Travel | July 31, 2020 10:37 am

Locked Down Since 1974, A Mediterranean Resort Town Might Be Re-Opening

The return of Varosha could prove very controversial

Seaside buildings, all nominally off limits.
Adam Jones/Creative Commons

Could a storied seaside resort town simply cease to exist, for all intents and purposes? In his 2008 essay “Confessions of a DJ,” Jace Clayton looked back on a number of surreal moments he’d had in music — including when a band he’d played in had a show in Northern Cyprus. That, in and of itself, is a tricky proposition, given that Northern Cyprus is only recognized as a nation by one other country. Clayton recalls discussing a particular sight with the woman who’d booked their show:

Down the coast, thirty miles away in the haze, a tall cluster of glass-and-steel buildings hugged the shore. “What’s that city?” I asked. It looked like Miami. “Varosha,” she said. Completely evacuated in the 1974 conflict. A ghost town on the dividing line between North and South Cyprus. The only people there were UN patrol units and kids from either side who entered the prohibited zone to live out a J. G. Ballard fantasy of decadent parties in abandoned seaside resorts.

If you can read this without being immediately intrigued, well, good luck with that. (The essay can also be found in Clayton’s excellent book Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture.) A new article at Messy Nessy Chic offers a solid summation of the history of Varosha — and the news that its comeback might not be too far off.

The article notes that Varosha, in its heyday, was frequented by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot; 39,000 people called the seaside city home. That changed in 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus following a coup which had intended to unite Greece and Cyprus in a single nation.

As the Messy Nessy Chic article notes, a 1984 UN resolution called for Varosha to be resettled by its original inhabitants. However, the article also suggests that Turkey is looking into ways to revitalize the resort town and bring it back up to working order. Given that the town’s status remains highly contentious — note this UN statement from last year — such a decision could have significant consequences. What’s the only thing more controversial than a town that’s been dormant since 1974? The answer might well be “the way in which it’s brought back to life.”

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