Today’s excursion took me to Nicosia, the ony forcibly divided capital in the world.
This morning was very difficult to wake up to, so I had to skip breakfast before staggering out to the front of the usual spot in front of the Navarria supermarket for the coach pickup point … at*cough* 8.55 *cough* I’m holiday, okay? Besides, with the time difference, that’s technically 6.55am. So I feel perfectly justified in being sleepy 🙂
We left for Nicosia shortly after that, and stopped off at the Cyprus Handicraft centre on the way. All piling out of the coach, single file, along with the school trip from the coach next to us. We had 30 minutes to walk around the handicraft centre. Lots of different rooms with people making various products; lace, leather, pottery, woodwork, metal. Most important thing to note from here was the weird naked pottery totem woman. A small figure about 5 inches tall. It just looked … weird. I have a picture. Ali was almost bought one for her present from Cyprus. But I decided against it, because I didn’t want to be the type of person that brought back ugly weird crap from their holidays, that people felt obligated to remove from boxes whenever I came to visit. On the other hand, I hope to find exactly that to bring back, somewhere in Limassol tomorrow 🙂
Anyway, it was in this centre that a couple I’d met on Friday came up to me and said “you were on the Troodos tour, weren’t you?” I’m afraid I still don’t know their names, but we stood inside one of the doorways and chatted for a while about what we’d been up to over the weekend. It was nice to see some faces I’d already met before 🙂 Actually, they weren’t the only ones, the same French group that could hardly speak any English from the Pafos tour was on the coach, as was the same tour guide (whom I thought was very good).
Back on the coach and off we went to the Cathedral of St John, and the Archbishopric with the statue of Makarios (remember him?). The two buildings were right next to eachother, and the statue of Makarios is huge, standing around 7 metres tall. During the 1974 invasion, the Turkish troops stormed the Presidential Palace, and the Archbishop’s Palace (where Makarios had slept), in an effort to kill Makarios and destroy everything he had. His bedroom was blown up at the Archbishops palace, and later rebuilt – but there are still a large amount of bullet holes in the walls of the palace, not restored as a reminder of the troubles past. The story given by our tour guide, was that Makarios was at the Presidential Palace when the troops invaded, and he simply walked out the back of the palace, flagged down a passing car, and was driven to safety in the Troodos Mountains. I suspect there might have been a bit more to it than that, but it’s nice to think of the President/Archbishop just strolling out with a cup of coffee in his hand, and hitchiking to Kykkos Monestary, or maybe even paying a taxi fare 🙂
A small hop and skip down the street is the Cathedral of St John. Coming from England, and my last holiday being to Prague, I imagine a cathedral to be a huge sprawling building. This one wasn’t much larger than my flat in Watford. It was possibly a bit better decorated though. The same as the rest of the churches on this trip, and covered with brightly coloured frescos, and gold *everywhere*. The chandeliers hung from the roof, and candlelights again seperated from the ceiling by an ostrich egg hanging from a long cable (totally going to to have to look that one up when I get back).
Again, the “comfortable” wooden seats lining this single aisle church. They’re more comfortable than your average pews at least. Well, the Orthodox service lasts for 3 hours. So I suppose they have to be. The “icons” also lined the wall that seperate the main church, from the alter area (where worshippers are not allowed to go, or see). The one on the far right, as is traditional, of St John who the church is dedicated to.
We saw a lot more of these icons from the 8th-19th century in the Byzantine Icon Museum just behind the cathedral. These icons are paintings all created in the same way – by preparing the wood, painting a number of layers on top, sanding, outlining the figure (as according to templates – so Jesus always looks the same in each icon, as does The Virgin Mary etc), this is then cut into with a small knife, and the picture painted with the darkest colour first, and adding lighter colours on top. The gold is added as a layer on top, usually covering the background, it’s varnished – before being blessed by a bishop, when it’s allowed to placed in the church. The idea of these icons is that they are not just pretty pictures – but they’re a doorway, or a window to heaven. By kissing, touching or conversing with the icons, the worshipper has a direct line to heaven.
They were usually donated to the church by very wealthy men, or by families wishing to make sure a loved one was remembered, or prayed for. There were a lot of icons such as these inside the museum, as well as parts of mosaics, that had been sold, and recovered from the buyer in America. Even more impressively than this, was a fresco that had been removed from the church of st Nikolas (I think – could be wrong on that). Not sure about the dates either … but the 15th century fresco was removed from the church because they discovered an older 12th century fresco underneath. Now, these frescos are paintings directly onto the plaster when it is still wet. Because of this, the colours actually seep into the plaster, and the colours stay vibrant. They are only ever cleaned, but have never been repainted in the churches and cathedrals in Cyprus. Which is why some look a little worn, but amazing when you consider it’s the original paint. Sadly no cameras allowed in these churches – you’ll have to google them yourself 🙂
So, with that in mind, somebody has managed to firstly remove the frescos from the church – complete, this was a fresco across a dome, so it wasn’t even flat. Not only that, presumeably they’ve managed to keep in tact, the fresco that was found underneath. *then* transported the fresco across to Cyprus, and created a replica structure to which they’ve reattached to it. That’s a lot of of very careful, and extremely impressive work.
Moving around the corner, we came to an area depicting the effects of the Turkish invasion. It showed photos of churches in the north completely stripped of their icons, frescos removed, and looking in total disarray. I realise that this museum probably shows the worst examples, but seeing the devestation caused by the Turkish army really brought home the complete mindless waste to it all. I don’t consider myself a hugely religious person. I don’t regularly go to church, or attend services. I do have a huge respect for churches across the world though, regardless of the religion they support. Regardless of what they stand for, religions form a huge part of our history, and reflection of a culture at any point in time. To see that reflection torn down and destroyed for any reason, is a terrible thing.
The Turkish and Christian communities lived in peace with one another for something like 500 years, before the Turkish invasion in 1974 changed it all and seperated the two groups of people. I realise I’m probably being extremely biased here, and welcome the other side of the story. I find it difficult to imagine what it must be like, if someone came to England and told a particular group they now had to live somewhere else. That they were no longer allowed to trade, or even meet with the other group. Which is exactly what has happened here in Cyprus.
Anyway, back to the tour of the city, and less of my disgust at the pointlessness of it 🙂 The division is hard to avoid whilst in Nicosia, so I’m sure I’ll pick up on this later 🙂
So, after a short walk back to the coach with the couple I’d met in Troodos, we were on our way to Old Town. As we were about to get off, a young Bosnian by the name of Sandra asked if it would be okay if we explored the city together, since we were both travelling alone. “Sure” I said, being the man of many words that I am.
So off we went to see Nicosia, walking up one of the main shopping streets and out the other end, wandering around aimlessly for a little while. We also passed the Earth from Above exhibition, and I wondered if the posters and big map of the world you could walk on, were the same ones I left behind in Southbank, around the Mayor’s office – where the exhibition had also been, last I looked.
After about 20 minutes of that I asked “Where do you want to go, anyway?”. “I don’t know, The Green Line?” replied Sandra. The Green Line is the illegal border that separates the North, from the South of Cyprus. We’re talking big. It’s illegal, because the Greek-Cypriot government doesn’t recognise it as a border. The only people who do in fact, are the Turkish government. The Turkish military patrol the green line on the Turkish side, and the Greek military patrol the line on the south. In the middle is a U.N. buffer zone, where only U.N. troops are allowed. The buffer zone varies in width across the country, but in Nicosia it is just a few metres. Interestingly, on the Turkish side the guards carry armed weapons, on the Greek, empty weapons and must be ordered by an officer before filling with live ammunition.
As I was saying, the green line shouldn’t be difficult to miss. “Good idea, do you know how to get to it?”, I said. So we walked around a bit, looking for the green line. Asking a few people on the way “which way to the green line?”. Both a little scared that the reply we got might be something along the lines of “The Green Line!? Are you crazy or something??”. None of that, just a few laughs, “to look look? Or to cross?”, “oh you need to go a long way that way” one lady laughed to us, as she pointed in the direction of the way we’d come. I?d suggested following the mosque we saw in the distance, when we met her. So crossing my arms, I refused to make any more direction choices. That being said, I stopped when I saw a map of Nikosia, hoping to figure out where we were. However, with no huge flashing “you are here sign”, I figured we were pretty much lost.
And from nowhere, Sandra produces a map! A few more minutes scratching our heads, taking it in turns to stare blankly at the map, and to look around, and we had a vague idea of where we were. A couple of streets after that – we noticed that time was getting on a bit, and decided maybe we should abandon the green line idea, if it meant we wouldn’t be able to find the coach again. While we scratched our heads, and looked at the map again – we realised we’d actually travelled in a complete circle somehow. Ending up minutes away from where we started.
Stopping a person getting into their car, Sandra asked an old lady “which way to the green line?” She popped her head in the car and conversed with a younger lady for a while. Before the younger woman popped out “just there, straight down this road”. “Is it far?” “No, just here, on this corner.” All that, and it was about 3 minutes walk from the coach park!
So, the green line. The area we found looked totally derelict. Bomb-damaged buildings, and others just left abandoned. U.N. signs all over the place, and barrels and sandbag make-shift barriers blocking roads. I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to an actual militarised zone (thankfully), and while it didn’t appear active, it was still a little scary. Groups of Turkish people on top of the Venetian walls, clinging to the fence and watching out across the city. I don’t know if they were Turkish soldiers, and when one saluted to me, I waved back. Were they happy where they were? As far as the Greek government is concerned, the citizens in the north are free to travel south, across the green line – so I suspected they were.
Leaving the area, we walked back to the main shopping street and strolled down the other one we didn’t check before. Down the bottom of this street, is a crossing point for the north/south divide. Standing on a large platform is a lone Greek soldier. He had an arm around him. At the other end of the arm, was a woman smiling to the camera down below as her friend took the photo. I grinned at Sandra, “wanna get your picture taken with the soldier?” She walked up to the soldier – “could I have my picture taken with you?” That’s a yes then. I remarked that he was probably going to be doing these photo shoots all day now, and as we walked down the steps, sure enough – someone else asked the same request. Somehow, the green line had been turned into some sort of tourist attraction. I can’t say I’m surprised now though, can I? I booked the trip to Nicosia wanting to see the green line. And yet on the platform is a viewing window that shows the rubble in the U.N. zone, and all the destruction the separation has caused.
When we got back to the coach, we saw a coachload full of people, holding our heads down we mumbled our apologies as we returned to our seats. “It’s okay, you’re not the last ones” said our tour guide – and I wished I could take back the apology. Or get off the coach and go for another stroll 🙂
Damn, it’s been another long entry. So I’m going to leave my balcony now, and go down to the restaurant for some food. When I get back, I’ll probably write a bit more on Lefkara. I kinda like this writing lark. This idea of keeping a blog might stick after all, at least while I’m holiday 🙂