|Dom Research Center||News Clippings: Cyprus|
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT
in Cyprus Weekly, November 4 - 10, 2005
By Lucas Psillakis
I am walking somewhere in the limbo between the bustling streets around the old port and Franklin Roosevelt Avenue which tears down all the way to Zakaki, between the ditch carved by the Garyllis river and the Mediterranean Sea billowing into the endless sky, pacing through one of the poorest parts of Limassol, Ayios Antonios and the old Turkish town quarter of the town, with its deserted houses, narrow streets, dirty sidewalks.
I am just a short walk away from the old port area. And yet life is different here, as if time has stood still. but the people have gone. Even the sycamore fig trees that once grew by the river, and whose sweet round burgundy-coloured fruits were valued by the locals here, have died. No one eats sycamore figs anymore.
Approaching the area from the neighbourhood of Tessera Fanaria, named after the century old bridge with four traffic lights, and following the course of what was once the river—now bone dry throughout the year—I can see little crumbling houses with dirty backyards to my left. The people who live here are gypsies—dark people from the north of Cyprus and elsewhere. None of the Greek Cypriots seem to know any of them. No one talks to them. No one seems to care.
One of the roads that brings you to the area is named after two patriots, Mishaoulis and Kavazoglu, two friends—the former a Greek, the latter a Turk—murdered in 1963 by extremists. This is how history remembers them. With the symbolic but ultimately meaningless laying of wreaths once a year and with a road. Just a road.
I leave my car a short distance away and walk back into the quarter. I am standing at the crossing of Djelal Bayar Street and Franklin Roosevelt Avenue. Turning left, towards the west, will take me [to] the new municipal buildings, the offices of the Sewerage Board, the Water Board and the Social Security Department. I turn right, to walk into an area forgotten by time and man.
Looking across the road from the church of Ayios Antonios I see the Djami Cedid mosque, its tall minaret towering above the Turkish quarter. A Christian chapel and a mosque, separated only by a single road, what used to be no more than a dirt track. So close, yet so far—it looks like just another road, but for once a road means so much more; a language, a religion, a culture, a whole way of life.
That said, Turks and the Greeks used to co-exist here. There are still Turkish buildings in the quarter, Turkish houses with their own architecture, and the road names still bear witness—Ankara Street, Djelal Bayar Street, Ismet Pasa Street, Kopruluzade Street.
A few years ago, I sat in a car with my father on Ankara Street when some distance away a little gypsy boy, all dark skin and bones, ran out into the street ahead of us. He just ran, without looking. The driver of [the] car that struck him didn’t see him or had no time to react, and my father and I gasped in shock as the boy bounced off the car with a thud and was flung three feet into the air.
The car was moving fast, but below the inner city speed limit; the boy had just jumped out. As the car screeched to a halt, two women ran out from a nearby house towards the boy, lying bleeding on the hot asphalt. It felt as if Ayios Antonios, the wonder worker, the patron saint of children, seemed to have forsaken this part of town.
We rushed him and the two weeping women to a private clinic for first aid, then to hospital for a closer look. My father footed the bill. The gypsy child survived. His little bones were supple enough to take the impact.
The accident would leave no more than a scar or two. Maybe the saint didn’t forget the children here after all, no matter what God they believe in. Maybe he still silently watches over the neighbourhood.
Ayios Antonios’ church is my favourite chapel. If you come here on any given Sunday you’ll see mostly old people, both men and women. Down the road is a fish restaurant and a nightclub. The younger people go to these places instead.
People think there is nothing much here of note.
And a superficial look suggests there isn’t. Churches, mosques, a few restaurants, a couple of nightclubs and the old Turkish baths, a popular haunt with cruising gays. There isn’t much more to be seen, it seems.
There is nothing here apart from the history of Cyprus in a nutshell. Turkish, Greek, old and new, fought over for eons, and then forgotten.
And so I turn now into Ankara Street. Some houses here are old and beautiful, others are shacks. There are stone houses here, mostly Turkish and adobe houses, mostly Greek. Some are bolted up now, secured with locks and chains, others boarded up with planks.
In many cases the houses on this road are owned by Turkish Cypriots, who’ve all but given up on returning to Ankara Street. But a few homes have been fixed up and are in use—an art gallery, a carpet, souvenir shops.
Down the road on the end of the Ankara Street, near Irinis Street and its beautiful and superbly preserved houses—all wooden floors, marble staircases and high ceilings—not too far from St Andrews’s Street and its restaurants and bars, Mrs Aphrodite offers the diners at Mikri Maria (Little Mary) her own brand along with her excellent meze.
On a good night, she’ll pick up her guitar and sign some songs for you from the good old days. Those good old days were long ago for the Turkish quarter.
Now I’ve reached the end of my walk. To the right, Limassol Castle is a moment away as are the new developments and the restored Carob Mill. Beyond them, you’ll find a small roundabout; one road that shoots off it takes you towards the public gardens and the tourist strip beyond, the other tourist strip takes you behind the castle, back where I left my car.
I take the road on the right to walk to my car, parked behind the Carob Mill. On the way to my home, I drive past Ayios Antonios again. The minaret casts its shadow on Kopruluzade Street, as I drive past along the river, past the shacks, past the garbage on the outside, past the council houses at Tessera Fanaria, away from the Turkish quarter and back into civilization.
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