Urban Rewilding: The Dead City of Varosha
We continue our series on Urban Rewilding exploring the abandoned Famagusta neighbourhood of Varosha in Northern Cyprus - an extraordinary case study!
LettsSafari was invited to explore the abandoned Famagusta neighbourhood of Varosha as a part of its urban rewilding series. We discovered an urban setting overrun by nature that speaks to our relationship with rewilding and wildlife. It has become a fascinating example of nature taking over from man. And of man’s demise.
The Dead City of Varosha has recently been re-opened, now the almost 50 year long abandoned section of the city of Famagusta in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. An unintentionally rewilded area, it nevertheless gives an interesting insight into an urban landscape completely untouched by human activity for an extraordinarily long period of time and allowed to be entirely reclaimed by nature.
Varosha was the Greek Cypriot section of Famagusta, with the area around and within the Venetian walled inner city making up the Turkish Cypriot section. After the 1974 Turkish invasion landed in the Northern part of the Island, the Greek Cypriot members of the city were either removed or in their masses fled from the city, leaving what has now become Varosha - abandoned, looted, and untouched.
The first thing that is striking about the city as you reach it is the extent to which the architecture and construction has not updated, more so than a teleportation into a rewilded urban landscape, it feels like a teleportation into a different time, albeit with no maintenance or reconstruction. Most of the graffiti and messages that litter the wall remain from the former works and writing of the Greek Cypriot EOKA fighters and residents, maintained as messages of war and conflict that has gone cold for half a century.
This is not to say that nature is gone too from the abandoned neighbourhood. Vivid flowers grow flowingly from a balcony, while the streets are almost all lined with Cypriot plants, saplings, and flowers. It’s striking to see nature reclaiming the spaces that were previously filled with brick, concrete and paving stones. The colour of greens, browns and yellows contrast with the remaining textures of the abandoned streets.
It reminds us of the work done at LettsSafari’s Devon Capability Brown Gardens to develop a planting structure for wild plants to thrive in the cracks between the rocks and stones on their terraces and tracks.
Cactus and Cactus fruit in particular thrive throughout this area of Northern Cyprus, with the spiky green fruit forming almost walls along parts of Varosha. The flowers of each fill the alleys with colour and texture. While the abandoned city might be empty of human activity and intervention, the thriving plants ensure the region is not deprived of life, creating a colourful contrast with the often tragic history that had to play out in the city.
An element that contrasts sharply with the explosive growth of plantlife in the city is the wildlife that should be populating it instead of humans. Swallows, seagulls and crows seem to thrive in the urban landscape, making nests and homes that they commute from daily into the lively urban landscape of the populated Famagusta for food. Insects thrive as well. Beyond that though the city seems devoid of animal life, even while the populated regions throughout the North are filled with stray dogs or cats.