The municipality of Geroskipou is set to head to the Supreme Court after a permit has been given for the construction of a hotel on church owned land within its limits.
Its cultural officer Nikos Palios told the Cyprus Mail on Tuesday that the municipality will also push the Church to accept a land swap.
Palios said the permit, issued on May 10, prior to completion of a required survey by the department of antiquities, had taken everyone by surprise.
“Excavation on the land slated for the hotel’s footprint ought to be prioritised,” Palios said.
The department of antiquities had stated, following inquiry by the municipality, that geophysical imaging techniques had shown there are no artifacts in the hotel’s footprint area, Palios said, but this was extremely unlikely.
“Any archaeologist will tell you that putting ‘the spade to the soil’ is the only way to be certain,” the council member maintained. Besides, he said, artifacts all around in the general area are extremely close to the surface, some at a mere 50cm deep.
Assurances given by the archbishopric that the hotel and the archaeological site could “co-exist” were absurd Palios said, and what this translates to in practice, is “destruction of a significant part of the ancient findings and the obscuring of the rest.”
The antiquities department itself has characterised the findings to date as “unique throughout the Hellenistic world,” Palios noted.
Municipal councillor, Antonis Trakkides, meanwhile attacked the decision in strongly worded statements, calling the granting of the permit “a black day for Geroskipou.”
Despite local protests, this significant discovery, believed by experts to be the likely site of Ieraskippou (the ‘sacred gardens’ of the goddess Aphrodite), is being sacrificed for financial gain, Trakkides stated.
“The remnants of our [ancient] culture will become part of a hotel lobby, rather than a jewel to highlight local history,” the councillor said, adding that the decision marks one of the lowest points in the island’s history.
Akel and the Greens party held a protest on Monday afternoon over the planned hotel, insisting on the continuation of the excavations over the entire area of the plot, with the aim of fully revealing and protecting the ancient site.
A resolution was adopted at the event calling on authorities to revoke the planning permission and restore the area to protected status.
The project has been controversial since the archbishopric managed to secure its first permit to proceed with construction of a luxury hotel at the site last year.
Local authorities have called the planning department’s decision to grant a permit unacceptable and took issue with the fact that the municipal council’s opinion had been bypassed.
Called the Diamond Essence, the hotel was originally to feature 484 beds across eight floors, including a rooftop garden, standing 40 metres high with a total footprint of 27,500 square metres. The recently secured permit appears to now give permission for only five floors.
It is understood the hotel was primarily geared at high-end tourists and access to the site was to be from Posidonos Avenue.
The entire project includes the construction of two residential apartment blocks (Amethyst & Aquamarine Towers), with a combined 122 apartments. The two blocks received a town planning permit in 2022.