Monday, November 29, 2010

Photo(s) of the Day - "Sandstone to Sand"

Each of the above buildings are vacant. Their windows boarded and their doors locked. On many of them you can see vegetation growing through their masonry and under their doors. The signs posted by the municipality warn people away from these formerly charming residences in once vibrant and historic neighborhoods.

As each of these buildings lay vacant, they continue to deteriorate. The porous stone is degrading into sand on the pavement below, which is then swept into the dusty air as cars speed by through the narrow streets of the Old City.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Photo of the Day - "War Torn and Emptied"

Former house in north Nicosia near the Buffer Zone which is close to collapse. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Photo of the Day - "No Border"

A very classy women's undergarment store that is apparently supportive of reunification, or at least the dismantling of the Buffer Zone which lies only a block away from this storefront. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meeting between UN, TC, and GC leadership

Today the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon will meet Republic of Cyprus president Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader, "president" of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" Dervis Eroglu in New York in an attempt to spark negotiations and move toward the prospect of reconciliation. Each side seems to be sceptical entering the meetings after the TC leadership criticized the GC leadership of stalling discussion, while the GC community only agreed to the meeting if a strict meeting agenda was outlined beforehand.

The meeting begins at 1pm in New York City and a press release is due out by the end of the day. Here is the Cyprus Mail article.

Photo of the Day - "Old Man in the Old City"

A few days ago, I was walking around and photographing the Turkish Cypriot community of the Old City before the shops were open and while the sky was overcast. This old man stopped me and motioned that I should take a portrait of him as he walked between me and the Bedestan, which underwent a series of alterations between its original construction in the 12th century and the most recent renovation that was completed last year. The face and stature of this old man, like the facade of the building behind him, tells a story of the rich layers of history that each has endured.

Barber Shop

I had long put off the prospect of getting a haircut, but it was simply getting to a point that was unbearable. Over the past week I searched the Old City for a barber that I thought might have some character.

On a corner near the municipal market (where the car show was located) I found exactly what I was looking for in a one-seat barber shop, with a barber who has been in business for 47 years. Although his English wasn’t good enough to hold long conversations, he completely understood what I was looking for. Following a well-shaped buzz cut I was treated with a single-blade razor treatment to my neck, which left me longing for a legitimate presence of facial hair for him to take care of as well.

At one point he mentioned that he owned an additional shop that employed a few other barber’s, but since the division of Nicosia in 1974 he has been confined to his personal shop where he works by himself when a customer stops by and spends the rest of his time socializing with the other local shop owners and sipping Cypriot coffees. Needless to say, he has secured my business for the remainder of my time here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Davy Jones in Nicosia?

I made the extremely unscientific discovery the other day that a few of the capital carvings at the north entrance of the Bedestan, formerly St. Nicholas church, in the Turkish Cypriot community of Nicosia looks shockingly similar to Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

The Bedestan is an incredibly handsome former church building with phases dating from as far back as the 12th century. During the Ottoman period, the building was used as a covered market and sat in general disrepair until the United Nations Development Programme - Partnership for the Future (UNDP-PFF) decided to start renovating the building in 2004 into a monument of architectural significance and public gathering/presentation space.

In my short visit last week, it is a job well done. The building is absolutely beautiful and the restoration is well done because you are able to differentiate the old from the new easily and it creates a good presentation space with lots of light in a historic building. The Bedestan, immediately south of the Selimiye Mosque which is a highly popular neighborhood, also seems to be very well liked by its visitors and the local population as there were always people walking through it and taking photos of themselves inside and outside while I was there.

Nicosian Sunset

After reading through some of my last posts, I feel a little too critical of my current place of residence (Old City, Nicosia). Although analysis of the Walled City is why I am here, I promise to also show you some of its beauty and charm.

From the rooftop cafe of the Bank of Cyprus building in the Old City.
Phaneromeni church in the foreground, Selimiye Mosque in the middle ground, and the Pentadaktylos Mountains in the background.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Classic Cyprus Touring Car Show

There was a car show on Sunday of classic touring cars of Cyprus where the municipal market is held every Saturday.

The type of vehicle ranged substantially in age, make, and model. From what I saw, each were "right-side" drive and were owned by people living in Cyprus.

Even the Mini was present!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Revitalizing a Ghost Town

This building is located in my neighborhood, right across from the Chrysaliniotissa Church and a kindergarten for the families in the Chrysaliniotissa neighborhood. This building is owned by the municipality and was one of the new implementation projects for the Nicosia Master Plan team who are turning it into a Youth Center. When I was here last year (see above) the building was still under construction and now (see below) it is completely done and waiting to be inhabited. As one of the two priority neighborhoods that were planned for in the 1984 Nicosia Master Plan, Chrysaliniotissa continues to improve substantially each year and now contains all the amenities a neighborhood would need such as a craft center, a cultural center, a kindergarten, this youth center, a student hostel, plenty of cafe's and restaurants, two churches, a mosque (not currently open for lack of use), and plenty of renovated housing stock for rent from the municipality at cheap rent.

Originally, the neighborhood was chosen along with the Arab Ahmet neighborhood in the Turkish Cypriot community as "twin neighborhoods", which are directly adjacent to the buffer zone. Each neighborhood was notably vibrant before the division and vacated during and after the events in Nicosia from 1963-1974. The major rehabilitation project that encompassed the areas called for the renovation or construction of the amenities listed above to revitalize the areas nearest to the Buffer Zone.

After 20 years of work in the neighborhoods, the improvements in Chrysaliniotissa continue but the Arab Ahmet neighborhood continues to deteriorate. At the same time, the population in the Arab Ahmet neighborhood is substantially larger, but is not the demographic that was encouraged by the renovation projects. Traditional homes with beautiful facades are subdivided by owners that rent out rooms to immigrant workers and families. The immigrant population in the Old City as a whole is extremely high relative to Turkish and Greek Cypriots but the housing stock in "North" Nicosia is degrading at a much faster rate.

One of the main questions that remains for me is how, in a place of such history and character that has undergone two decades of rehabilitation work funded by the international sources (EU and USAID), has the local population not taken advantage of the incentives to return to the historic city center? I'm starting to think that at least part of the answer to this is that the Old City, no matter how "rehabilitated", is not attractive to contemporary Cypriots who see it as a symbol of division in their country and the poverty inherent in the village culture in previous generations. In an attempt to break away from traditional Cypriot culture, there is a strong emphasis on personal vehicular transportation, modernity, and private property. Meanwhile, some original owners and developers who bought up property within the city walls sit on the land and allow the condition of the urban fabric to decay while they wait for a resolution of some kind to be reached, at which point they believe the value of their property will increase substantially.

Unfortunately, as the tradition and character of Nicosia's Old City continues to be neglected, their priceless capital will continue to degrade. As an outsider who loves living in a place with character, enjoys tight-knit community, and is used to living in slightly smaller or communal living conditions, I find myself disappointed with the intimate streets of the Old City despite the substantial attempt at rehabilitation. What Nicosia needs more than financial stimulus for its built environment is the concern of its politicians and citizens who care about the preservation for this jewel city in the eastern Mediterranean.

Saturday Market in the Old City

"Mini" Cypriot banana bunches at the local market every Saturday in the Old City

Friday, November 5, 2010

Traveller's Account of Ottoman Nicosia

I recently read Archduke Louis Salvator of Austria's account of his visit to Nicosia in 1873. The following is Preface to his book which details his first impressions of the Ottoman capital:

"When, after passing a pleasant range of hills, Levkosia first bursts upon the sight, with her slender palms and minarets, seated in a desert plain, a chain of picturesque mountains as the background, it is like a dream of the Arabian Nights realized – a bouquet of orange gardens and palm trees in a country without verdure, an oasis encircled with walls framed by human hands.

Great is the contrast between the town and its surroundings, and greater still between the objects within the city. There are Venetian fortifications by the side of Gothic edifices surmounted by the Crescent, on antique Classic soil. Turks, Greeks, and Armenians, dwell intermingled, bitter enemies at heart, and united solely by their love for the hand of their birth." (9)

View from Fikardou to toward Nicosia

The description provided here by Salvator is beautifully written, but modern Nicosia leaves little trace of the oasis described here. Movement outside the city walls as residence began after the British took control of the island in 1878 and exploded as the city polarized into Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities between 1963 and 1974. The Venetian walls, Ottoman minarets, and palms have been engulfed by modern office buildings and sprawling suburbs and the capital that was once a place of coexistence is ripped by an undulating line of division that separates two distinct communities who speak a different language and live in the same, but separate capital city. The intimate streets and eclectic mix of monuments remain, for which I am appreciative during my daily walks in the Old City, but the life around them has been moved outward to the contemporary capital of Cyprus.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Photo of the Day - Old and New

Side by side houses in the Old City of Nicosia, south of the Buffer Zone. One in a deteriorated state while the other looking polished after a recent renovation project. Slowly, renovation projects are beginning to pick up but is still limited, specifically in the Turkish Cypriot community.