Symbolic restoration of Turkish baths in Greek-Cypriot area

NICOSIA – In a bid to revitalize the old city of Nicosia, the United Nations and the European Union are restoring the 16th century Turkish baths in the Greek-Cypriot quarter. The project sends a message of reconciliation to Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and comes in the same year that barriers to free movement on the divided island were lifted. Turkish-Cypriot authorities, who for years refused to allow movement across the «Green Line» dividing the island, have since April 21 allowed Turkish and Greek Cypriots to make day trips across. About a third of the 20 laborers on the baths project are Turkish Cypriots. Every morning they cross the military demarcation line from Turkish-occupied Cyprus to the Greek-Cypriot side to reach the baths in the Omeriye area. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when the Turkish army invaded the northern part of the island after a failed coup by Greek-Cypriot supporters of union with Greece. The baths were built in 1572, two years after forces of the Ottoman Empire conquered Cyprus. The facility functioned into the 1950s as few of the houses in Nicosia’s old city had bathing facilities. The baths lost customers as baths and showers became more common in private homes, and as the troubles between the two language groups led to street barricades and military intervention. By the 1990s, the baths had become a seedy establishment in the red-light district of Greek-speaking Nicosia. The UN Development Program drew up a plan to revive and restore Nicosia, which still has the moats and massive ramparts of the pre-Ottoman Venetian era. The EU came up with the money, donating 600,000 Cypriot pounds (about 1 million euros) for the work on the Turkish baths and the adjacent Omeriye Mosque. The work on the mosque, which is still used, was finished earlier this year, and the restoration of the baths was completed this month.