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18 Kasım 2017 Cumartesi

A heritage dating back to the Middle Ages:

the survival of our castle towns…

13 Temmuz 2017 Perşembe 08:36
  A heritage dating back to the Middle Ages:

Dr. Okan DAĞLI

A short history of our medieval castle towns

The island of Cyprus is known for its castles and castle towns dating back to the Middle Ages. As the eastern-most corner of the Mediterranean, it has been a host to many civilisations. The island has been conquered many times by the Egyptians, Byzantines, Knights of the Templar, Lusignans, Venetians, Ottomans and the British for either military or commercial purposes. Each conqueror has left its mark on the island.

Many of our castles were bequeathed to us by our guests from the Middle Ages. Some of these castles, located either on the skirts of mountains or in city centres, were small and used only for military purposes. Others became towns themselves and to this day continue to host thousands of people within their walls.

The two distinctive castles of Nicosia and Famagusta still host a sizeable population within their walls and serve as a bridge between the past and the present. The uniqueness of the walled city of Nicosia is further fortified for being the last divided capital of Europe. Although this division causes a certain degree of desolation, the city still retains that aura of the Middle Ages. Within it there are traces of all periods; stone houses, monuments and narrow streets dating back to centuries ago.

On the other hand, the Famagusta castle town spans over 135 acres and hosts around 1,000 houses. In comparison to Nicosia, it is smaller but much more structured. The silhouettes of its walls and monuments are more defined.  The ancient walls, their surroundings and ditches have been preserved and many of its monuments have been restored. When compared to Nicosia, the castle town of Famagusta is clearly separated from the rest of the modern town, both physically and geographically. As soon as you pass through the historic Land Gate of Famagusta castle and enter through the Ravelin, you can sense the mystical atmosphere of the town. It is as if you’ve travelled back in time to centuries ago.

Preserving our castle towns for the future

Like everything else, modernisation, which began in the 1980s following the de-facto division of the island, has also had an impact on our castle towns. During this time, people living within the walls began to move outside, being drawn to modern architecture and preferring more spacious locations to the stone buildings and confined spaces within the walls. Centuries-old stone buildings and mansions were abandoned and left in desolation. This abandonment continued till the beginning of this century.

Nowadays, thanks to advancements in communication and transport, those who are able to travel and experience more are beginning to recognize the huge potential and value of their own country and these castle towns.

At the same time, tourists who are fed up with the artificial settings of mass tourism and the beach getaway concept, are becoming more and more interested in meeting the locals, getting to know their culture and values, as well as the historic fabric of cities. Tired of the mass tourism movement, many tourists are nowadays turning to special interest tourism that is geared towards the nature and local culture, getting to know the past, experiencing it and finding inner peace.

Can our castle towns act as starting points in such a setting? 

Our castle towns, which have been abandoned in the last quarter-century, but are now being increasingly appreciated, may serve as starting points for special interest tourism. Small boutique hotels and guesthouses with just a few rooms may bring life back into our castle towns. Our medieval towns and hence our island can once again become a multicultural hub where tourists enjoy the monuments, pedestrian streets, cafés, restaurants and markets that are all intertwined, and away from the traffic noise pollution.

The Famagusta castle town is currently preparing for exactly this mostly through individual efforts. The ancient buildings are being renovated and turned into “vintage” hotels and guesthouses that can’t wait to host their new visitors.

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