Larnaka’s Turkish Cypriot Quarter
By Steven Roberts
Living near Iskele you become very aware of the town’s close links with Larnaka. There is a monument to Turkish Cypriots from there who died in inter-communal clashes, the town’s football team is called Larnaka Gencler Birligi, and a couple of years ago the annual Iskele festival featured pre-1974 photographs and press cuttings from the town.
After the war in 1974 many Turkish Cypriots from the Turkish quarter of Larnaka, Skala, were relocated to what was then called Trikomo, it was renamed Iskele (sometimes written as Yeni Iskele ie. ‘New Iskele’) after the Skala district where so many used to live.
Every Friday there is a walking tour of Skala, organised by the Cyprus Tourist Organisation. Recently my wife and I took the opportunity to go down to Larnaka and join one of these walks. We’ve been through this area many times, as it is near the airport, but it was good to walk around it with a guide who was able to explain the history of the area.
Skala is unlike most of Larnaka as it is characterised by two storey houses and narrow streets. After 1974 houses vacated by Turkish Cypriots who moved north were administered by the Interior Ministry in the RoC.
They were mostly rented to Greek Cypriots who had to leave their homes in the north, many of them came from the Famagusta area. The freeholds still legally belong to the original owners (or their descendants).
As a result of some of the properties look quite run down, but others have been maintained very well. The adjacent McKenzie area was hastily developed with multi storey flats in the building boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the Finikoudes promenade has now seen the arrival of international corporate chains like McDonald and KFC, but Skala sitting between these two places preserves more of an old town ambiance.
Skala has always been full of workshops, small shops, and cafes and this continues.
Our walk took in visit to a local artist, and two pottery workshops.
One made mostly replicas of artifacts for museums using latex and plaster casts, another was a traditional workshop making a range of products from cup up to large plant pots. The owner gave us a demonstration of his pottery skills on the wheel, and turned a lump of clay into a wine goblet in a few minutes.
The mosque (see photo below) used to quite run down, but a few years ago it was renovated thanks to a grant from a Libya based Islamic charity. It features flying buttresses that go over one of the streets. There are now more people using it, especially at Bayram time, not just Turkish Cypriots who live in Larnaka, but also people who have come to the town from Arab countries…..
Walking around Skala’s streets you are never far from the sea, and it seems every time you turn a corner you get a different view of the Mediterranean. Until recently the sea front was quite stark, there was a tarmac road along the front, and a sheer drop into the sea. When you parked your car there you had to be careful getting out of it (especially when dark) so you didn’t fall 2-3 meters into the sea! Now there is a proper paved promenade to walk along. This is partly to improve the sea defences, and partly to provide a safe and attractive walk along the coast.
The walk lasted a couple of hours and was well worth doing. As you start and finish at Larnaka Fort there is plenty of time to visit that interesting attraction as well. The historic Ayios Lazarus Church is also nearby, as are the main shopping streets of Ermou and Zinonos Kiteos, and the restaurants along the seafront.
These walks are held every Friday starting at 10:00 am from Larnaka Fort on the sea front. There is no need to book. The walk is free though the guide does appreciate a small tip!