Varosha, Cyprus, once stood as the pinnacle of tourist destinations. Before the division of Cyprus in 1974, the beach coast was a vibrant resort town, attracting visitors from around the globe with its stunning beaches, upscale hotels, and bustling shopping districts. It welcomed around 700,000 tourists annually drawn with its allure and charm. Varosha represented Mediterranean luxury and leisure at its finest. It was picture perfect, with towering hotels, chic shopping areas, and acclaimed sandy beaches that were often hailed as the best in Cyprus.

However, the town’s fortunes took a tragic turn following a Turkish invasion that same year, forcing its inhabitants to flee abruptly and leaving Varosha frozen in time. Despite its former glory, the town now faces decades of neglect and political conflict. Varosha remains a haunting reminder of Cyprus’s tumultuous past and the quest for resolution in the region.

Photo Credit: STRINGER/AFP

The History of Varosha

The dispute over Cyprus traces back centuries. Turkey and Greece have debated over the territory since the Ottoman Empire’s invasion in 1570.

Even though Cyprus became independent in 1960, it still had deep divisions between its Greek and Turkish communities. Things were tense. In the 1960s, these tensions boiled over into violent clashes. Turkey took advantage of the situation and ended up seizing about 37% of the island. After that, Turkish Cypriots declared the northern part of Cyprus an independent republic. Varosha, which is along the coast of Famagusta, ended up under Turkish control.

The United Nations has been trying hard to bring Cyprus back together, but unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out. The island is still split, and it seems like all the diplomatic efforts have led nowhere. The conflict has been really tough on the people there, with over 5,000 Cypriots losing their lives and hundreds of thousands having to leave their homes. In the midst of all this, Varosha just sits there, frozen in time. Its once lively streets are now quiet reminders of what used to be.

Visiting Varosha Now

Photo Credit: Athanasios Gioumpasis

In a surprising move in 2021, Turkish President and leaders announced plans to reopen a portion of Varosha for tourism. Only potential resettlement, representing about 3.5% of its total area. Previously off-limits to tourists, some daring individuals managed to breach the barriers over the years, taking photos and offering glimpses of the abandoned town’s eerie remnants.

Following its reopening, Turkish Cypriots were granted access to Varosha, with visitors now permitted entry upon presenting valid passports. Nowadays, Varosha is kind of like a spooky ghost town. Every day, loads of tourists wander around the town, either walking or renting bikes, scooters, or golf carts says U.S. News. They snap selfies in front of old cafes falling apart, houses with broken windows, and tree branches and schools with roofs caved in. There’s even a stand by the beach where you can grab some cheap snacks and beer.

However, much of the district remains restricted. Tables remain set, old clothes hang from apartment windows, and furniture lingers in homes left hastily behind, bearing witness to Varosha’s abandonment.

Christopher Marcovici’s family fled Varosha in the 70’s. During his last visit, he says, “I was standing at the water, and I turned back to look at the bombed-out buildings with barbed wire in front of them. And then I see the tourists lying on sun beds, drinking beverages, taking advantage of a cheap holiday.

“They’re literally yards away from buildings where people lost everything in their lives,” says Marcovici to U.S. News.