Before the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, Famagusta was a flourishing coastal resort. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton liked to stay in the summer, and the place was known for its artists and intellectuals. And then–nothing. When the Turks arrived, they shut down the valuable coastal area, known as Varosha. And that’s how it has remained. Thirty-nine years later, the area is still a ghost-town behind barbed wire, rotting and full of vermin.
Vasia Markides, a New Yorker whose mother grew up in Famagusta, is trying to change that by creating an “eco-city” in the dead zone. She sees her work as both a symbol of reconciliation between the island’s Greek and Turkish communities and an environmental example to the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean.
“It’s an opportunity for the Cypriots to collaborate on something that’s apolitical. It’s a new fresh idea that’s to do with our mutual survival. There won’t be any Greek or Turkish Cypriots if the Earth can’t sustain us anymore. It’s something we all need to start thinking about very seriously,” she says.
As well as a mover in the Famagusta Ecocity project, Markides is also a film-maker. She wants to create a documentary about the rebirth of Varosha, and she and her partner Armando Garma-Fernandez are crowdfunding the project on Kickstarter. See their pitch here:
It’s not clear when Famagusta might become available for reconstruction. The Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides are in on-and-off-again negotiations over the island’s future. But it’s possible the Turkish side might give up Famagusta as a gesture of goodwill, and not before too long. If so, the project’s backers want to be ready.
The team currently includes the two filmmakers, an MIT architecture professor, the founder of Engineers Without Borders, an economist, and members of local communities. Jan Wampler, the MIT professor, is set to go to Cyprus with some students next year and draw up five possible plans for the 2.3 square mile area.
“Normally, it’s difficult to take a city that’s already in existence and form it into a green city,” says Markides. “But when you’re taking an area that’s having to rebuild from scratch, there’s a lot of buildings that are going to have to be torn down. It’s a chance to do things the right way this time.”