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History of Nicosia: when a river tells its tales

Among the stories the book includes is the one of how Phaneromeni church was once spared because of an Ottoman pasha’s dream

By Evie Andreou

Local authorities with a vision, church icons believed to inspire love, and Ottoman pashas whose ominous dreams made them spare important monuments are all stories that make up Nicosia’s past and are included in a new book on the island’s capital and its people, to be released next week.

Archaeologist Anna Marangou’s book, ‘Perpatontas stis ochthes tou potamou Pedieou’ (Walking along the banks of the Pedieos river) offers fascinating glimpses into Nicosia down the centuries. The aim is to re-introduce the capital’s history to its inhabitants as a whole and not fragmented by the divisions of the 1960s and 1974.

The book consists of 31 stories about Nicosia.

“They are stories of people, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, linked with the spaces and monuments of the city,” Marangou told the Sunday Mail. “They are the link uniting the history of our city through the narrations of its inhabitants.”

The author, archaeologist, art historian and expert in Nicosia’s history uses the Pedieos river as a unifying theme.

Until the Venetian era in the 1500s, the river ran straight through what is now Nicosia old city before it was diverted around the present city walls. Significantly, the river’s original route closely followed the Green Line which now separates northern and southern Nicosia.

Even though the book is not about the river Pedieos so much as stories of the people of Nicosia, the author uses the river that once ran through the old city to avoid mentioning the dividing line.

“I did not want to mention the Green Line that divides the city so I used the river instead, that runs through the city and creates a right and left bank,” said Marangou.

The almost 100-kilometre Pedieos river is known as Kanli dere (Bloody river) by the Turkish Cypriots because of the lives lost and massive destruction caused when it used to flood.

The longest river in Cyprus, the Pedieos river originates in the Troodos mountains close to Machairas monastery and flows through Nicosia and northeast across the Mesaoria plains. It then steers east, meeting the sea at Famagusta bay close to the ancient city of Salamis.

“To me, what remains the same, is the river, which is a source of life,” she said.

In the book’s prologue, Marangou says that where the river once passed, “today is the Green Line, the dividing line that cuts as a knife the city in half for half a century.”

But, as the river always finds its way, she writes: “I wish that someday the river will flow impetuously again, just like in 1330, when it flooded … Then it will take with it barrels, dividing lines, shooting posts, sand sacks, and will clear the land and claim its space back.

“But until that day comes, my city is divided in two. …  In the memory of the river, and defying the line, I’m walking there and retrace my whole city.”

Marangou uses the terms usually used by locals when referring to the other community, existing separately beyond the Green Line by ‘us here’ and ‘them there’, to explain also how history has been taught since 1974.

Young Greek Cypriots today, she said, think that Nicosia extends only up to the suburb of Latsia, ignoring the other, northern part.

“It is because the history of our country is also in the north, we have a lot of monuments there. People, especially youngsters, think that the north is not part of our history,” Marangou said.

The idea, she said, was how, “this side”, will learn the history of those on “the other side”.

The book does not have a timeline, but rather includes stories from the ancient, mediaeval and modern history of Nicosia, all of them linked to individuals.

“People relate to history with something we understand, an act, when one understands why something happened,” she said.

“Who built the (Omeriye) hammam, the stories of people who make a city. The Famagusta Gate, the Faneromeni church, they are linked with human actions,” she said.

One story is that of the icon at the Chryssaliniotissa church, depicting Virgin Mary twice: one figure called the ‘agapitiki’ (the one with the ability to make people love) and the other ‘misitiki’ (which makes people detest their vices).

Another narrative focuses on Lellos Demetriades who served as mayor between 1971 and 2001 and how the parishes near Famagusta gate changed after the invasion.

Other tales include Anastasia Koumbaridou, mukhtar of Chrysaliniotissa and how Phaneromeni church was once spared because of an Ottoman pasha’s dream.

It is not, she said, a history book, but includes stories of real people. The aim is to make locals greater appreciate the history of their city.

Her inspiration for the book was the reaction from those who have been on the tours of historic Cyprus she has run over the past five years.

“What sticks is the stories I tell them. It is the stories about people that make up a city,” she said.

The 31 stories are accompanied by photos by architect George Pantazis.

The book, published by To Rodakio publishers, is in Greek but Marangou plans for it to be translated into Turkish and later into English.

The book launch will take place at the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Centre in Nicosia on December 12 at 7pm. The book will be presented by Michalis Attalides.

‘Perpatontas stis ochthes tou potamou Pedieou’ will be available at Soloneion bookshop in Nicosia and Kyriacou bookshops in Limassol. Price €20.

For more information about Historic Cyprus tours: www.historiccyprus.com



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