Captain Peter Singlehurst is from the Media Operations Group(V) and is currently serving as the Media and Ops Info Officer, with 17 Port and Maritime Group in Cyprus.
Hello from Cyprus!
In this blog I am going to look behind the scenes at where we in Sector 2 actually live during our tour here in Cyprus with the UN. Our camp is made up of the former Ledra Palace Hotel, a small part of the former colonial period Wolsey Barracks and some other buildings. All of this is in the UN Buffer Zone, the area controlled by the UN that separates the 1974 cease fire lines of the Republic of Cyprus National Guard and the Turkish Forces.
The Ledra Palace Hotel was once really quite famous, and was known as the most glamorous and luxurious hotel in Nicosia. Originally built in 1949, the hotel in its heyday had 163 bedrooms, together with a conference room, library, card room and ballroom with orchestra. There were two restaurants, two bars, a café and several small shops. In the garden there was a swimming pool, paddling pool, children’s playground and tennis courts.
In 1974 following the military action the Ledra Palace Hotel found itself isolated in the newly established UN Buffer Zone, between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot cease fire lines and during the fighting the hotel suffered superficial damage that is still visible today. As a result the hotel became a base for UN peacekeeping troops, first the Canadian contingent and now, following their withdrawal, the British.
Sweet smell of washing powder
So let us enter the hotel, we walk in through the main entrance, the old reception is the guard room, around us the décor is frozen in the 1970s. Looking up we see some old grand chandeliers set into intricate plaster ceiling roses. The walls are richly decorated with architectural features and the floors are marble. All however have suffered over time and now the reception is a shadow of its former self, as the passing of time and thousands of UN peacekeepers have taken their toll
As we walk around the ground floor we find the various messes, the old ballroom has been divided and is now the main cookhouse and our gym. Where once the notice boards would have told of holiday excursions there are now military notices and everywhere are signs of the military use of the former hotel for the last almost 40 years.
As we climb the main staircase around us there is constant activity, this after all is the the centre of a military operation that goes on 24 hours a day seven days week. On each floor is both living accommodation and the Troop offices from which the Buffer Zone patrols are organised.
Walking down the corridors the way is illuminated by harsh strip lights. An industrial electrical system has been added with trunking attached to the walls. There is a constant hum from the electricity. We walk past one of the rooms that has been set aside for washing machines and smell the sweet smell of washing powder. Looking up the hotel’s old plumbing has been replaced with an industrial system. The pipes are exposed the same as the trunking, this is a building that has lost its refinement and has become utilitarian. As we continue to make our way to the roof we can hear and see Cypriot builders gradually refurbishing rooms that have fallen into disuse.
Europe’s last divided city
As we arrive on the roof we emerge into the bright sun, and the heat is reflected back off the flat roof, under a lazily flapping UN flag, we can look out over the city. To the north we see the Turkish cease fire line running near the old tennis courts and in the distance the Kyrenia Mountains, with the massive iconic flag of the Turkish north on the side of the mountain. To the west we look into the buffer zone and agricultural land with the Troodos Mountains beyond. To the east is the old bastion walls of Nicosia and the roof tops of the old town with the minarets of the Selimiye Mosque prominent. South we see the modern buildings of central Nicosia that reminds us we are in Europe’s last divided city.
Returning to the ground floor and the outside we walk across the car park on one side are war damaged buildings; on the other side is the Greek Ambassador’s residence. As we walk across depending on the time of day the cicadas are chirping or the bells of the Greek Cypriot churches are ringing or the call to prayer from the Turkish Cypriot mosques rings out. At the main entrance we can see Cypriots and tourists making their way to the Buffer Zone crossing beside the Ledra Palace Hotel, but if we look behind us there is the Buffer Zone, overgrown and quite, frozen in time since 1974.