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Fixing Famagusta

The city walls of Famagusta

Considering the centuries of neglect, the walls of Famagusta are in good condition, but conservation work is still desperately needed


THREE distinctive parts of old Famagusta are set to undergo essential conservation work in the latest phase of repairs at historic monuments across Cyprus.

The new projects come after the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage (TCCH) – in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) completed successful conservation works at 25 monuments including a mosque in Deneia, the Panagia Church in Trachoni, the Hammam in Paphos and Agios Afksentios church in Komi Kebir.

At an open meeting at the Church of St Peter and Paul in Famagusta on Thursday, the TCCH outlined plans for several sections of the impressive 50-foot thick port walls in Famagusta.

The Venetian masterpiece was built in the 15th century and has proven to be remarkably resilient over the last half-millennium – even withstanding a year-long siege before the city capitulated to the Ottoman Empire in 1571.

But, coupled with age and neglect – and the constant vibrations from traffic, weather wear, dockside industry and increased tourism – the citadel is in poor condition.

Glafkos Constantinides from the TCCH said Famagusta boasts an exceptionally rich heritage of ruined monuments and the three projects would commence shortly, starting with the Venetian Land Gate or the Rivettina Bastion.

Rivettina Bastion
Rivettina Bastion

The gate, with its tiny passageways and drawbridge is one of the two main entry points in the city and popular with tourists – as it is structurally solid, it will be stabilised, wheelchair access added and a drainage system built.

The last major documented works on the land gate took place in 1492 when Venetian Captain Nicolao Foscarini deemed the structure ‘weak against cannon ball attacks’ – further strengthening was carried out in 1550.

The stunning triangular shaped Martinengo Bastion in north-west Famagusta, which was built by Giovanni San Micheli in the mid-1500s is also set for conservation.

The impressive structure boasts walls with a depth of 20 feet and the upper vaults were built with vents to allow to gunpowder fumes and smoke from cannon fire to escape.

The Martinengo Bastion
The Martinengo Bastion

According to the UNDP, the bastion is “a prime example of state of the art renaissance military architecture” which remains in a stable condition, but will undergo repairs of large and small holes in the bedrock base and the addition of a drainage system.

Work on Othello's Tower last year
Work on Othello’s Tower last year

The third phase of conservation will see the stabilisation of the Venetian walls between the Arsenal and Othello Tower, which remains structurally stable, but with some areas at risk.

The city walls run to three kilometres in length and boast 14 bastions, ammunition stores, stables, ramps, a moat and several heavy-duty doors.

Other areas earmarked for future works include St Mary’s Church of the Armenians – which was last renovated in 1907, St Mary of Carmel Church, the 14th century St Anne Church of the Maronites and Tanner’s Mosque – a unique combination of French Gothic, Byzantine and Armenian styles first constructed in the 15th century.

Takis Hadjidemetriou from the TCCH.
Takis Hadjidemetriou from the TCCH.

“Famagusta was our great project from the beginning,” TCCH member Takis Hadjidemetriou told the Sunday Mail.

“It was a breakthrough. From the moment it was decided that we were going to work on conservation in Famagusta, the road opened for everything. This is natural, as Famagusta is one of the most important towns in the Mediterranean.”

The old city is dotted with dilapidated and decaying churches, mosques and other historic buildings which have crumbled away – in some cases little more than rubble remains.

“Our job is to pursue a programme which will protect and maintain the common cultural heritage of Cyprus, so far we have completed about 25 monuments,” Constantinides said.

“Famagusta is a major focus in our work and we are really doing some very big projects here. This town reflects the composition of all Cyprus, but because the monuments here are very big and very demanding, we are devoting a lot of resources – financially as well as human.”

The TCCH was set up in 2008 and is dedicated to the recognition, promotion and protection of cultural heritage. The committee acknowledged that of all the historic sites in Cyprus, events have left old Famagusta badly bruised.

An act of Victorian vandalism in 1879 resulted in the ruins of the ancient citadel being used to fill up a part of the harbour, some stone was even shipped to Egypt to shore up ports there – and during the Second World War Othello’s tower was used to store food, weapons and military equipment.

The largest and most visible project so far for the TCCH was the extensive work at Othello Tower and Citadel last year, which was crowned on completion by a performance of Othello by William Shakespeare by a young bi-communal theatre group.

As it stands there are numerous measures in place to document and protect national treasures in Cyprus, with over 1,000 monuments being added to a national inventory since 2012.

Teams of archaeologists and engineers are continuously making evaluations of historic sites to learn which are in need of attention.

The lists of conservation and restoration works carried out by the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage are personally agreed to by President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.

Glafkos Constantinides, left, and Ali Tuncay at the open meeting in Famagusta.
Glafkos Constantinides, left, and Ali Tuncay at the open meeting in Famagusta.

Ali Tuncay, a part of the Turkish Cypriot contingent of the TCCH, says the fragility of Cyprus’ architectural legacy has united the bi-communal teams.

“We trusted each other, as we have a common vision for the monuments in Cyprus. Regardless of their origin, they are all part of our common heritage.”

There is also a sense of urgency, as almost all the monuments are endangered. In Famagusta several churches, priceless frescos are gradually being eroded by the weather.

“We are also showing, I think how the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots can work together to produce results for the benefit of both communities,” Tuncay adds. “We have many projects across the island from Paphos to Karpas and from Limassol to Famagusta.”

But money is an issue: preservation efforts are primarily funded by the European Union –  €6.7 million has been granted by Brussels since 2012.

Other contributions – totalling €2.5 million have been given by the Church of Cyprus and EVKAF. The Leventis Institution and Lefkoniko Cooperative have also chipped into past projects.

The TCCH hopes that some heritage-led regeneration works will eventually reap economic dividends – for example by entrance fees from tourists – thus paying for their continued upkeep and preservation.

“We are looking into the social and economic side of our work to see what would be the consequences of keeping it going and making it sustainable. We want to try and make it a ‘break even’ situation,” Constantinides said.

There are hopes that eventually local community organisations will soon be able to chip in with contributions and grants to help the ongoing effort.

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