Hurt by division, Cyprus's Othello Tower gets new lease of life

FAMAGUSTA Cyprus Fri Jul 4, 2014 10:31am EDT

FAMAGUSTA Cyprus (Reuters) - The Cypriot castle where Shakespeare set his drama "Othello" is getting a badly needed makeover after years of neglect stemming from the Mediterranean island's long-time division.

Ravaged by natural decay and the politics splitting the island for at least 40 years between the Turkish-controlled north and the Greek Cypriot south, the citadel which came to be known as 'Othello Tower' will undergo emergency stabilisation work over the next eight months.

“The monument as a whole is not at risk, It will be here for another 500 years, but we will lose important elements of the monument...every time it rains, it takes a little bit of the monument with it,” said Rand Eppich, a conservator architect and International Project Manager at Tecnalia, a Spanish consultancy.

The imposing fortress in the city of Famagusta on Cyprus’s eastern coast was first built by Lusignan conquerors in the 14th century. It was then remodeled and expanded in the 15th century by the Venetians, whose winged Lion of St. Mark emblem is still clearly visible, carved over its portal.

The restoration project is one of several earmarked by a bicommunal group of Greek and Turkish Cypriots who, acting with the approval of their respective political leaderships, are working to conserve Cyprus’s cultural heritage.

WASHING AWAY

The sandstone complex, with four towers, is a maze of dark alleys, cellars and a large banqueting hall supported by vaulted roofs. Signs of its expansion from a Lusignan fortress to a Venetian one are evident; arrow slits in walls seen from the inner parts of the complex look out onto the Venetian fortification.

“It is one fortress inside another. You can see the change in (defensive) techniques,” Eppich said.

Conservationists say the intervention will be as ‘light’ as possible. Only original materials and mortar will be used, and researchers have already located the ancient quarry where material will be extracted if necessary.

A stone stage in the central courtyard was used until recently for performances of Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello". This will be dismantled and replaced by one made from more suitable material, Eppich said.

ISOLATION

Split by a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup, hundreds of Cyprus's cultural heritage sites have fallen foul of the conflict either through decay, neglect, and, in medieval Famagusta, political isolation.

Today Famagusta lies in unrecognized northern Cyprus, a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state heavily reliant on economic aid from Ankara and an area traditionally shunned by international conservation projects for political reasons.

However, projects selected by the bicommunal team are eligible for international funds, in this case from the European Union which has allocated 4 million euro to Cyprus. The projects are implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

“Personally I feel a lot of relief that work has started,” archaeologist Sophocles Hadjisavvas said. “This fortress represents the very history of Famagusta.”

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Michael Roddy and Toby Chopra)

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