Celebrating shared heritage: restoring monuments and relationships

Photo: UNDP Cyprus/Kerim Belet

“Cultural Heritage in Tanners’ Mosque has become an example of how a monument can become a symbol of peace and coexistence.”

This message was written by one of the Greek, Turkish, Maronite and Armenian Cypriots who gathered at the site of a restored church and mosque in Famagusta.

The Maronite Church of St. Anne, Famagusta. Photo: UNDP Cyprus/Kerim Belet

One of many messages written by guests in Greek, Turkish and English, and tied to a symbolic railing, it reflects the vision of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage (TCCH) — a group of heritage experts from the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities appointed by the respective community leaders to help rebuild confidence on the island through heritage conservation initiatives.

The monuments are among the 66 heritage sites in Cyprus that have been conserved, structurally supported, physically protected or restored with EU funding by the TCCH, with support by UNDP.

These also include the Hamam (near the Hasan Aga Tomb) in and the minaret of the Cami-i-Kebir mosque in Paphos, which were also visited in a completion event, four months after the completion ceremony for Famagusta’s St Anne Church and Tanners’ Mosque.

Cami-i-Kebir mosque, Paphos. Photo: UNDP Cyprus/Marios Iosifides

Some 200 kilometres away from each other at opposite sides of the island, the two sets of monuments were important religious and communal locations, which now act as historic landmarks reflecting Cyprus’s diverse cultural identity.

On the Famagusta site, inside the walled city, stands St Anne Church, a 4th century church, which was originally Latin and Catholic church, but was given to the Maronites in the 14th century. Less than a minute’s walk away is Tanners’ Mosque (Tabakhane), initially built in the 15th or 16th century as a Jacobite church, and is a mix of French, Gothic and Byzantine architecture.

Photo: UNDP Cyprus/Kerim Belet
Photo: UNDP Cyprus/Kerim Belet

Both places of worship were restored with “great care and love”, as TCCH Greek Cypriot Representative Takis Hadjidemetriou told more than a hundred people from across Cyprus who gathered to explore them on March 20, 2019, and to celebrate the completion of the work.

“The presence of you all in Famagusta, once the city of the Kingdom of Cyprus and Jerusalem, the city of coexistence, trade, multiple nationalities, languages, castles and churches sends a message of hope and support for our difficult task,” said Takis.

“The church of Saint Anne and the nearby Tanners’ Mosque are merely a portal that opens the way to all the roads of history, all peoples, and all seasons. Frankish kings, knights, foreigners, Venetians, Byzantines, Ottomans. And now the continuers of this journey, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians and Latins,” he said.

“Those of us working together to restore these monuments send out a message of coexistence, love, and peace,” said Takis.

“Once again, the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, showed full commitment in its determination to work together and to do their part in bringing reconciliation to this island,” said Arttu Makipaa, Head of Cooperation, European Union Programme Support Office.

“Today, we Cypriots celebrated #OurSharedHeritage”

Photo: UNDP Cyprus/Kerim Belet

On June 22, 2019, Takis was joined by his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Ali Tuncay and more than 100 Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot Paphians to celebrate the completion of conservation work by the Committee on the Paphos Hamam and the minaret of the Cami-i-Kebir mosque.

Cami-i-Kebir mosque is one of Paphos’s most important Byzantine monuments, estimated to have been built in the 15th century, and was converted into a mosque in the years of Ottoman period.

Cami-i-Kebir mosque, Paphos. Photo: UNDP Cyprus/Marios Iosifides/Mustafa Erguven

“Paphos was an unknown and mystical part of my childhood,” said Ali.
Although he is from Famagusta, as a boy he had wondered about Paphos and his curiosity was sparked by accounts from his Paphian friends who settled in Famagusta. He heard of folk legends like that of notorious “outlaw” Hasan Bulliler, known as the “Jesse James of old Cyprus”, part of the rich cultural heritage that shaped this “fairy-tale realm”.

Hamam (near the Hasan Aga Tomb), Paphos. Photo: UNDP Cyprus/Marios Iosifides/Mustafa Erguven

“We studied, played, rejoiced and grieved together with the Paphian friends who settled in Famagusta…In fact, I became a Paphian and they became Famagustians without even realizing it.”

He wasn’t to know that as an adult he would not get to explore the historic treasures of Paphos and other towns through his work at the Committee, but he would help to keep them alive.

“Years later, I had the opportunity to see the towns and villages of my friends that I grew up with. As I travelled, I noticed what we have left behind in Paphos was not only mosques, hamams, fountains, houses and cemeteries of our loved ones, but also a never-ending longing.”

The Paphos Hamam and the Cami-i-Kebir Mosque are two important monuments that have been used by the people who considered Paphos their homeland over the centuries.

“Here lie the fathers of my very close friends who made me a Paphian as well,” he added.

Kjartan Bjornsson, Head of Unit for Cyprus Settlement Support, said: “It is clear that all the Cultural Heritage projects that we are doing together island-wide, from east to west, from south to north, are having an impact on the future of Cyprus, a better future for all Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, Maronite, Armenians and Latins.”

“These monuments are particularly important because they functioned not only as a place of worship and spirituality but also served as a social and economic hub for all Cypriot communities and as such is an inspiring example of Cyprus’s shared cultural heritage,” said Tiziana Zennaro, UNDP Senior Programme Manager and Head of Office.

Photo: UNDP Cyprus/Kerim Belet


· Work on St Anne Church and Tanners’ Mosque included rainwater management, clearing of plants, protection against damp, restoration of the walls, floor and ceiling.

· Work on the Paphos Hamam, included cleaning and treatment of stone masonry, water drainage, and improved visitor access to rooms via walking corridors.

· Work on the Cami-i-Kebir mosque included the repair and rendering of the eroded stairs of the Minaret, repair of the Minaret balcony, and the installation of lightning protection at the top of the Minaret.

· The conservation works were fully funded by the European Union within the overall 19.9 million Euro Cultural Heritage Programme that the European Commission is implementing through UNDP in Cyprus.

Photo: UNDP Cyprus/Kerim Belet

Official Medium account of UNDP in Cyprus. A programme mainly funded by the European Union contributing to the peace-building process in Cyprus.

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