Yeroskipou council hopes to persuade the authorities to swap a piece of land earmarked for development for another nearby to protect the site which is of significant archaeological interest.
Protests against the planned two tower blocks and a hotel have been whipped up after important finds were announced in the area, according to the local mayor.
“We have only just been told about the Department of Antiquities’ findings in the area and some of them are from the 5th century BC. They are very important. This used to be the gardens of Aphrodite,” the mayor of Yeroskipou, Michalis Pavlides told the Sunday Mail this week.
The mayor added that a meeting, which will be attended by the mayor and all council members, will take place in Nicosia on September 23. The Antiquities Department and the land department will also be present, said Pavlides.
“We unanimously believe that further excavations and investigations need to take place in the area and believe there will be more finds,” he said.
He added that even if the proposed land swap goes ahead, further investigations by the Antiquities Department need to be undertaken before anything is built anywhere in the area.
“We want to try and swap this piece of land with the church that owns it, with another piece of land the other side of the road. Ideally no development of tower blocks or anything else would take place in this area.”
The dispute centres on the government’s decision to declassify the Hellenistic archaeological site and allow the church to develop it. Many locals and officials want the decision overturned.
The area of ‘Yerokipia’, where the project is planned, is known locally as ‘Yermanina’, after the woman who bought the land and made it into a farm in 1935.
“It’s about 1,000 hectares and home to the hotels such as the Athena, the Royal and Imperial. In around 1962 to 1963 the church bought some of this land,” the mayor said.
He explained that the project planned for the area, being built by a Hungarian company Atum Developments, consists of two parts. The recently discovered antiquities site where the tower blocks and a hotel are planned and the second ‘Eden City’, which was to be built on a plot of government-owned land.
“As I understand it, the government are charging a lot to lease the land.”
“We want the government to rescind this decision and turn it back into an archaeological park. Explorations need to continue and we are against anything being built there at all,” Andreas Evlavis of the Paphos Green party told the Sunday Mail.
He added that the church is not supposed to be a business and does not belong to one person but to everyone.
“The church is supposed to be for the citizens and not one person, and the site is a sensitive one for our culture and heritage. We don’t want to cover it with concrete, we are 100 per cent against this move.”
Cypriot MEP Giorgos Georgiou recently added his voice to the growing opposition by posting photographs on Twitter of a letter that he has sent to the European Commission in which he lodged a complaint over the decision to allow the church to develop the site.
He said that the ‘mammoth project’ is an unprecedented crime against the people, the environment and the cultural heritage of Cyprus and called on the EU to take action.
“This is part of our past and it needs to be protected. None of this area should be developed. There are many other areas where this can be done,” local resident Eleni Fillipou told the newspaper.
Pavlides said that the site is of a vast cultural importance which many people would want to visit.
“We are also hoping to meet the archbishop to discuss the matter. We have written him a letter and don’t know if this meeting will be before or after our meeting in Nicosia in September,” he said.
“I do not think, as things stand, that the Hungarian project will go ahead.”