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Tylliria: beautiful, remote, struggling

Sunset at Mansoura
In August the region around Kato Pyrgos springs into life as a popular holiday spot for Cypriots. The rest of the year, the villages are left alone to their ageing populations

 

To understand village life in the beautiful but remote northwest region of Tylliria, you must understand what isolation, distance and tortuous roads really mean.

To live in the villages of Kato Pyrgos, Pano Pyrgos, Pigainia, Mansoura and Mosfili is to be heavily dependent on the Limnitis crossing point which provides access to Nicosia via the north.

Travelling from Kato Pyrgos to Nicosia through Limnitis takes around an hour and a half. Negotiating the checkpoints is a hassle, but the alternative is an exhausting if scenic trek through narrow, winding mountain roads that takes at least double the time.

“I feel upset when I read comments on social media, usually from people living in cities that all crossings ought to close down,” said Marios Nicolaou, 29, one of Kato Pyrgos’ few young residents.  “Have they ever been up here to see how people live?”

People living in urban areas don’t realise, he said, that for Tylliria residents even things like getting to work or going to the doctor is often a long, complicated procedure.

Kato Pyrgos community leader Nicos Cleanthous

“Before the crossing opened in 2010, we were cut off,” Kato Pyrgos community leader Nicos Cleanthous said. Now,  people can daily travel through Limnitis to Nicosia for work and medical reasons, to sell their agricultural produce and study.

Their sheer reliance on Limnitis meant the coronavirus lockdown hit them particularly hard and why they demonstrated so vocally after measures taken by the north had temporarily prevented them from using it just days after it had finally reopened.

Each August, the area’s remoteness and mostly unspoilt scenery and beaches make it a magnet for mostly Cypriots who fill up the few hotels and pack the restaurants. For the rest of the year, the villages are left alone to their ageing population.

Kato Pyrgos, the biggest village in the area with around 1,000 residents, also hosts all services such as the bank, hospital, schools, supermarkets and petrol stations. Mansoura used to be a mixed village and Ayios Theodoros was inhabited only by Turkish Cypriots but after the 1964 Tylliria battles, the Turkish Cypriot inhabitants left. Ayios Theodoros now has no residents, whereas only two families live permanently in Mansoura.

Ancient oak tree in kato pyrgos

While the Limnitis crossing is clearly very important for the area, residents and community leaders say it is not enough to keep the villages alive.

“With state support we would be able to keep people in the villages,” Cleanthous said.

Most of the young people, though they wish to stay in their villages, are forced to leave as there are no incentives for them to stay.

He said in 1978 there were 280 pupils in the Kato Pyrgos high school. Today there are 45.

Senior high school students who want to prepare for the university entrance exams have to travel daily either to Nicosia or Paphos for private lessons and return home at around 8pm or 9pm. This experience alone hammers home to the young the difficulty of living in a remote area.

“After so many difficulties, why would a young person want to stay in the village?” he asked.

Pigainia community leader Angeliki Philippou

For the Pigainia community leader, Angeliki Philippou, unless measures are taken, “in 10 years, there will be no young people” in the villages.

Proper public transportation and development that would create jobs and bring in more visitors, would help keep people in the area, she said.

Today,  two buses leave Kato Pyrgos early morning for Nicosia while buses leave for the village from the capital at around 12.30 pm and the other at 2.30pm.

This means that people who do work in Nicosia and use the bus, need to leave their workplaces at around 2pm to catch the bus home.

“The jobs they can find is with reduced hours and lower salaries, but they have no other choice,” Philippou said.

She said more buses are needed and suggested a cooperation between the local buses and the ones serving Nicosia so that people could catch buses from Astromeritis and go to various areas of the capital at different hours.

Another issue is the lack of specialists at the Kato Pyrgos hospital.

“Why should we have to send 70-year-old people to the city for their tests instead of having a cardiologist visiting the hospital regularly?”

Visits by specialists such as paediatricians, cardiologists and physical therapists, she said, would also help decongest urban health centres.

Nicolaou used to work in a private firm in Nicosia after his university studies but was forced to resign and return to the village since his salary was not enough to cover living costs in the capital.

“Most people my age don’t want to stay at the village,” Nicolaou said, adding there are no incentives for young couples to set up home at Kato Pyrgos.

“I believe most see Kato Pyrgos as a remote area where they can holiday but fail to register that people actually live here.”

He said several young people were able to get an army job and stay at the village, but the military cannot be a solution for everyone.

But even if young people solve their employment issue and manage to remain at the village, he said, there are not many entertainment options or proper healthcare provision with urgent cases sent by ambulance to Nicosia.

According to Nicolaou the only bank that continues to operate, opens once or twice per week with crowds gathering outside each time and waiting more than an hour until they get served.

The bank’s ATM sometimes runs out of cash while card holders of other banks are charged dearly to withdraw money from it.

“Unless you live here you cannot realise the situation.”

Omega beach Pigainia

Maria Ioannou, owner of a canteen offering refreshments and mesmerising views of one of the most popular beaches in the area, Pigainia’s Omega beach, or ‘ammoudhi’, named after its rich sandy shore, explained how the recent closing of the crossings had affected the entire community.

She hasn’t seen her two-year-old granddaughter who lives in Nicosia since the lockdown and, although the crossings have opened, given the restrictions in place and the necessity for everyone crossing between the two sides to present a coronavirus test, her son prefers to take the mountain road to the village, but this means he cannot bring the toddler since it is too exhausting for her due to the winding road that causes her car sickness.

“It was a salvation, it immensely facilitated us in every way,” Mrs Maria said on the opening of the crossing in 2010.

Panayiotis, a man in his mid-30s, focused on the commercial significance of Limnitis.

When the crossing was closed the many peach producers in Kato Pyrgos, had to travel to Nicosia through the mountain road, and by the time they got there, almost half of their delicate produce was destroyed by the heat.

“Several producers left the fruit on the trees because it was not financially viable to harvest them,” he said.

Time and again, most older residents date their sense of neglect and isolation back to  the intercommunal fighting and Turkish airstrikes this very week (August 6-10) in 1964. The fighting left 53 Greek Cypriots dead and the Turkish beachhead in the Turkish Cypriot enclave of Kokkina intact.

The impact in terms of the area’s isolation was immediate. The much shorter road leading to Pachyammos and onto Polis and Paphos, which passed through Kokkina, was closed to them and remains so to this day, forcing travellers on a long detour inland. To get to Morphou and Nicosia through Limnitis, meanwhile, they needed to be escorted by the UN.

“The UN would escort convoys of cars at designated hours each morning and each evening,” said Christodoulos Andreou, 70, from Mosfili, located on a hill overlooking Kokkina and Mansoura. The village now has 17 residents, most of them pensioners.

Andreou, who experienced the Tylliria battles first-hand as a teenager, said cars would gather in the morning and the afternoon and a UN vehicle would escort them up to Xeros, Morphou through the Limnitis road.

When the situation somewhat normalised after the Tylliria battles, Mosfili residents started to gradually leave with most of them settling in the Morphou area.

“They needed to find jobs, put food on the table,” Andreou said.

Between 1974 to-date, the village’s population has been declining.

In the 1980s and 1990s there was only one young couple with their four children living there. The rest of the residents were people over 50, most of them pensioners.

Filippos Filippou Mosfili community leader

One of the four children of that family, Filippos Filippou, 44, is now Mosfili’s community leader.

“It was my choice to stay, no regrets,” said Filippou who now lives in Kato Pyrgos with his wife and two young sons.

Looking back, he said it was tough growing up in a remote village with no other children of the same age to play with, while the lack of basic services such as a school bus made life tough for a young boy.

“Our school years were very difficult,” he said, adding that, it was not uncommon for him to walk to school in Kato Pyrgos, some seven kilometres away when he had no one to drive him there. This would take him around an hour, whereas many times, after walking back home for lunch, he had to walk back to Pyrgos for his afternoon private lessons or to meet friends.

He said only five of his classmates remained in the area, whereas none of the people who graduated in later years chose to stay in their village.

“Once you leave the village, you never return,” he said.

He says that while the opening of the crossing changed their lives in terms of easier access to Nicosia and other areas, the initial hopes it would revitalise the area never materialised.

He, along with the community leaders of the other villages of the area, stressed the importance of infrastructure that would encourage development such as a higher education school, or tourism infrastructure. They said this would help keep people in their villages.

“There are many ideas, but we need the government’s backing,” said Philippou, Pigainia’s community leader.

Aerial view of Mosfili (Yiannos Charalambous, facebook)

Pigainia has around 80 residents, whose average age is between 60 and 65. Only around 15 people are between 30 and 45, she said. The few children in the village go to school at Kato Pyrgos.

But to help the remote Tylliria villages survive, better access to Paphos is also necessary, the community leaders and residents said.

This could be achieved through the Kokkina enclave, which they stress, does not even need a crossing point, just a passage with fences keeping people from entering areas the Turkish military wants to keep shut.

“The Kokkina passageway would give new life to the area,” Cleanthous said.

Such an arrangement, he said, would significantly reduce distance to Paphos by at least 40 minutes. It takes now around an hour and a half for people from Pyrgos to reach Paphos.

Both Cleanthous and Philippou said investors have shown interest in creating tourist infrastructure in the area and shorter distance to and from Paphos would, perhaps, get things moving as it would also attract more visitors to the remote villages. Philippou also said that investments were also hindered by red tape.

“We hope a solution will be found,” Philippou said. “Our area is beautiful, with its beaches, nature, churches, we want more people to come enjoy them,” she added.

The fishing shelter at Kato Pyrgos

 

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