By Constantinos Psillides
AN elevator built at the foot of the archaeological site of Panagia Chrisospiliotissa church in Deftera sparked some controversy yesterday after the Department of Antiquities demanded it was torn down because it was not consistent with the site.
Local church authorities and the Cyprus Paraplegic Association contested the department’s decision, saying it was the only option for visitors with mobility issues.
The actual church is located inside a series of caves and is accessible only by climbing a long stairway. A smaller church was built at the foot of the caves and an elevator was deemed essential to carry people to the actual church inside the caves. For people with mobility issues, the elevator is the only way to get to the top.
“This is a disgrace for the department and the society in general,” said Demetris Lambrianides, head of the Cyprus Paraplegics Association. He said it was the department’s job to make it easier for people to visit monuments.
Lambrianides said the association advised the church to build the elevator 1.5 metres away from the actual cave, so as not to damage or interfere with the site. “I don’t agree with the department’s assessment, that it’s not consistent with the monument. I think it doesn’t spoil the church’s image,” he said. He said he heard a lot of people complaining that it was hard to climb the stairs leading to the actual site.
“I have visited the church myself. The elevator is the only access. And not just for people with obvious mobility issues.
Elderly people too have a difficult time climbing the 150 steps to the top. The elevator made things a lot easier. It’s essential,” he added.
Lambrianides said that he would be meeting with authorities to try and resolve the issue.
A senior official of the antiquities department told the Cyprus Mail that the church should have consulted them first, before building the elevator. “There are procedures and guidelines for constructions near monuments. We have very strict specifications. What the church should have done in the first place was to contact the antiquities department so we could figure out a solution together,” said the official, pointing out that the problem isn’t just with the elevator.
“The church also built a fountain near the site and a number of other unauthorised constructions. These are not consistent with the archaeological site. We take the preservation of these sites very seriously. We are talking about one of the most significant hermitages in the greater Nicosia area, with a number of murals of great religious importance. What the antiquities department wants is for these archaeological sites to be preserved properly”, the senior official said.
Asked whether the department was aware that the site was practically inaccessible to people with mobility issues, the official replied that this was also a problem with many other monuments. “The Department has spent a lot of money to preserve the hermitage and bring it to its current state. Unfortunately, like many other sites, it’s difficult for people with mobility issues to visit. In the case of the hermitage, because of the climb, it’s also difficult for the elderly to access the site. We have experts in the department that deal exclusively with coming up with ways to make our monuments and archaeological sites accessible to everyone. We are sensitive when it comes to these issues but it’s not always easy to find a solution. We know there are problems. We are trying to address them,” the official responded.
Asked whether it was possible for the elevator to remain operational or at least be modified to fit the department’s specifications, the senior official said this remained to be seen.
The site is located in a series of caves near the village of Deftera, in the Nicosia District. It consists of three caves, connected with two tunnels, decorated with murals dated in the 12th-13th centuries AD.
According to the Deftera community council website, in 2002 the site was closed for renovation and preservation. A small church was built at the foot of the caves, to allow people to worship near the archaeological site so as not to harm it. A large fair takes place every year on August 7 and lasts until August 15. The fair, according to the website, attracts over 50,000 people every year.