While Limassol’s old town has become a major attraction for locals and tourists alike with its mix of chic cafes, gift shops and historic and religious sites, reaching it – whether on foot or by car – can be a frustrating challenge.
The streets that link the classy promenade and revamped old port area to the castle and the old town are packed with cars coming from all directions and the main access point often forces pedestrians to walk alongside – or even crossing – a busy roundabout. Pretty though the roundabout may be with its ancient landmark tree and decorations during holidays, it poses many obvious dangers to pedestrians. “There’s no obvious place to cross and whenever you try, there’s a car in every direction,” Ioanna Mavrou told the Sunday Mail.
A pedestrian crossing located shortly after the castle area and a little bit before the promenade does little to help, Mavrou said. “Even if I don’t have to cross the actual roundabout I still have to walk on the side of it, with the cars driving right next to me.”
Drivers too hate having to go the castle because of serious problems they face with parking. “It’s a great place to hang out but it’s such a pain having to find parking,” Elena Myrianthou said. “I love all the cute restaurants and the cafes and I’ve been spending more time here the past few years but this parking is terrible, I hate it.”
Limassol’s mayor Andreas Christou argues that hundreds of spots are available along the Molos seafront, and an additional 250 private parking spots have been created, adding that parking gripes are part of a mentality in which the driver wants to be able to park right outside the café he wants to visit. Cafes near the castle, however, say parking is a long-standing problem and they want it resolved. “Our problem here is parking,” Coffee Gallery supervisor Maro says. “Buses carrying tourists have nowhere to stop. When there’s school and three buses with students or a ship with five buses of people, then the tourist ones keep going around the roundabout.”
Another cafe owner, who did not want to share his name said parking is the most important problem they face but their concerns go unheeded. To add to the congestion, two bus stations are located near the castle. One which picks up passengers going to Paphos, is on the way to the marina, just on the left hand side of the roundabout.
With a narrow street by their side and no signs indicating this is a bus station, Greg and Lucas, two young tourists from Poland had to ask around to find out where they had to wait – at the edge of the roundabout.Commenting on their stay in Limassol, Greg said “it’s a bit difficult to enjoy as a modern city…it’s not the best infrastructure.” Though they did like the castle area, both said they wished it was easier to navigate around and that pedestrian crossings, bus stations and signs were more available. Their bus station, opposite the castle area can quickly hold up traffic.
A one lane street, cars have nowhere to go unless the bus manages to steer enough to the left leaving vehicles a gap to get by. “The problem here is the bus stations. The one for Paphos creates traffic and cars build up,” Costas Panayiotou, a taxi driver parked across said. About 200 metres further down from where the taxi drivers are -at the castle area’s entrance – and opposite the old port and promenade is another bus station. “From there the buses go to Larnaca and Nicosia. They also hold up traffic and everyone gets stuck in this roundabout,” Panayiotou said.
Change is around the corner, however. The city’s mayor, Christou told the Sunday Mail tenders have already been called for a project to revamp the streets around the castle and also make it more pedestrian friendly. The contested roundabout will be made much smaller and have a triangular shape, allowing the road to expand and creating a two lane street. “Hopefully, works will start in September,” he said.
Additionally, Ayias Theklas street, an eyesore of a road which also leads to the roundabout, will be upgraded. At present Ayias Theklas is lined with car mechanics and vehicles parked down the whole street. Not only is it difficult to drive along, but the dirty, greasy image clashes horribly with the marina on one side, the revamped castle area a few metres down and the beautiful promenade further along.
The business owners know this and deep down know their time there is limited. “We’re only here for today and tomorrow. We don’t fit in with the broader plan for the area,” said Alekos Kolletas, who runs a car repair shop. “I don’t think they will want us here.” With around a dozen businessmen working the trade since the 1974 invasion, many have inherited the shop from their fathers and the garage their only source of income. Christou, aware of this stipulates “what we can do is revamp the road, add street lighting but the rest is private property and we can’t touch it.” “The businessmen however might see this is an opportunity to change their field of work and operate a bar there or a restaurant to fit in with the broader picture and relocate their car repair shops elsewhere to an industrial area.”
This however will require much patience and time, the mayor said. Asked whether compensation was on the cards, Christou said this was not something the municipality or government could consider based on the state’s current finances. A broader plan to revamp the whole area, west of the castle – including the Turkish Cypriot quarter, Ayios Ioannis and Omonia areas – will cost a whopping €22 million, funded by EU programmes.
Works set to begin in 2017 and expected to last some three years aim to not only make the area visually appealing with parks but actually bring in small and medium businesses to the area. “In these spots, we have people with the lowest income, high unemployment, and limited infrastructure,” Christou said, something set to change within the next few years if all goes to plan. “We want to support the area, to create more jobs and reinforce small and medium businesses.”
People living in the area will also have better access to the beach once the road networks are revamped. “Residents here have the beach in front of them but all they see is an industrial area. The beach is clean but there is no access.” Although more details on what the grandiose plan actually entails will be announced later this month, Christou said historic and religious sites – primarily the Kepir (or Grand) Mosque, the Ayios Antonios church and the public baths- will be interconnected with a ‘green path’ where tourists can walk along to see the city’s history. “Tourists who come to the marina can see more than just a modern Cyprus. We need to showcase the island’s history, so people can see more than the modern cafes they can visit in any other part of the world,” Christou said.