Uncovering northern Cyprus
Picking up a tourist map in southern Cyprus one could be forgiven for thinking that the Isle of Aphrodite lies in the realm of a contemporary Middle Earth. Substitute "Here be Dragons" for "Inaccessible due to Turkish Occupation" and the myth would be complete. Since 1974’s Turkish invasion North Cyprus has been in the shade of its southerly neighbour, despite the Mediterranean sunshine.
Kofi Annan’s 2004 UN plan for reunification under a federal framework failed after the south returned a resounding ‘no’ vote in twin referendums. The goal of an undivided island was effectively kicked into touch for the foreseeable future. In the same year, Greek controlled Cyprus joined the EU, whilst the singular existence of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) effectively black balled Turkey’s application to be the first secular Muslim state in the so far Christian club of Europe.
However, these days despite international political isolation the reality for apolitical tourists dispels the myth of dragons. Since April 2003 the north/south border has been open and now five crossing points exist across the island. The Cypriot capital Lefkosa (also known as Nicosia) has a tourist attraction in its own right, Ledra Palace gate, which lies beneath the fortress-like walls of the eponymous one-time top hotel, now a UN barracks.
Here a steady trickle of Greek and Turkish Cypriots together with curious EU nationals cross to "the dark side", whichever side that may be, in a mundane process that belies diplomatic deadlock. Indeed rumours that the world’s only remaining divided capital holds a peculiar, if not healthy fascination for former East German visitors, nostalgic for the days of the Berlin Wall, have more than a ring of truth – dark tourism indeed.
In the context of North Cyprus, Lefkosa isn’t marketed as a tourist destination. The city lies on the flat, featureless Mesaoria plain, and away from any cooling sea breezes can claim the island’s highest summer temperatures and levels of humidity. This superlative aside, the city also excels in an immediate concentrated dose of the otherness that permeates North Cyprus and highlights the rebel republic’s enduring exoticism, an attribute long-since eschewed by the south.