The Giudecca: Venice beyond the crowds

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SIXTY-THOUSAND people visit Venice every day in high season and most of them, I’d guess, never see more than a fraction of the city.

They mostly pack into St Mark’s Square or crowd onto the Rialto bridge and then they’re gone, back to their buses at Piazzale Roma and the mainland or back to their cruise ships and on to the next stopover.

They may even tell friends and family afterwards that Venice is just too crowded. And that is true of the part they saw. Indeed I once heard an American backpacker in the streets behind the basilica complain that the streets should have been built wider in anticipation of the crowds. I was never sure that he was joking.

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The Molino Stucky building, now a hotel on the Giudecca

Yet there are so many other places to go. One of my favourite trips is to the Giudecca, a short journey that few visitors seem to make (unless they’re rich enough to be staying at the Molino Stucky hotel or the Cipriani), yet the Giudecca’s vaporetto stops of Zittelle and Redentore are only a short hop from the San Marco crowds.

And it doesn’t matter that tourist honeypots are in short supply on this largely residential island – although there is Palladio’s magnificent Redentore church – because the views back towards San Marco are worth the journey on their own. They’re even better when enjoyed with a beer and a snack at a table right on the edge of the Giudecca canal.

Except when those cruise liners slip their moorings and head off to their next stop of course. Then this happens…

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P&O’s 116,000-tonne cruise ship Ventura about to block out the view from the Giudecca. (2008)

Cyprus, 1996

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The National Monument in Nicosia, figures draped in black on the 20th anniversary of the Turkish invasion

The National Monument in Nicosia, figures draped in black on the 20th anniversary of the Turkish invasion

First published in The Northern Echo, August 1996

NICOSIA had been baking all day in temperatures of 120⁰F. Although darkness had fallen the neon thermometers over Eleftheria Square still showed 100F when a mournful band struck up and the gentle moaning and murmuring of women dressed head to foot in black filled the still night air.

These were the mothers, wives and daughters of The Missing, the 2,192 men who went out to defend their homes and villages in Cyprus against the invading Turks —and never came back.

A priest in the robes and black hood of the Greek Orthodox Church — so familiar from the portraits of Archbishop Makarios in the bars and shops —made a speech in tones which suggested that peace and reconciliation were not to be spoken of tonight.

Afterwards the young people present, the minority, set off down the shopping street of Ledhras towards the Green Line — the United Nations-held border between Greek and Turkish Cyprus — to shout and wave torches at the Turks.

It was July 20, 1994, and Cypriots — or those generally referred to as the Greek Cypriots — were marking the twentieth anniversary of the night Turkey Invaded and turned 165,000 people into refugees in their own Iand.

Driving back to the holiday resort of Limassol we stopped by the roadside to observe the national two-minute silence in memory of The Missing and of the 3,000-4,000 dead. The government had ensured this would be observed at midniqht by the simple expedient of turning off the country’s power supply.

It is possible to go to Cyprus on holiday — as hundreds of thousands do — for sun and sand, Keo lager, cheap liqueurs and hire cars you drive on the left and hear little of the heartache and bitterness which runs through Cyprus.

But scratch the veneer of feelgood and fun and the stories will come, and help to explain the explosions of hatred and grief at Dherinia this week which have left two young Greek Cypriot men dead, many injured and two British United Nations peacekeepers in hospital.

Limassol central market, July 1994

Limassol central market, July 1994

Once the Ottoman Empire —forerunner of modern Turkey — ruled Cyprus. When Britain helped the Empire defeat Russia in 1878, it was given the Mediterranean island as a thank-you. It wasn’t long before the Greek orthodox population began agitating for enosis —union with Greece — and the Turkish Cypriots, the minority, started worrying.

By  the Fifties enosis Ied to the formation of EOKA, an IRA-type organisation. It was murderous and the British retaliated with brutality and torture.

Those years are marked in the National Struggle Museum in Nicosia. Yet today British tourists are not hated, even though memories are still fresh in many Cypriot minds. One bar owner simply shrugged and said: “Yes, but you are here now, and you did not do that.”

Instead, the Turks are hated. Cyprus became a republic on August 16, 1960 — 36 years ago today — with a constitution that was supposed to keep Greek and Turkish Cypriots happy. It was doomed. Within two years the leaders of the only Turkish Cypriot party promoting closer links had been murdered by hardline gunmen from their own community.

From the early Sixties the two sides were at daggers. Turkish Cypriot villages posted armed sentries at night and their leaders left the government. By 1964 UNFICYB, the UN peacekeeping force, was on the island and has remained to this day. Its members, armed only with batons are presently trying to hold the two sides apart.

During 1971 EOKA began trying to destabilise the government of Archbishop Makarios with the aim of forcing Cyprus into union with Greece. A Greek-engineered coup overthrew Makarios on JuIy 15, 1974; its leader Nikos Sampson urged his followers: “Now let us start on the Turks.”

Sunny Beach, Famagusta. A postcard from before the Turkish invasion in 1974

Sunny Beach, Famagusta. A postcard from before the Turkish invasion in 1974

Turkey had her excuse. The invasion was swift. The northern third of the island fell and at a stroke Cyprus lost 70 per cent of her economy, most of her tourist industry, her main port at Famagusta, half of her mines, half of her agriculture and many of her most treasured historical sites.

A new country was established but to this day the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is recognised only by Turkey. The only way in is via mainland Turkey. Sixty- thousand mainland Turks have resettled there to bolster the tiny ethnic population.

Dherinia, scene of this week’s disturbances, is only a few miles from the holiday resort of Ayia Napa. Tourists may even pass through Paralimni, where the dead young men came from.

And if they turn down a rough track They will come to Dherinia, sitting on a top of a hill under a burning sun, its white buildings surrounded only by dust and the silence which comes from being on the edge of something. This is the end of Cyprus.

A United Nations sign marks the beginning of the buffer zone (picture taken 1991)

A United Nations sign marks the beginning of the buffer zone (picture taken 1991)

A few hundred yards away, past a sign recording the 1984 UN Security Council resolution which demanded the return of Varosha to its people, sits a UN base in no man’s land.

Bevond  that is Varosha, the tourist district of Famagusta. The Turks hold Famagusta but only ghosts haunt Varosha.

On the roof of the last house in the Iast village in Cyprus is a small cafe where the owner — who calls himself Zeus — will sell you Coca-Cola and Ice cream and if you ask he will tell you all about Varosha and how one day its people will go back. For 50 cents you can look through binoculars into the shattered hotels, once the finest on the island, where curtains still hang and lightbulbs are said still to burn.

Zeus says there will one day be peace but there may be another war first. “The worst boundaries are in our heads,” he says. “They have to go first.”

A UN base in no man's land, near Dherinia in 1991

A UN base in no man’s land, near Dherinia in 1991

In Limassol, where a tourist district and port were hastily built to replace those lost  to the invaders, young Cypriots say there will be no progress until the older men who lead both sides are dead (Glafcos Clerides, the Cypriot president, and Rauf  Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader and President of TRNC, are both in their seventies).

And their fathers and uncles sit in front of bars with names like Beachcomber Bar of Famagusta and foster the hatreds that divide the island and send young men to their deaths.

  • Glafcos Clerides was president of Cyprus until 2003. He died in November 2013, aged 94. Rauf Denktash remained president of TRNC until 2005 and died in 2012, aged 87. A UN plan for the reunification of the island in federal form was defeated in a referendum in 2004. Denktash opposed it but the Turkish side voted in favour. Clerides supported it and the Greek Cypriots voted against. UNFICYB remains in Cyprus as a buffer between the two sides.