Reviving the 1900s

The EU funded bi-communal “Nicosia Master Plan” has taken leaps revamping the commercial hub of the town once threatened by the first inter-communal riots in 1956. Yet the vision of the newly founded CVAR museum is perhaps the additional drive needed to lift the character of a street which began to see its shops, peoples and stories trapped in the buffer zone since 1963.

With renovations of the street predicted to be finished in the New Year, this journey has shed light on the premises of the Pharos Arts Foundation which has been active in the area since 1998 and has also enticed new smaller trade businesses to fruit, bringing a new breath of life to the area.

Standing at the core of the street, the CVAR museum which opened in September has equally attributed to the noticeable change of heart of the area and it is when talks began regarding efforts to re-open Ermou street that the idea to recreate the street and atmosphere of the 1900s occurred.

Adamant to revive the area however, it is with caution that the CVAR sees the re-enactment of our yesteryear’s commercial hub come back to life. “My idea is that, fair enough, we have Ledra and Onasagorou Street filled with coffee shops, restaurants, tourist shops and so on. But let’s not revive Ermou in the same way,” warns Severis founder of CVAR and art historian.

“Let’s have Ermou go back to what it was: tradition,” affirms Severis.

Precisely, this is how Ermou Street will tomorrow take a trip down memory lane, through the initiative of CVAR, who will attempt to prevail an Ermou of the 1900s. Adorned with scenes of the time, voices, peddlers, colours and exchanges one will encounter an array craftsmen and peoples representing an outdated vision throughout the day. “ I have the one and only Turkish Salep maker, a hot drink with cinnamon, made out of the roots of orchids who will come with his trolley and sell Salepi for the day,” reveals Severi.
“We will have the best Ekmek Kataifi in town, lokoumades, pishides, eggs, olives, koulouri, mules carrying with fruits. But also peoples; peddlers selling things too, ladies dressed in traditional clothing, two couples dressed in 1900 urban clothes, and men with the traditional vraka along with the town crier,” adds Severis.

In the hope that the event might hint at CVAR’s vision, the history of the street is perhaps suiting to accommodate a retrospect that could only lend a hand to the challenge at hand.
The street which since 1974 has its two thirds located and abandoned within the United Nations BufferZone, connected one gate to the other; the Famagusta Gate to the Paphos gate. “It was very convenient, people used to come in through the one gate and out the other, and vice versa. It was the hub of the town when Ledra Street was residential,” describes Severis.

It was in 1882, under the leadership of Mayor Christodoulos Severis, that the city’s main sewer was constructed by the help of builders and labourers from the Kaimakli area who eventually built many shops on street level as well.

At the time, the Pithkias River which forms Ermou Street will still enjoy today was dry, and filled with rubbish and dead animals describes Severis. “It smelled, he (Christodoulos Severis) didn’t know how to clean it up. It was impossible, they would take the rubbish out and people would throw other rubbish in… and so he had a brilliant idea, he announced that whoever brings earth and covers a piece of the river, would have a piece of the river attributed to their name, and that’s how Ermou was built,” reveals Severis.

The prominence the area took from then on is obviously encountered in literature, one of these accounts recalls: “At Levkosia, as in all Turkish towns, the Bazaars are the centres of social life: they extend between the gates of Famgusta and Paphos, and in this manner the town fairly cut in half (it is known that the Turkish and Greek sectors of Nicosia were separated by Ermou Street). The shops have shutters made in the Turkish fashion, which can be pushed up and down. Here and there in the Bazaars we found small wells, with wooden windlasses and a trough for the cattle, often overshadowed by a gigantic vine; or big earthware jugs, from which everyone can take water for his own use by means of small cups, thus making them useful for the public in general.”

With this in mind, the general public; the peoples of Cyprus, there’s an extension of the ideal behind reviving and perhaps one day completely reopening the street at hand. “If Ermou opens like this, it will be Greek and Turkish Cypriots together in a communal street, it will be Greeks and Turks working together, trading together, living together on a daily basis, buying things together, “ envisions Severi.

“Let’s do this and make it the street of traditional craftsmanship and you’ll see what tourists will come here. People want to see something original and meet the local character,” adds Severi. “Bring back the basket maker, bring the wood turner to make old chairs, bring the quilt maker to repair quilts, bring the iron makers to make nice, decorative items. This is how I see it,” she concludes.

Tomorrow morning Ermou Street, along with the CVAR’s drive will go authentic. The colours will be the costumes and tents, the tastes and smells will be those of our heritage, the sounds will be those of the voices of people and craftsmen working away; a touch upon all our senses which hopefully will instigate change to a dormant part of our capital which has all the potentials to fruit prosperously.

The event Ermou 1900 will take place on Ermou Street, from 10am to 6pm on Saturday 20 December 2015. More information can be found on www.cvar.severis.org

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