I visited the De-militarized Zone in Cyprus on a very hot August afternoon many years ago. It’s running down the middle of the fair city of Nicosia like the dusty, dry bed of a river that never was – a place of friction and abandonment and the pinnacle of division between two communities that used to live in relative harmony for centuries.
The Green Line accessed from the top of Rigenis Street is a true open air museum : you can wander the ruins of shops and private homes and walk past barricaded streets and sandbagged windows. You can jump over rolls of barbed wire and spray-tagged, multi language UN Buffer Zone signs. You can see the abandoned mansions and townhouses that once stood privileged in the proximity of Nicosia’s Renaissance star fortress, whose bastions and artillery ramps have been upgraded with reinforced concrete superstructures to provide modern strong points : its wide, empty ditch is now an open space where rusting metal guard towers with flaking light blue paint preside over an expanse of Mediterranean red dust and dry grass. Eventually you end up at the border crossing, presided by the 50’s style glamour of the imposing Ledra Palace hotel, once frequented by the rich and famous but currently requisitioned by the blue berets of UNFICYP, who during my visit appeared very laid back, and mostly busy with hanging out their UN blue themed laundry to dry from the old hotel’s windows and balconies.
I don’t blame the otherwise brave and disciplined troopers, who have to endure temperatures in excess of 40c daily in August, and what’s worse – the incredible stillness of life in the DMZ. For although in the middle of a very busy Eastern Mediterranean city, this area is unbelievably quiet in an almost discomforting way : time appears to be frozen in the Green Line, since hot military confrontation has ceased several decades ago. But despite my sombre description, not everything remains in a void since 1974 : Recently, a number of cafes and restaurants have been granted permission to open in the buffer zone, treating the curious visitor with a unique dining experience in no man’s land. It’s worth sitting at the cafe in the Home for Cooperation , a community center with a mission to foster cultural understanding and build bridges between the local communities, who also organizes the Buffer Fringe Festival of Performing Arts
As former war zones go, the Green Line at Nicosia is one of the safest, most accessible and easy to visit in the world, with people from both communities and guests frequently visit the other side with a minimum of formalities. This gives me hope for a natural resolution, eventually.
All photos : © explorabilia