By Annette Chrysostomou
Exposed archaeological remains, classy granite paving and creative lighting have transformed what was a dark, rather seedy area around the Paphos Gate in old Nicosia.
Smaller, less grand and less conspicuous than either Famagusta or Kyrenia gates, Paphos Gate was long the poor cousin of the three traditional entrance ways through the Venetian walls of the old city.
The colonial-era police station built on top of the gate and the road which the British spliced through the walls to the side made it all the easier to miss.
But renovation works on the gate and the area around it are now virtually complete. In the process, fascinating layers of Nicosia’s history have been revealed and left on public display, and the gate itself can finally say, ‘Look at me.’
The works, part of the long running ‘Nicosia masterplan’ for both sides of the old city, have involved both the department of antiquities and the municipality which received EU funding for the project.
The antiquities department got involved because the moat of the medieval walls is an ancient monument.
“The department undertook excavations which revealed this is an important site,” said the antiquities department’s Polina Christofi, who is in charge of the project.
“We discovered the original pathway to the gate from the medieval time, and the remnants of an aqueduct from Ottoman times,” she explained. “This was in use until the early 20th century when Cyprus was under British rule. It was demolished in order to build the road. “
A lot of different architectural remains were found at the site, dating from the 12th to the 20th century. From the 12th century, the Frankish period, only the building materials remain, as most of the buildings were demolished in the Venetian period and the material was used to build the Venetian walls.
Christofi explained that compared to other cities there are not many archaeological sites in the centre of Nicosia because the modern city has been built on them. So the site now excavated next to the Paphos Gate will be left open for all to see. “It’s an opportunity to stroll around and experience the history of the city,” she added.
To display the history of Nicosia, projectors have been installed in the gate to project artistic impressions to take people back in time. This is still a pilot project, with ideas ranging from creating a virtual tour to opening an information centre for the medieval walls and will ultimately depend on what funding will be available.
The municipality has already completed its part of the project in and around the gate, including removing one metre of soil to reveal the original Venetian pavement. Beyond the gate, new granite paving has been laid and new lighting installed.
“Actually, we have experimented with the lights. As well as the gate, we have lit both the nearby Maronite and the Catholic churches with different colours, and the Kastelliotissa Hall as well,” said civil engineer Dinos Logides, who is directing the project. Before, the whole area was very dark, including the road and the pavements.
The passageway to the gate itself remains closed to the public for safety reasons until a new wooden bridge is installed, hopefully by 2017.
Then, it is hoped the gate will become once again part of the daily life of the city.