On the eastern coast of the island of Cyprus lies what may well be the world’s most beautiful ghost town. Home to an idyllic expanse of beach and shimmering Mediterranean views, the city of Varosha was once Cyprus’s greatest tourist attraction, where hoteliers and restaurateurs catered to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe. That changed, however, when the Turkish military invaded Cyprus in July 1974. Turkish forces displaced Varosha’s inhabitants and cordoned off the entire area as a bargaining chip in their settlement negotiations. It remains unchanged more than 40 years later, as passers-by snap discreet photos and water laps at the rusting barbed wire separating Varosha’s stunning white sand and crumbling high-rises from tourists and the people who once called it home.
The situation in Varosha, says anthropology Ph.D. candidate Anna Antoniou (M.A. ’14), is emblematic of that of Cyprus itself: a place held in limbo. The southern half of the island is an independent country with Greek ethnic ties, while the northern half remains a Turkish occupied territory with Turkish ethnic ties. A 112-mile buffer zone—involving the longest peacekeeping mission in U.N. history—runs between them. The island’s capital, Nicosia, is separated by a wall, making it the only divided capital in the world. Yet despite the political differences that split the island, Antoniou set out there with one question in mind: What unites it?
“Instead of looking at Cyprus as two separate places with two identities, we wanted to look at what it meant to be Cypriot as a whole and talk more about similarities than differences,” says Antoniou, who received a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant for what would turn out to be a 400-mile trek with her brother and god-brother along the island’s coast and through its interior. “It was really striking that almost everybody we talked to agreed that they felt like they were the same community. For the most part, everybody wanted to be unified and wanted it to be one island again.”