Before 1974, Famagusta's new town district of Varosia (Maraş in Turkish) was a thriving community of Greek Cypriots. Many owned and ran the large resort hotels in what was considered Cyprus' Riviera, overlooking perhaps the island’s most amazing beaches.
In August of that year, with air raids and Turkish military advances in the North, Varosia’s residents fled, leaving uncleared breakfast dishes and taking with them little more than the clothes they wore. Many left on the assumption that they would return within a few days, once the emergency was over and a semblance of normality was restored. That didn’t happen. The Turkish army marched on the town unimpeded, and to this day Varosia has remained empty.
Now the barricades at Varosia are one of the island’s most haunting sights, a lingering reminder of the dark days of 1974. Apartment blocks, shops and houses are caked in over forty years of dust and sediment. A looted car dealership still stocks a single 1974 model, entombed in its showroom, frozen in time. The grand hotels of this once booming resort town now have bare windows and shell-fire deposits, and have been left to slowly decay like giant hollow sentinels on the coast.
The city also held Varosia’s wealthy Archaeological Museum. No one knows what happened to its vast collection after the initial lootings. This is impossible to verify due to the town’s isolation. Historians fear important pieces have been relocated or sold on the black market.
Varosia and the rest of the ‘dead zone’ are surrounded by barbed-wire fences, and metal drums block the streets, preventing passage within. Visitors cannot enter the area. In the past, access to Agios Ioannis Church, 120m into the restricted area, was sometimes approved but we've heard of no one being granted permission for a very long time. We were turned away at the checkpoint on our last visit. You can try but don't be surprised if the answer is a firm no.
A very small part of the town is still inhabited, 200m off the main strip of Polat Paşa, where you can drive alongside the fence and peer in. Photography is forbidden.