22.02.2010 – Press Release – The Proposed Redevelopment of Eleftherias Square

The Venetian walls of Nicosia as a whole is one of the most important and well preserved Ancient Monuments of the capital and the whole of Cyprus. They constitute the main reference point of the city not only in our time, but since they were built. This is reflected both in the texts of sightseers and in the renaissance maps of Nicosia, which essentially depict the periphery of the walls with the eleven ramparts. The Venetian Walls is such an internationally recognized landmark of Nicosia that is often identified with the city itself, and furthermore they rightly and worthily appear in the logo of the Municipality of Nicosia, which has for more than one thousand years been the capital of Cyprus.

The issue of the redevelopment of Eleftheria Square and its impact on the Venetian fortifications of Nicosia has been an object of intense deliberation for us both as scientists and as citizens and residents of the city. The Venetian walls are not just a defensive work of the past. They are a strict geometrical architectural work and simultaneously a work of art and a carrier of multiple symbolisms. The military engineers, who built these walls, did not simply employ their defensive engineering knowledge, but also incorporated in their work elements of the aesthetics and prevalent socio-cultural symbolisms of their era. Thus the walls were not simply a technical feat, which concerned only the military engineers of the time. The eleven bastions, for example, symbolize the eleven districts of Cyprus during the Venetian period, called contrade. Thus the walls incorporate allegorically in the number of ramparts the eleven administrative regions of the island. The Venetian fortifications are perhaps the most striking evidence of Venetian rule in Cyprus. The fortifications of 16th- century Cyprus crystallize the influence of Venice in Cyprus both on a practical and ideological level. Furthermore, the Venetian fortifications of Nicosia and Famagusta represent an important stage in the evolution of European defense architecture during the Renaissance.

The proposed interventions at Eleftheria Square are the cause of much concern for us, as they seem to completely alter the image and character of the walls in all respects:

– The materials used and the procedures that will be utilized are not reversible.

– They fragment the view of the monument, thus compromising its easy and seamless reception by the viewer, even from the air.

– The proposed project competes with the scale of the Monument.

– The materials of the new square conflict and offend the Monument.

– There has been no feasibility study, nor has the construction method of the walls been taken into account, thus endangering their very existence.

– They irreparably damage the strict geometry of the Venetian walls and offend the architectural theory and principles behind their design and execution.

– As a result of the above the aesthetics, symbolism and philosophy that are carried by the Monument also become damaged.

– Finally the intangible values emanating from the monument, which are produced only by time, cultural continuation and authenticity, are irreparably affected.

In the case of Eleftherias Square, it is not only the intangible values of the monument that have not been taken into account, but also the physical parameters of the walls have been ignored. The Venetian fortifications of Nicosia with their impressive moat and inclined facet that both form an integral part of the fortifications, were declared a First Schedule Monument in the period of British Rule. On 9 January 1950 an agreement was signed between the colonial government and the then Mayor of Nicosia, which leased under terms the Venetian wall to the Municipality until 2049. Those terms are quite clear and define the obligations, activities and developments permitted to take place within the trench, which are confined to cleaning operations and construction of municipal parks, courts, gardens and playgrounds, whilst they forbid the construction of any freestanding buildings and the removal of trees and greenery without the written permission and consent of the Director of the Department of Antiquities. In the event that any provision of the agreement is not respected the monument would be returned to the owner, viz. the State.

Based on the above agreements alone, it appears that the proposed redevelopment plan entails major operations within the confines of a First Schedule Ancient Monument. The construction of massive supporting props, the erection of freestanding structures within the moat, the extensive alteration of the walls’ facet and the clearing of trees do not only irreversibly alter the character of the monument, but they also constitute a flagrant breach of the 1950 agreement. Furthermore there have been no studies on the impact of the proposed works to the monument, thus the provisions of the Charter of Lausanne may have not been considered, nor met. Furthermore we doubt, whether the fact that the Venetian wall has no foundations and is based directly on the natural subsoil has been taken into account. Therefore there is a clear danger, as mentioned above, that the proposed constructions will put the physical existence of the monument at risk.

No doubt the Venetian walls of Nicosia should be highlighted and become more accessible to the public, whilst the Eleftherias Square indeed needs to be reconfigured. However, the shear size of the proposed project fails to achieve these goals and instead decreases both the readability and accesibility of the monument as it stands today. Moreover, the original bastion, which was recently brought to light during the excavations in the area below the embankment of the Eleftheria Square, is yet again returned to obscurity by the proposed massive construction and will also be concealed in most of the exposed areas below the bridge of the new square and from some viewpoints will not even be visible due to the foundations of the new square. A particular reference is ought to the British Period bastion, which appears in the western side of the proposed projects and it almost disappears behind the elevated western part of the bridge. In sum this redevelopment plan violates the 1964 Charter of Venice, which states in Article 6 that the preservation of the monument implies preserving its surroundings in its traditional form and without altering the ratios between the volumes and colors. Furthermore in Article 13 of the same Charter, it is also stated that additions are only permitted, when they do not detract from the Monument interesting features and its traditional context, nor do they distort the balance between the Monument and its surroundings.

To conclude this brief press release, it is maintained that the redevelopment of the Eleftherias Square in the manner proposed, produces without doubt a dangerous precedent for large-scale interventions to First Schedule Monuments, which are the property of the State. The Venetian walls of Nicosia, like many other monuments, were in the past respected even by the foreign governments ruling Cyprus and it would be a great impropriety to cause their demise now that on our own, as an independent state, decide their fate, especially since they now are considered as part of the common cultural heritage of Europe and the world. Finally, it seems that the proposed interventions conflict with relevant laws, international principles, declarations and conventions, which constitute the agreed and commonly accepted international theoretical framework for such cases, whilst they are not taking into account the reactions of the public and the scientific community, as well as and the needs of the society.

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