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Brief Modern History of Cyprus

Updated 11 April 2013

First Section edited October 2004

Until 1974 the population of Cyprus was approximately 80% Greek Cypriot, 18% Turkish Cypriot, with the other 2% made up of other nationalities. The two main groups lived in all parts of the island. There were Greek & Turkish villages throughout the island - it was not the case that the Greeks lived in the south and the Turks in the north, and indeed Kyrenia was an overwhelmingly Greek Cypriot town.

From 1878 until independence in 1960, Cyprus was a British colony. During the 1950s there was a campaign among Greek Cypriots for union with Greece, "Enosis". The organisation which led the campaign was EOKA, which fought the British army. EOKA was led by Archbishop Makarios, who was exiled to Seychelles for a period. Turkey was against Enosis, instead favouring partition of the island. Then the British made the fatal mistake of recruiting Turkish Cypriots into the police force to help in the campaign against EOKA, which increased the tension and hostility between the two communities.

Eventually, Greece, Turkey and Britain imposed independence on the Cypriots with a constitution which gave the Turkish Cypriots power and influence way beyond their proportion of the population, and a veto on most decisions. Archbishop Makarios III became President. The independence constitution did not work, and this led to problems between the communities through the 1960s right up to 1974.

In 1974 Greece was led by a military junta - the Colonels. They initiated a coup in July 1974, replacing Makarios with an extreme EOKA leader who still sought Enosis. This led directly to a Turkish invasion on 21 July 1974. Although there were numerous UN resolutions ordering the fighting to stop and the invading army to withdraw, Turkey ignored them all, and did not stop until 17 August when they had occupied 38% of the island, and made almost a quarter of a million Greek Cypriots refugees - Greek Cypriots fled south as the Turkish army advanced.

This remains the position at the time of writing (March 2002). The northern 38% of Cyprus is under Turkish army occupation, with the island divided by a so-called green line. There is only one official crossing point - the Ledra Palace hotel in Nicosia, the last remaining divided European city following the re-unification of Berlin. To those who go north it is like entering a time-warp: the modernisation of Cyprus has left the Turkish occupied north behind, numerous former Greek Cypriot villages are now merely Turkish army camps, and Turkish army convoys are the most frequent vehicles on the roads.

Visitors should remember these facts when touring the island. Go to the green line museum on Ledra street in Nicosia. Go to Deryneia and view the deserted resort of Famagusta - from where the tourists were forced to flee by the Turkish army in August 1974 - which has remained untouched ever since. Look at the deserted village of Achna. Remember the sacrifices your hosts have had to endure, and marvel at the welcome they offer to their visitors. Nowhere will you be more welcome, and as they say in Cyprus, you will return - time and time again.

Adapted from the Prologue of Emerald Aphrodite, written by Roger Dawson & published by Kyriakou Books, Limassol, Cyprus

In September 2002, after an absence of 11 years, a day trip was made to Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus. These pictures were taken on that trip.

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Despite the 28 years of occupation Belapais Abbey remains a spectacular building commanding magnificent views over the northern coastline. However the forces of occupation make their presence felt even at this historical site. Both the flag of the Muslim Turkish occupying forces, and their northern puppet-state, fly above this Greek Orthodox abbey.

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During the drive from Belapais to Famagusta at least 3 huge Turkish army encampments had to be negotiated. The old city of Famagusta has not changed, much of it was Turkish before the occupation of 1974. But the primarily Greek Cypriot resort of Famagusta remains largely derelict. The coastal area between the old city and the resort is totally occupied by the Turkish army, apartment blocks have been commandeered for the troops, and seaside villas for the officers.

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Many of the resort hotels remain as they were left by the bombing of the Turkish air force in August 1974, while the rest of the holiday resort which was undamaged by the fighting has been fenced off, kept out-of-bounds and left to rot for the last 28 years. The surprising thing is that some people even go to this place for their holidays - it is doubtful if they would ever return!

In November 2002 the UN began another determined attempt to re-unite Cyprus, through the so-called Annan plan. This was discussed through the winter, and a revised version was discussed by the President of Cyprus and Rauf Denktash leader of the Turkish occupied north of Cyprus. After face to face discussions in March, and despite several demonstrations of up to 100,000 Turkish Cypriots in favour of a settlement in the north, Denktash finally rejected the settlement proposals. Nevertheless, despite the continuing division, the European Union accepted Cyprus into the EU from 1 May 2004.

Then out of the blue on 23 April 2003 Denktash announced that he would unilaterally lift the travel restrictions that had been enforced since the Turkish invasion of 1974, which meant that no Greek Cypriots were allowed to cross into the north, and no Turkish Cypriots were allowed by the northern regime to cross into the south.

Taken totally by surprise the Government of Cyprus had no alternative but to go along with this development. Over the Greek Easter holiday tens of thousands of Cypriots stood for hours waiting to cross the border, and by 3 May it is estimated that more than 170,000 had taken advantage of the lifting of restrictions.

On 1 May 2003 the Government of Cyprus went even further and lifted the trade embargo with the north that had existed since 1974. They began actively encouraging Turkish Cypriots (unemployment in the north is over 50%) to apply to work in the south, and for southern businesses to trade with the north.

It seemed then that a momentum towards re-unification has begun.

One group who became casualties of the new situation were some ex-patriots, mainly British, who were ill-advised enough to have “bought” property and land in the north of Cyprus from Turkish Cypriots who did not own the land. A number of them have already been surprised when the real Greek Cypriot owners of the land and/or house that they had “bought” have arrived to visit the property from which they were expelled as refugees in 1974, some bringing the title deeds with them to prove ownership! Any “buyer” who finds themselves in such a situation have only themselves to blame – it was widely known by anyone who chose to look into the situation that most of the land in Turkish occupied northern Cyprus, particularly that in the attractive coastal areas, was Greek owned.

The approach of Cyprus’ entry to the EU on 1 May 2004 caused a renewed effort to re-unite Cyprus to be begun. The Annan plan was taken off the shelf, dusted down and renewed efforts were made to reach a settlement based upon it. Some changes to the original plan were agreed, but it still proved impossible to get the Greek & Turkish Cypriots to agree. In the end, with the support of both Greece & Turkey, the United Nations arranged for a referendum to be held in both parts of Cyprus on 24 April. The campaign in the Republic was fierce, with the President making an emotional appeal on TV for a no vote, the Greek Cypriots took most of the rest of the world by surprise and voted no, whereas the Turkish Cypriots voted yes. This result was treaded with dismay by both the EU and the UN. It seemed to many that after being regarded as the injured party for 30 years by voting no the Greek Cypriots had succeeded overnight in making the Turkish Cypriots the injured party, with all the international sympathy transferred to them.

The outcome was a puzzle to many who could not understand why after 30 years of seeking a settlement, the Greek Cypriots should turn their back upon it when the opportunity arose. There is a very simple answer. The majority of Greek Cypriots said no simply because they were not prepared to legitimise the presence of Turkish troops on Cyprus, that same Turkish army which in the summer of 1974 had invaded their island and made so many of them refugees. That was the single most important reason why they voted “no”. Will there be another chance? Who knows – watch this space...

The EU have adopted a new Regulation dealing with the so-called Green Line. It now seems that there will be a requirement on the Republic to allow all EU citizens to cross this line in either direction, and that it will in future be possible for tourists to cross into the north and spend part of their holiday there. The position of the ports of entry in the north is less clear, whether or not an EU citizen arriving in the north will be able to cross to the south is still uncertain, but it appeared that immediately after this passage of this EU Regulation this was in fact being allowed, but this could change.

For the most comprehensive reports in the British press see this link:,11551,639479,00.html

Further reading:


This Section added 11 April 2013

The years from January 2004 to April 2013 have seen very mixed fortunes for the modern history of Cyprus. The first 4 years saw optimism about the future rocket, and with it the accelerating pace of uncontrolled and excessive development – everyone wanted to cash in on the boom. Too many houses were built, often without any regard for the infrastructure around new developments. Some were done well, others were a mess. 

At the beginning of 2008 Cyprus made the fatal mistake of joining the Euro. Just as the world financial crisis was beginning it was the worst possible time to join a fixed exchange mechanism over which the country had neither control nor influence. The conversion rate for Cyprus pounds in Euros was far too high, and led to severe inflation. Items that were priced at 10 Cyprus pounds, were converted to a price of 17 Euros, which soon became 20 Euros. The huge rise in the price of animal feedstuffs and cereals caused by the EU’s agricultural policy had already caused inflation with Cyprus’ accession to the EU in 2004, but this was intensified with the coming of the Euro in 2008. 

So as the world depression began Cyprus was already beginning to suffer, which was made worse by the inflation. Visitors and expatriates began to spend less on meals out and in bars and tavernas. The coming of the Euro also led to a huge unsustainable expansion in banking, with Russian money being invested the banks grew beyond their means. Because the Cyprus economy was so small, those bank deposits were invested in Greece. However, when Greece crashed most of those deposits were lost, leading to the events of March 2013, when the Eurogroup, led by Germany, used Cyprus to teach the “Club Med” countries the facts of life – that Germany was no longer prepared to bail them out and they would have to suffer austerity to save the Euro for the benefit of the northern members of the Eurogroup . The net result is that the Cyprus economy will probably shrink by at least 20% by the end of 2014, with the consequential rise in unemployment and misery for Cypriots. 

However, Cyprus remains a wonderful place for a holiday – the skies are blue and the sea is warm. The tavernas will adjust to the new reality and may even reduce their prices to gain more business. The crisis may even lead to another serious attempt to reunite the island, which would be good for both sides. Watch this space!


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