and still in pretty good shape. Before 1974, the city was the best in Cyprus. It has the most commerce, the best weather, the nicest beaches, and a lot of hotels. The Turkish bombed the city furiously, took half of it, and left the remainder sectioned off. This section still stands today as it did after the bombing in 1974. You can walk along the beach at the bases of several hotels, abandoned for 35 years, with bullet and bomb holes. Once you get to the end of the un-sectioned beach you can see a coastline of dark, vacant hotels, and more behind them. It was eerie, especially when our voices echoed off the empty buildings. It was very sad to think about everyone that died while on vacation; the bombing was without warning. On a lighter note, this area would make quite a site to film a zombie or post-disaster movie.

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