Two months into the St Andreas restoration project
This will be the first-ever collaboration between the communities on both sides of the UN-arbitrated Green Line as the Greek Orthodox Church is located in the northern, Turkish Cypriot part of the island. It has taking years for the two communities to agree to this restoration project that will require equal involvement and is seen by some as a test project that hopefully will be extended to other monuments.
The creation, in 2008, of the Technical Committee for Cultural Heritage, co-chaired by a Turkish Cypriot and a Greek Cypriot, has resulted in a number of restoration projects over the past few years. This has been, in part, thanks to EU funding – 4 million thus far with another 4 million allocated – and the role played by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Initially the two communities carried out joint visits throughout the island resulting in a list of over 2,300 cultural heritage sites from which they chose those requiring intervention that were 26 located in the north and 14 in the south.
“At the beginning we only selected religious heritage sites,” said Turkish Cypriot member of the committee Ali Tuncay, “but this project is a testament to what Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots can accomplish when working together. This is a cultural site of extreme importance. Apostolos Andreas isn’t just culturally important for Greek Cypriots. It’s equally important for Turkish Cypriots and the rest of the world.”
Takis Hadjidemetriou, the Greek Cypriot member of the technical committee, told reporters that the project was only made possible through a “common struggle and mutual respect.”
“Through culture we can lay a sturdy foundation for the island’s future and show everyone what Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots can accomplish,” he said.
So far, work has already been completed on eight churches or mosques that required urgent restoration – five in the northern part of the island and three in the south. The committee is now proposing interventions on ‘civil’ sites, such as the city’s perimeter walls.
“This type of intervention can contribute even more to uniting people,” said Tuncay, noting that “for decades the protection of Cyprus’s cultural heritage was an issue of division, often used for propaganda reasons.”
The other positive aspect underscored by Tuncay was that the restoration works are bringing to light works and structures that history had forgotten, such as a fresco discovered in a church of the Büyükkonuk/Kom Kebir village in the northern section of the island and a cistern discovered during works on Othello’s Tower in Famagusta.
The restoration is being overseen by architect and restoration expert Diomidis Miriantheas of Patra University with the United Nations awarding the tender for restoring the monastery to Greek Cypriot company ‘Fixico Constructions’ and Turkish Cypriot ‘Yakup’s Company, Tel-Za Construction Ltd’.
When asked about the condition of the monastery, Miriantheas said that despite being abandoned in 1974 and left to the elements, structurally the monastery was sound with the exception of the bell tower.
“The monastery was heavily damaged on the outside, especially its carved stone. Some spots that were hastily fixed with concrete must be removed and restored properly,” he said, adding that floor of the monastery will be removed and replaced. He attributed the extensive corrosion to the monastery’s metal parts to its closeness to the sea. The Turkish Cypriot architect said that after restoration, the architects will assess the ground’s quality and if need be take all necessary measures.