We were looking for the Melendirina church – a church that was on an urgent list for reparation on UNDP initiative in 2012 – when we came across the Abadi church. At first we did not know at all what kind of church it was; there is absolutely a lack of information about the churches in the Esentepe / Agios Ambrosius area. Any information you look for leads you to the Antiphonitis monastery – see our blogs Panagia Eleousa church and Agios Mamas church for the rest, churches seem to be considered uninteresting or non-existent. That is such a pity as we showed in the blogs 14, 15 and 16 of this Northern Cyprus heritage series that there is a lot to be discovered. Esentepe is not a touristic area which might be the reason why it is so difficult to find out more about the specific sites.
It was not clear how to get to the Abadi church when we saw it, driving our way through the mountain forests above Esentepe; so we ended up by just parking the car among the trees and walked our way up to the mountain. And there it appeared, the Abadi chapel, in all its beauty. Alas it was closed so we could not see the inside. The doors of the chapel looked quite new which gave us (born from experience) the idea that there was nothing inside any more and that doors were placed recently to protect the last bits and pieces. Please try to enter one day and prove us wrong.
As we had no clue about the chapel, its name or origin, we concluded from the surroundings that it had had a courtyard with beautiful trees, so it was an important center, some time, some day. Later we read on internet that it had been a monastery that was ruined and that a small church was built to replace the institute. So this is some kind of hidden secret in the middle of the forest on the hills above Esentepe / Agios Ambrosius…
Panagia Eleousa church in Tirmen/Trypimeni is another church that was turned into a mosque after the Turkish army took hold of Northern Cyprus in 1974. The church seems to be in a reasonable estate, just like the village itself that is not the wealthiest village to be found in the area either. The village lies right on the south side of the Pentadaktylos mountain range and overviews the Mesaoria plain that separates the Troodos mountains on the Greek side from the Pentadaktylos mountains on the Turkish side. Apparently the Mesaoria was a sea in very old times; so the symbolic separation was already there in history…
The only information that I could find about the Panagia Eleousa church is that it was built in 1900. I was wondering about the tower, it seems to be a different style than the church, made from different materials, attached to the church externally from the side and put right in front of an opening fence; all this suggests that it was added later. The Panagia Eleousa church is more beautiful without it.
The clocks from the church tower are missing. For the use of the mosque some small details were added like cleaning rooms and they are quite ugly.
If you have more info about the Panagia Eleousa church, feel free to comment. In this Northern Cyprus heritage series there are other blogs showing churches that were turned into mosques after 1974, see Agios Ambrosius church and Agios Mamas church.
Agios Mamas church
In Bahceli (Kalograia), about 20 miles east from Girne, there is another church that was turned into a mosque at an early stage, already in 1975 so very short after the Turkish army took hold of the Northern part of Cyprus. It is the Agios Mamas church Bahceli, named after Saint Mamas who lived in the 3rd century and seemed to be quite brave – his best companion being a lion. Read some more about him at http://orthodoxwiki.org/Mamas_of_Caesarea .
From the outside the church seems to be in a reasonable stage – note that the village itself looks rather poor. Only the clock tower is at risk as the picture here shows. The clock itself is still there but seems to have fallen down and rest on the wall sides.
We have not seen the inside. I could not find a lot of information about this church at all. Those who know more (facts), feel welcome to comment.
Agios Mamas is not the only church in this region transformed into a mosque, read also Agios Ambrosius church , another blog about Tirmen/Trypimeni will follow. You can find it here: Panagia Eleousa church
In Esentepe, a small town about 20 miles to the east of Girne, we find the Agios Ambrosius church that has been transformed into a mosque in 1978 already; this happened in more villages in this part of Northern Cyprus (other blogs will follow). Agios=Saint Ambrosius was a very influential bishop of Milan and a Doctor of the Church in the 4th century. The Agios Ambrosius church was built in 1867 out of yellow stones and characterizes very much the Byzantium architecture. It seems to be in quite a good state (we did not see the interior but the exterior looks fine) and in general inhabitants take care of the city center where it stands.
Actually with the peace talks between North and South Cyprus making progress, the question is raised what will happen to churches that were turned into a mosque. Time will tell… first bring the peace talks to a good end, then solve this too.
5th/6th century rests of the Agios Trias Basilica are found on the peninsula of the Northern Cypriot Karpaz close to the village of Sipahi which means: in the middle of nowhere. We were the only visitors but there was a most friendly guard who was happy to sell us a ticket for 5 TL, at that moment € 1,90 (it was before the 2015 elections, after which the Turkish lira devaluated). So the entrance price should not stop you from visiting Agios Trias Basilica and moreover the mosaics are very much worth a visit, they are amazing!
A great article with lots of information about this site can be found here: http://allansartworlds.sites.ucsc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/154/2015/03/Langdale-Basilica-of-Agias-Trias.pdf. This article published in 2009 talks about ‘lack of proper maintenance (page 2). Things have only got worse since that time. The unique mosaics lie there completely unprotected and this is not all… (reliable) rumour goes that the mosaics are regularly ‘cleaned’ with a high pressure washer.
In an earlier blog I wrote that the Greeks consider the Turks as barbarians – for the way they deal with their heritage and that sometimes they are proven right in that opinion. This is one of those times, that they are proven right. I thought I’d faint when I heard about the high pressure washer…
Anyway this monument Agios Trias Basilica is still extremely beautiful with its unique mosaics so I’d hardly recommend a visit. Positive thinking: it might be one of the only moments you can actually and freely walk over 5th/6th century mosaics and live the feelings of people who did the same many centuries ago.
Look at the Green Line Nicosia – Cyprus from above in these pictures and you can easily see 2 cities here: the Turkish one, in front and the Greek one, further away. Invisible here, inbetween the two city parts lies the Green Line, a 100 meter large strip where the UN rules since 40 years (!) to separate the Greek Cypriots from the Turkish Cypriots… Easy to understand how bored the UN-soldiers are here, they just ride around in expensive UN-cars as there is nothing else to do. The fighting has stopped long ago and the frontier is even ‘open’ since 2003 at three points at the Green Line Nicosia. Parties make small steps forward that symbolize progress like the abolishment of giving stamps every time a person crosses the transit point; this step was the first result of the new peace negotiations that started 2 weeks ago. It lead to quite some confusion especially at the Turkish side: the protocol had to change but Turkish officials love stamps – clearly that was really a thing to give up for them 🙂 Anyway the international community was investing here at least 30 years in vain, paying for useless UN-presence, boycoting the North / Turkish side without any result. For how long will we continue to do so? And why?
Nicosia could be a beautiful and flourishing city but it is not because it has no heart but a Green Line, a real wall in the middle of it: see the pictures, where we walk on the Greek side with theTurkish Cypriot and Turkish flags on the old city walls, and the walk on the Turkish side limited by a sudden wall to stop us going to the Greek side: no entrance, no photographs allowed either by the way.
I found the transit point at Ledra Palace the most sad one I have seen so far, although there are several peace seeking initiatives in the buildings there (and also the German Goethe Institut as if nothing happened, very funny). This transit point is at the Greek side surrounded by despair, no investment, no renovation, and even 40 year old remains of fighting (kept there deliberately?):
Coming from the city of Amsterdam where we love to restore houses and to let original beauty come out at the max, I have to say my hands were itching to take on the job. But well, there is certainly a reason for the non-investment and Nicosia will stay a city without a heart untill the political problems are solved – I hope: soon!
Street cats in Cyprus
Cyprus is not a poor area in the world. People in Cyprus do have their struggle with daily life but they could do better with cats and dogs than we see them do now. In this case, the North and the South of the island (Turkish or Greek Cypriot) are alike. They are kind to the animals, for sure, and that is nice. One can recognize gentle people from the fact that the cats and dogs are not afraid. The street cats in Cyprus as well as the dogs see mankind as their friends, although the responsibility mankind in Cyprus takes is only partial.
Street cats in Cyprus ats freely approach people for food, and everywhere around houses we see plates with foods or bowls with water for cats and dogs. This is the nice side. There are projects, usually cooperation of private citizens/asylums and local governments, to sterilize and castrate the animals in the street to stop the overpopulation of cats and dogs. This is very nice too. But, strange enough, private owners of cats and dogs refuse to invest in sterilization and castration. Their animals gets youngs and the young ones are sadly left and abandoned in fields, forests or faraway streets: just like that. This is such a shame! And it means there will be no end to the efforts of the asylums and local governments, because new animals keep appearing in the streets…
A few years ago I wrote this in a blog about Istanbul street cats: ‘Changes can sometimes be perceived in small signs that function as a symbol for deeper lying norms and values. Being valued as a human means that one can value an animal as an animal and embrace animals in their very existence close to mankind. Once the concurrency for food and survival is gone, care can be deployed”. http://grethevangeffen.nl/2012/03/03/istanbul-and-its-street-cats/
What could bring Cypriots, Turkish and Greek alike, to value these animals and take the measures necessary to prevent this endless row of new cats and dogs in their streets? Do we need peace between the North and the South side before further care for animals can be deployed? Or is this a conviction rooted deeply in Cypriot culture, that cats and dogs don’t matter and that you throw them in the street whenever it suits you?
Go to Nicosia, Cyprus and this museum with a spectacular overview of Cypriot coinage. It looks like a small museum in terms of square meters: just one room within the Nicosia headquarters of the Bank of Cyprus. This one room however houses a most interesting mixture of historic overview and coins. Starting from the 6th century BC, every window shows a period of life in Cyprus with its own rulers and coins. The explanation is clear and quite complete without being too much and the coins reflect both financial habits and general culture. We see Cyprus divided in cities and Cyprus as a united kingdom and how Cypriot coinage developed all over those periods. And it all ends up with the Euro of course 🙂 To be honest, I am not interested in the Euro but I found the large collection of different very old coins amazing. Learn not only about the ancient times in Cyprus but also about the city of Amathus in the 5th/4th century BC with its own writing that was never deciphered so far… See coins with the word ‘Wroikos’ on it without having a clue who or what ‘Wroikos’ is… Here is a job to do for someone who likes puzzles; one of the last undeciphered languages!
Modern times alas tend to make me sad. In 1976 the Central Bank of Cyprus issued commemorative coins for what is called on the Greek Cypriot side the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974: it shows twice a mother and child, in front of a destroyed house and in front of a tent.
For the rest, the ‘other’ side of the island Cyprus does not exist in this exhibition; Cyprus is either the past, or Greek Cyprus. However, that past is shown so brilliantly here that I highly recommend this museum! The entrance, by the way, is free but worth a price.
Culture exists and it doesn’t exist. It is almost impossible to describe a culture in general terms as it is always possible to show members belonging to that culture that differ from the description. There is so much diversity within cultures – diversity that will even increase the coming years – that people who read about the culture they adhere to can strongly disagree about the description given. Nevertheless, I am going to give it a try, knowing already that some people might feel irritation while reading it.
Concerning Northern Cyprus heritage, it seems that Turks are more oriented towards the future while Greeks are more oriented towards the past. In the words Turks and Greeks I include Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, without denying that in many aspects they have an identity of their own, as Cypriots.
The consequence is that Turks are inclined to value and use Northern Cyprus heritage that they see as relevant for the present. This is why the former cathedral of the Lusignans in Lefkosa/Nicosia, the Venetian castle in Girne/Kyrenia and a typical Greek building like the Mavi Kösk / Blue House are well kept and get a good profile in any touristic and cultural presentation. They can show the greatness of the Turks in actual times and the (conquered) enemies they had to deal with. This is also why churches like Ermelaos or monasteries like Sourp Magar and Pandeleimon get no attention at all: what message for the future could be given with that heritage?
I remember a visit I made once to Hattusa in Turkey. The guide told us that Hettites were the high and mighty ancestors of the Turks. He got very very angry when I said there was at least 2000, maybe even 3000 years of difference in time between the Hettites and the Turks arriving in actual Turkey. Clearly this was not just about the facts: this was about the value that Hettite history presented for the greatness and the future of the Turkish people. What I saw as objective truth, was useless for my guide and even upset him.
Greeks have a magnificent ancient past. They had Socrates, Homer, Euripides and so many others, really high science and culture. Then they developed an independent and mighty church that created such beautiful monuments. Memories of that past are kept with the highest care as to remember what Greeks brought to civilization, development, faith and culture in this world: it is their identity. So when a new country exists that calls itself Macedonia, Greeks protest firmly as Macedonia including Alexander the Great is considered as a Greek identity and cannot exist independently of them. The fact that this happens anyway in the 21st century is very difficult for the Greek. In Northern Cyprus heritage, two cultures meet. Greek see the way the Turks deal with their monuments as a proof that Turks are barbarians (barbaros = the ancient Greek word for a stranger, a non-Greek). Just read some Greek websites where these issues are discussed and you will notice a consequent approach: tell the world how terrible the Turks are. In several blogs I have shown pictures that prove them right.
Turks really do not understand what is expected from them: why would they contribute to prove the greatness of the Greek past? They prefer to invest in what they see as relevant for actual life and development of Northern Cypriot inhabitants. There are few Turkish websites that blame the Greeks. The Turks have given up the territories that they lost in 1974 as well as their monuments, lives and dreams. They are looking forward, not backward. They just ignore the Greek complaints and move on. In several blogs I have shown examples that prove them right.
In Northern Cyprus heritage, two cultures meet. To find each other, they need to listen more. At this moment, they are mainly blaming or judging each other – this is strongly influenced by the problematic political situation of course. However, for heritage it is a lot better if parties listen to each other and recognize and value differences. This could be a starting point to create synergy in diversity. Then both the past and the present will profit!
The Maronite community on Cyprus (both North and South) counts 6000 persons and it is very much alive. Since 1974 the Turkish army took hold of 2 of the 4 Maronite churches / villages, to the great regret of the Maronite community. In Asomatos it is possible to have church services, Agia Marina is so closed that during 36 years nobody could even see the place. A meeting from the Pope and the Turkish Prime Minister last year was necessary to allow an exceptional visit; maybe the first step for more opening? The Maronites see the lost churches / villages as an important part of their heritage, necessary also to live and express their identity.
On special days like Christmas, Easter and the 15th of August (2 photographs below for the breads delivered and the procession around the church – and the Lebanese bishop’s car), the large church of Saint Georgius of Kormakiti is packed; not just church banks are full, also corridors and even outside the doors people stand to follow the service inside. Many of the visitors are young people, aware of their identity and ready to contribute.
Maronites live in Cyprus (as well as Lebanon and Malta) since the 8th century. They are part of the Roman Catholic Church but have their own rites in Aramaic and some different rules, f.ex. the priests are married. They were always oppressed: by muslims, by Venetians, by Franciscans, by Greek Orthodox, the latter trying to take over their churches. Under the 1960 Constitution Turkish and Greek Cypriot form two equal communities, the Maronites are seen as a religious minority which means that their ethnicity, culture or language are not recognized. They had to choose a community to belong to and they chose the Greek community. Maronites have one ‘observer seat’ in the Greek Cypriot Parliament so they have a voice but not a vote and depend of Greek Cypriots to defend their interests. However, Greek Cyprus leads a politics of assimiliation. On the Turkish side the Maronite interests are neglected.
The Maronites position is very complicated. They do not want to be involved in the dual conflict of Greeks and Turks. They have the Greek Cypriot nationality because they belong to that community according to the 1960 Constitution but their villages lie since the 1974 division in Northern Cyprus. Recently the Turkish Cypriot nationality was offered to them so that they can have equal rights but accepting that nationality means conflict with the Greek Cypriots who accuse Maronites of bad citizenship and ‘trying to get the best of both worlds’. For the future the entrance of (South-)Cyprus into the EU in 2004 opens new perspectives for the Maronites as the European concept of multicultural diversity is larger than the actual dualism on Cyprus and could improve the position of the ethnic-cultural and religious ‘other’.
In the meantime, there is nothing that withholds the Turkish army to give back the 2 churches / villages to the Maronite community right now.
War is not a rational thing. You’d say it is a fight between the living but when the Turkish army took hold of Northern Cyprus, also the dead suffered: many Greek graveyards were destroyed with an anger that is surprising. One wonders who would do such a thing. Don’t we all love our dead and cherish the monuments we give them so that they will not be anonymous and have a place of their own?
I remember about ten years ago there were some ideas in Alba Club in Lapta – I think it was the manager – to restore the demolished graveyard that lies in front of the Club. They thought it was a shame to have that at their entrance. I checked this year but no, this has not been done, see the photographs:
In Alsancak, close to the Riverside Holiday Village, lies another demolished graveyard. It is not that people here do not know what it should be like; see the photograph on top of this blog showing the Turkish graveyard right beside it: peaceful, nice and well taken care of. Apparently the Riverside does not feel embarrassed to have this so close to their compound and the community of Alsancak does neither.
Is it possible to hate so much that you also hate the dead of your enemy? Or is it just disinterest and lack of feeling of responsibility, like is the case for other heritage sites? However these were deliberately destroyed and 37 years have passed now: it’s about time to restore the graveyards. Until that time these graveyards lie like open wounds in a society that otherwise is proving to find ways for social and economic development in many aspects.
In Sinirürstü / Syngrasis stands the church of Agios Prokopios. The building looks strong and healthy, and looks better now than it did on a photograph on this site (http://patrimundianorthcyprus.e-monsite.com/rubrique,ayios-prokopios,545036.html), that gives you by the way lots of information about heritage in Northern Cyprus.
The inside is not well preserved and pidgeons seem to rule the place which is not favourable for conservation of course. On the walls of the church’s courtyard we still find the words EOKA and ENOSIS: visible memories of fighting times. Is it a coincidence that the graveyard with its crosses in this courtyard was destroyed?