In 1974, what was once an internationally celebrated vacation spot, transformed into an abandoned settlement in just a few days.
Varosha, a beachfront resort in Famagusta, Cyprus, was home to roughly 40,000 inhabitants by the mid-1970s. It welcomed tourists from all over the world, marketing itself as a destination especially fit for wealthy Europeans and Americans in the 1960s and 1970s. A-list celebrities of the era like Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman could be seen both lounging in paradise and using the beachfront as a filming location. However, on July 24, 1974, the Turkish military invasion of Cyprus left Varosha and its surrounding areas uninhabited.
Varosha as the Mediterranean Hub for Resort Tourism and Socio-political Conflict
A report of the plans for developing Cyprus was submitted to the United Nations in 1961, with Varosha set as the go-to resort destination for international tourism. As its popularity grew and world-renowned hotel chains like Hilton and Golden Sands extended their feelers for construction in the 1960s, socio-political unrest left the Turkish Cypriots inhabiting the area frustrated. By 1963, disputes surrounding nationalism pushed the Turkish Cypriots into enclaves while Varosha’s tourism industry grew.
As division and conflict between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots grew throughout the 1960s, the United Nations started discussing what is presently known as the “Cyprus Problem.”
The Turkish Invasion of Cyprus and the Abandonment of Varosha
In the summer of 1974, the Turkish Military invaded northern parts of Cyprus, seizing over 37% of the entire island. Local inhabitants of Verosha and tourists were forced to flee the resort town over a few days, many of which left without their belongings. The idea was that locals and tourists alike would be able to return once political tensions lessened. Unfortunately, the return to Verosha never occurred.
For the next 47 years, Verosha would exist as a fenced-off and heavily guarded ghost town. Beachfront properties, storefronts, and shopping malls decayed as plant life consumed what it could.
Although the UN hoped for the reunification of Cyprus in 2020, the Turkish Cypriot leader, Ersin Tatar, announced that reunification was not an option. When Tatar announced the reopening of Verosha in the same year, Greek Cypriots were devastated. Although Tatar promised the former inhabitants a reimbursement for their lost property along with the option to move back to their property, it wasn’t without a catch.
Any Greek Cypriot wanting to re-inhabit Varosha would have to become a citizen of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). The TRNC is only formally recognized by Turkey and is in direct conflict with Greek Cypriot nationalism.
As of August 2021, the Turkish Cypriot administration has cited over 200,000 visitors to the heavily guarded town of Verosha since its reopening.