Forbidden to the public ever since the 1974 division of the Mediterranean island, the Varosha resort in Famagusta hopes to attract visitors like in its heyday.

By Rachel Chang
August 26, 2020

On the east coast of the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus is a ghost town trapped in time. There’s a car dealership filled with cars from 1974 and shops with '70s fashion in the windows — at least that’s what the few who have ventured into the restricted zone of Varosha have said.

After Cyprus was divided in 1974 into the Turkish-Cypriot north and Greek-Cypriot south, the residents of the former resort district of Varosha in the city of Famagusta were forced to flee, and the area became part of the UN Buffer Zone known as the Green Line. A 1984 security resolution from the UN prohibited resettlement, so the only people who have legally been inside the now-fenced off area are the Turkish military.

Former, decaying hotel buildings stand beyond a makeshift barrier and a Turkish military sign inside the "Forbidden Zone" of Varosha district on March 6, 2017 in Famagusta, Cyprus. Hundrds of buildings inside Varosha district, which was once a prime Cypriot resort, stand abandoned and decaying in a zone the Turkish military has sealed off ever since Varosha residents fled in the 1974 war. Cyprus has been divided into a Greek south and Turkish north ever since the brief but devastating war of 1974. Since then United Nations peacekeepers have maintained a buffer zone that runs through the capital city of Nicosia and across the entire island to keep the factions apart. In the south the Greek-dominated Republic of Cyprus is internationally-recognized and a member of the European Union, while in the north the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) is recognized only by Turkey, which also has tens of thousands of troops stationed there. Negotiations over possible reunification have made strident progress over the last few years, though they have stalled in recent months.
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Now, 46 years later, the prime minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or TRNC, Ersin Tatar hopes to reopen the area to the public.

In its prime, Varosha was home to 25,000 residents and attracted visitors from around the globe in the early 1970s, drawing big names like Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Brigitte Bardot to its 12,000 hotel rooms.

“At this point we are close to the point of starting the reopening process,” Tatar told the Turkish state broadcaster TRT, according to CNN. “It's all ready in my opinion... The tide has changed and a new page has been turned.”

A view of abandoned buildings in Closed Maras (or Varosha in Greek) on February 15, 2020. Closed Maras is a ghost city where entry is forbidden, with the exception of the Turkish army personnel. Closed Maras was abandoned after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 550 on May 11,1984, which barred the resettlement of the town.
Muhammet Fatih Ogras/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

While no timeline has been released, Tatar says the upcoming elections may delay plans, but he’s committed to bringing the once popular tourist attraction, which is known as Maraş in Turkish, back to its former reputation as a luxury getaway. “Maraş is within the territory of the TRNC,” he added. “ Nobody can take it from us. We are continuing on our successful path.”

The seaside resort’s fate was set after the Turkish military forces fought back after a Greek government coup on July 15, 1974. The area is now recognized by Turkey as belonging to the TRNC, according to the Daily Mail.

Varosha isn’t the only abandoned town after Turkish and Greek tensions. In Turkey, the community of Kayakoy also sits in ruins after a 1923 population exchange between the Greek Muslims and Turkish Christians.