Heritage

Famagusta (Varosha), an 18 year old Soldier returns after 66 years

Readers Mail ….
from Richard Chamberlain ….

The last time I walked down Democratias Street in what is known now as Varosha or Maraş, but I knew it as Famagusta, was in 1954. I was serving as a British Soldier in the Royal Signals stationed just outside the lovely town of Famagusta. We soldiers used to go to the beautiful beach and clear blue sea to swim when we were off duty or go around the town shopping or eating in the few cafes that were there then. In the evening we used to go to the open air cinema.

My twin brother and myself, National Service days in Cyprus

Amazingly, after 45 years, the authorities have decided to open up to the public the closed military zone. There were hundreds of people waiting for the official opening on 8th October. When the gates opened, the people swarmed into the previously closed area after 45 years when the Turkish army closed the area to the public.

Democratias Street at night (then)

A lot of the roads and areas where people were allowed to go had been tarmacked and tidied up, and large pots of flowers had been put along the side of the roads. It was obvious the opening had been previously planned for some while. Most of the shops and buildings were in a poor state, but with time and money they could be restored to their former glory. It was a surreal feeling walking down Democratias Street after 66 years. A feeling of excitement and sadness. Excitement because I never thought I would see inside Varosha again, and sadness because what I was seeing was a very different beautiful town that I once remembered and photographed.

When I was sent to Cyprus in 1954 under the National Service army scheme, I took a camera with me, and because everything was so amazingly different to where I had lived in the UK, I could not help photographing almost everything I saw.

When I walked round Varosha last week, I could hardly recognise the places I had photographed.  Luckily, I had my book of photographs that I have published with me, and I was able to recognise a few sites and places. I have recently published a book of 170 photographs of what I knew as Famagusta and other places in Cyprus and the Cypriots taken in 1954/55, entitled “Cyprus Scenes and Way of Life in 1954”. At the time I took the photos I did not realise the importance that they would have in modern history 66 years later when things in Cyprus have changed so much.

When there were camels in the towns and cities

I am so pleased I have been able to visit and walk round the town of Varosha again before I die. It was an amazing experience and one I shall treasure for the rest of what life I have left. Maybe, the rest of Varosha will be gradually opened up in the future, (politics willing), and what was once a lovely city/town will be restored to its former glory.

(above)  –  The Kodak Shop, as it was then and how it looks now

(above)  –  A street in Varosha, how it was then and how it looks now

If you get a chance, I fully recommend you visit Varosha. You will have to use your imagination of how it was, or see the photos in my book. I have some books in the UK and Northern Cyprus.   My email address is chamberlain958@btinternet.com.

Best wishes to you all.
Richard Chamberlain

More photos below :

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