Cyprus first came to my attention when I was in London in 1997 and went to a photography exhibition by the photojournalist Don McCullin. As part of his exhibition, he had a number of harrowing photos showing the after effects of violence between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots that he reported on back in 1964. These photos earned him a World Press Photo Award, some of which can be viewed here: https://www.tate.org.uk/search?type=object&st=34067.
My apologies for those not in the slightest bit interested, but what follows is a bit of a potted history of the country’s troubles, before I launch into my more usual blog post. You can skip straight to the normal blogpost by clicking here: TLDR.
Cyprus Recent History
Like most things there’s no simple answer to the conflict that occurred. However, in an effort to try and understand why it occurred, we need to go back to 1571 when the mostly Greek-populated island of Cyprus was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Fast forward 300 or so years and the island and its population was then leased to Britain before formally being annexed in 1914 due to the Ottoman Empire's decision to join the First World War on the side of the Central Powers. By this point the population of Cyprus consisted of both Greeks and Turks, who identified themselves with their respective "mother" countries.
When British rule ended in the early 1960’s and the island was declared an independent state, it became apparent that both communities had conflicting views on how the island should operate. Greek Cypriots wanted integration with Greece, whilst the Turkish Cypriots, as you could imagine, did not. The scene was set for conflict, which duly arrived when the Greek majority government proposed a range of constitutional amendments that were vetoed by the Turkish Cypriot legislators before they unilaterally decided to remove many of the Turkish communities’ protections as a minority, including their legislative power to veto. It had taken less than four years for the country to fall apart as communal violence began.
The Turkish invasion of Cyprus occurred ten years later in 1974, during which 6,000 to 10,000 civilians and military personnel lost their lives. With 60,000 Turkish troops against 14,000 on the “Greek” side, the Turks emerged victorious and ended up occupying 36% of the island, despite only having about roughly 18% of the total population. As a result, somewhere up to 200,000 Greek Cypriots ended up leaving the north, whilst nearly 65,000 Turkish Cypriots were displaced from the south.
Today, Northern Cyprus remains a de facto state that is only recognised by Turkey. A buffer zone exists between Northern and “regular” Cyprus, which also divides the capital city of Nicosia and attempts to reach a solution continue to be unsuccessful. It trades on the Turkish Lira, the majority of people speak Turkish and has a population of 326,000 compared to about 864,000 in Cyprus.
I’m always amazed when visiting countries that have gone through significant upheaval and turmoil (aka war) about how lovely the people are. The Khymer people in Cambodia and Irish are two that immediately spring to mind and I’m starting to think I’ll need to add the Cypriots as well. The people here have been nothing but welcoming and are extremely lovely. Our introduction to Cyprus is through the gateway to the country and its third largest city Larnaca. This, again, seems to be a city that is overlooked compared to its more famous cousins in the western and eastern extremes of the country, Paphos and Protara/Aya Napia.
Piale Pasha Promenade
Our stay in Larnaca began with a short walk down the Piale Pasha Promenade admiring the sea on our right and numerous eateries to our left. It was here that we found the Militzis Traditional Restaurant, which served amazing kleftiko. So good, we went for two massive portions of both beef (to die for) and lamb with accompanying potatoes. I’m guessing this is traditional peasant fare as it doesn’t come with anything fancy like sauces, but when you’re a decent slab of meat that has been slow cooked for hours and hours to perfection, you definitely don’t need them. The best thing was that we were also able to take the left over spuds (I was a guts and devoured all of the mountains of meat) to fry up in the morning with tomatoes for breakfast.
Medieval Castle of Larnaca
Only 250 metres further down the road will take you to the Medieval Castle of Larnaca. which has been originally dated back to the late 12th century, when it was built to protect the harbour of the town.
Two and a half Euro gains you entrance to the Castle and its museum. While the museum (up the stairs to the right) isn’t particularly large, within the compound there is a pretty courtyard and some interesting plaques.
The best part, however, is taking the stairs up to the ramparts, admiring the views out to sea and the promenades below and imagining how to defend the castle.
Church of Saint Lazarus
The reason most people visit Larnaca is to see the Tomb of Saint Lazarus which is inside the church of the same name. The church is named after Lazarus of Bethany (not to be confused with Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where Jesus was baptized), also known as Lazarus of the Four Days, who was raised from the dead by Jesus, after you guessed it, four days of having been dead.
According to the Eastern Orthodox Church, after being raised from the dead Lazarus fled to Cyprus from Judea where he was appointed as the first bishop of Citium/Kition (present-day Larnaca). Here he lived for thirty more years, never smiling due to the sight of unredeemed souls he had seen during his brief stay in Hell. The only exception was, when he saw someone stealing a pot, he smilingly said: "the clay steals the clay”.
On Lazarus’s second death he was buried and in the late 9th to early 10th centuries the Church of Agios Lazaros was built over his reputed (second) tomb, which remains accessible from inside the church.
Kyriazis Medical Museum
If you’re looking for a quirky museum dedicated to the practice and history of medicine in Cyprus that allows you to touch pretty much anything on show, then you’d be mad to pass up the opportunity to visit the Kyriazis Medical Museum. Displaying medical items, dentistry tools, books, the Hippocratic Oath and framed anatomy pictures, this is aother museum that our kids had an absolute blast at. It’s easy to see why, given the hands on nature of the museum, as they’re able to role play and let their imaginations run wild.
Adorning the walls were also a range of rather scary and overly descriptive pictures.
Free to enter, the only thing to take note of, is that the museum is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 AM to 12.30pm.
Having seen a lot of what Larnaca town had to offer, it was now time to head out to the countryside to see what else we could find.