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The unique architectural heritage of the town of Larnaca
Alexis Michaelides, deputy mayor of Larnaca

HISTORIC MONUMENTAL STYLES

The uninterrupted life of the town of Larnaca - Ancient Kition as a port and urban populous center covers a period of 4000 years, and the city currently celebrates its record life with special events. This rare historic phenomenon blessed the heritage of the city with some unique architectural remains, structures, monuments, buildings and styles covering a period of at least 3200 years from today. As the city is build and re-build, on exactly the same site for more than 4 millennia, a lot has been lost, including some of the most recent architectural heritage, which has been sacrificed to the deity of modern development, before the Cyprus State was able to enact effective laws for its protection.

Early History
However, even the early history of the town is represented with very important architectural remains. Cypriot Archaeologist Vassos Karagiorges discovered in the early 1960’s the Mycenaean Temples of the city and a small part of its Cyclopean Walls. These Temples and the Walls were built according to the new masonry the Mycenaean Greeks introduced on the island upon their arrival in the 14-13 centuries B.C. The defensive structure is known to surrender to the Assyrians on 709 B.C. and eventually to the Persians on 546 B.C. But, the Walls resisted 3 attacks inflicted by the Athenian alliance in an attempt to free Cyprus from Persian rule after the naval battle of Salamis (490 B.C). The most famous counterattack of the Athenians was that of General Kimon, son of Miltiades, who died during the siege of the city. His army buried him at Kition on 449, as historian Plutarch claims. Ptolemy A’ punished the city with the demolition of its Cyclopean Walls because the city allied with Antigonus in 312 B.C.

Phoenician - Archaic
The Phoenicians colonized ancient Kition on the 10 - 9th centuries B.C. Their majestic temple of Aphrodite – Astarte was built on 850 B.C. by the same Tyrian masons and architects, who build the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem at about the same time as it is described in the Old Testament. This is exactly what Archaeologist Vassos Karagiorges believes about this temple, which he uncovered in the 1960’s. The Temple of Aphrodite-Astarte has a sophisticated and enormous stone structure basis surviving at the archaeological site called “Ancient Kition”. The top of the temple is believed to have been mainly constructed with Cedars wood from Lebanon. None of the cities of Phoenicia have any similar monument surviving. The aeolic capitals found in the city reveal that the style of the public buildings at that time were similar to those of the nearby Greeks of Asia Minor.

Classical and Hellenistic

The Classical and Hellenistic times inherited the city with the extensive architectural structures of the installations of the ancient port, which is the only ancient port in the world surviving in such a good condition, revealing to us all the secrets of ancient ports. It was uncovered, in the middle of the present-day city, by a French archaeological mission in the early 1990’s. Margarit Yion, the leader of the mission, explains that the ancient port was well protected within the Cyclopean Walls of the city and entry was through a canal also protected by military defenses. This port remained in use till the 3rd century A.D.

Roman
The Larnaca District Museum is full of Corinthian style capitals, which was the favorite trend of the Romans, revealing that the public buildings of Larnaca had Corinthian style at that time. This style was also used in the first Christian Churches. Many Corinthian Capitals are found in the Byzantine Church of Saint Lazarus, which was built in 900 A.D., but it is assumed that they have been re-used from the early Christian Church of the Saint. The Larnaca Aqueduct is now certain that was in operation in Roman times, but was extensively restored, repaired and reused in the 18th century A.D. and other previous Medieval periods. Its existence in Roman times is mentioned in the book “Secret Acts of Saint Barnabas” written in 48 A.D. Today it is well proved that the existing enormous Larnaca Aqueduct was firstly made either in Hellenistic or Roman times, as it is mentioned in the book “Larnaca Water-Supply: A history of 4.000 years”, published by the Larnaca Municipality in the year 2005.

Arab
In 649 A.D. Cyprus experienced the first attempt by the Arabs to convert the Island to Islam. Leader of the expedition was the historic Khalif Mowavia, who later besieged Constantinopole for 7 years. Mowavia landed in Larnaca with a grand army and with strong naval support. With him, following her husband was Um Haram, an apostle of Islam, close collaborator to Mohamed himself. This holy and important woman for early Islam died by accident on the shores of the Larnaca salt lake and the Grant Khalif ordered the construction of a Mosque at the spot of her death. The original Arab Mosque, which mainly comprises the tomb of Um Haram exist until today within the greater Teke that was later constructed by the Ottomans. The tomb of Um Haram is until today the only Arab monument surviving on the Island and the only Mosque that was constructed to be a Mosque from the beginning, while all other Mosques in Cyprus have been previously Christian Churches turned to Mosques in the Ottoman period.

Late Byzantine
The Byzantines decorated the city with many Churches, but only the Church of Saint Lazarus, the early Church of Saint George now Mosque Touzla and the later Church of Saint George (Makris) survived. The Arab raids, as well as the Egyptian invasion of the Mameluks, were the reason for the loss of all other early Byzantine Churches in town. Arab raids lasted from 649-964 A.D. It is well acknowledged now that the most important Byzantine monument surviving now in Cyprus is the Basilica of Saint Lazarus, built by Emperor Leo VI the wise, on the Tomb of the resurrected friend of Christ on 900 A.D. The Basilica was given to Larnaca in return of the holy relics of the Saint, which were moved to Constantinople, except of a small part kept in the crypt of the tomb until today. The Dynasty of Comneni also founded the castle of the city as the protector of its new port, at that time, but many changes were later made by the Louzinians, the Venetians and finally the Turks.

Medieval Period
The Luzignian Franks gave the city the Church of Santa Katerina, now the Beyuk or Kebir Mosque near the Castle. It was the first Church to be transformed into a Mosque in Cyprus, as the Ottoman army which occupied Cyprus in 1570 A.D. landed at this spot. The Louzinian kings also extended the Byzantine Castle of Larnaca. The Venetian period survives in town with an elegant public fountain. Installed on the South face of this fountain is perhaps the first mechanical clock ever imported to Cyprus? Only the Latin numbers on marble survive now. The Venetians also repaired the Church of Saint Lazarus adding a Gothic style stoa on its south entrance.

CONTEMPORARY URBAN STYLES

Urban Traditional
This is the unanimous architecture of Larnaka developed in the Ottoman times and was designed to serve the trading needs as well as the residential needs of the wealthy merchants of Larnaka at the time. The owner, who was usually a busy merchant, had his storehouse and office at the ground floor from where he was able to sell his goods on retail, as well as on a wholesale basis. He had his residence and his family on the first floor. The characteristic kiosk over the street was made for good aeration and view and was very different than the kiosk made in Moslem houses. There are few surviving examples of this architecture in Larnaka and they are dated in the 18th century. This style is believed to have started at the end of the Venetian period when Larnaca emerged as the main Cypriot port and the most important trading spot on the Island. The Ottoman army, sent to occupy Cyprus in 1570, landed at the port of Larnaca and amongst these “magazeni” of the wealthy merchants of Larnaca. Gravure of the 18th century showing the port of Larnaca with a long line of such two store houses along the Larnaca seafront, is believed to show the situation existing also at the end of the Venetian rule of Cyprus.

Other imported styles of the 18th Century
The Larnaca Club and the Pierides Museum just opposite one another, both on Zenonos Kitieos Street, are very good examples of the imported influences Larnaca experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries, as it was the diplomatic as well as the most wealthy center of Cyprus. The Larnaca Club, as is the name of the building today, has a residence on the first floor and extensive facilities for hosting horses, camels, other animal and people. This type of a public house is found all over Europe and the East. At the beginning of its life this building served the hotel and traveling needs of the town. Later, at the last part of the Ottoman rule, it served the needs of important Embassies of the great powers of the time. The Pierides Museum was the residence of the Pierides family, who chose the American Colonial style for their Embassy as they were the Consuls of America, Russia and Sweden, sometimes at the same time. Some of the architecture surviving in the Turkish quarter near the sea and behind Piale Pashia Street, goes under the heading Moslem Urban Traditional. The kiosks and closed gardens inside the houses are the main characteristic. These features are known all over the Muslim world and are made for protecting the female population of the house according to the Islamic tradition. Finally, the strong and numerous French, Italian, Armenian, Protestant and Anglican Communities of cosmopolitan Larnaca of the 19th and early 20th century, built their Churches and Monasteries in the town according to their corresponding styles.

English Colonial
This type of architecture was introduced by the English the first years of their rule (1878) and it was based on the vision of their central designing services as to how Colonial Administration should be housed. This style refers strictly to the public buildings of this period. This type of architecture was repeated in many other English colonies and it is easily recognizable. The best examples of this architecture, which survives in Larnaca better than any other city in Cyprus are a) The District Governors building on Europe Square, b) The Old Customs Stores on Europe Square, c) The building of Cyprus Tourist Organization information centre at King Paul Square, d) The Central Police Station at King Paul Square and e) The Larnaka old Hospital on Afxentiou Av. Except of the old Hospital, all other colonial style building were recently repaired and their new uses, as well as the successful renovations won relative Europa Nostra awards.

Neoclassic
A European trend of the 19th and early 20th century that became very popular in Greece and Cyprus survives well in the city. This architectural trend can be recognized on public buildings and private houses. It reminds the classical architecture of ancient Greece. The main features are façades with columns, capitals and aetomata. Some good surviving examples of the trend are Constantinos and Cleanthis Kalogera elementary schools, the entrance of the old Larnaka Stadium and the Urban elementary school of Larnaca, which have been renovated recently. A large number of private houses still keep their nostalgic style, but a lot of other public and private buildings in this trend were demolished in the early 1970’s to give space to modern, high rise buildings, a sad development for the precious heritage of the historic town of Larnaca. The recent legal framework for the preservation of historic and important buildings in Cyprus is now sufficient and a large number of such buildings were listed and are now exclusively await their proper renovation.


BIBLIOGRAPHY:

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• Anna Pouradier Duteil- Loizidou. “Consulat De France A Larnaca 1660-1696”. Centre de Recherche scientifique de Chypre vol. XVII. Nicosie 1991.
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smands@cytanet.com.cy

6/08/2008
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