ROUTE 1 - CASTLE AREA AND HISTORIC CENTRE
Genethliou Mitella street & Jami street
Starting at Limassol Castle, considered the oldest core of the town, one can take two routes:
- To the east, into the town or
- South, to the old harbor area and colonial pier
Dating from the 13th century, the fortified walls are of considerable archaeological interest and thought to be fragments of a much larger castle. They were strengthened by the Knights of the Order of the Templars and later by the Venetians in the 14th century, to ward off sea-pirates. Legend has it that Richard the Lionheart and Queen Berengaria were married here. This castle was the first Venetian stronghold to be captured by the Ottomans in 1570, who used it as a garrison and prison. A calligraphic inscription on the east wall attests to the capture.
The British used it as a sub-police station and a prison for a short period; it is now a museum housing Medieval antiquities.
To the west, behind the castle, is an old carob mill and warehouses, now restored, housing the Evagoras Lanitis Cultural Centre and various restaurants. Inside, there is a display of the original equipment used for grinding carobs into meal, with a display of the by-products of this once major exporting crop.
Look into the row of old shops northeast of the castle to see a series of arches in what used to be the courtyard of one of the numerous khans, the traditional resting houses fro travelers and camel caravans in the past.
Heading east, through Jami street, walk to the Masque plaza. To the left is another arcaded passageway of what used to be a khan, adjacent to the Jami Kebir mosque, while to the right is one of the Colonial covered markets, built by the British in the 1930s for use by the Turkish Cypriot population.
If you continue down towards the sea, to the pier of the old harbor, notice to the right, a ghost imprint of the Ottoman domed market surviving against a concrete wall. This may perhaps have been part of a medieval building, possibly even the hospice of the knights of St John.
Jami Kebir, meaning “The Great Mosque”, on the intersection of Genethliou Mitella street, Zig Zag street and Jami street, is the most important religious Ottoman building of the town. Built on the hewn stone, it has two sections. The oldest southwest wing consists of three historic layers, seen on Zig Zag street. The uppermost, the mosque, was built over the remains of a medieval (12th c. Lusignan) Basilica, which itself was built over an Early Byzantine church. Next to the mosque, on Genethliou Mitella street, within a garden of plain trees, is the oldest Ottoman graveyard of Limassol. It contains carved marble-turbaned tombstones of officials, both Turks and Arabs, in the service of the Ottomans. Poems executed in embossed calligraphy, in Ottoman or Persian, grace the shafts of the tombstones. The north wing of the mosque was built in 1829 and the south side is a 1907 renovation in Moorish style, executed in yellow sandstone and lined with red brick.
The scent of vinegar is still in the air along Genethliou Mitella street, even though the vinegar warehouses have long gone. Note also one of the shop inscriptions in Greek, Turkish and English, attesting to the brisk trade of the proprietor before 1974.
Continue east and turn right after Zig Zag street onto Loutron street (ie “of the Baths”) to the hammam, also known as Charshi hammam (marketplace baths). Over the entrance is an Ottoman inscription incised into an antique marble slab with the inauguration date and name of the benefactor.
The hammam consists of an entry hall whose pitched roof is supported on two lofty pointed arches. Here the bather prepares for his / her bath (at different hours). The soyunmalik leads to the main six-domed steam chamber, with varying heat (a tradition dating to the Roman baths). Notice the low, stone-arched, medieval-style doorway with its intricate wooden and wrought iron locks. Turn left at the end of the street, along Coumandarias street, where only the name survives to recall the wine stores situated there. This is where the medieval town ends.
Agiou Andreou street (St Andrew’s street) extends to the north, with Agia Napa cathedral which was designed by architect G. Papadakis and built between 1903 – 1906. The Colonial-style buildings extending to the west of it, along Agiou Andreou street, were designed by the Greek architect Zacharias Vondas. Born in Corfu and trained in Switzerland, Vondas worked in Limassol at the turn of the twentieth century, on buildings for the municipal authorities, the church and wealthy citizens of the town.
From Agia Napa Cathedral you can go in two directions –
- North, towards the city’s main market (also designed in part by Vondas), passing by the Colonial civic center comprising the Town Hall and other administrative Colonial buildings, or
- Double back along Agiou Andreou street and continue westwards to the old Turkish quarter or
- From there go north to the early 20th century residential neighborhood of Eirene street.
THE TRADITIONAL COMMERCIAL AREA OF THE OLD TOWN
The covered market (Dimotiki Agora)
The market’s two main entrances (from Saripolou street, on the west side and from the south side) are decorated with exterior pillars in local sandstone. Inside the main hall a metal structure supports the roof. Built in the early 20th century and recently renovated, it is a hub of early morning activity where scents and colours of the Cypriot countryside merge with the aroma of ground coffee and fresh fish from the morning’s catch. Fruit and vegetables are sold – together with an assortment of traditional cheeses, smoked hams and meats, loaves of bread and spices – both in the market and in the small shops around it.
The Town Hall and civic Colonial buildings
Located on Archibishop Kyprianos street, the Town Hall was designed by the German-Jewish architect Ginsburg. The portico bears stylistic references to the Doric columns of the necropolis at the Tombs of the Kings, in Pafos (Paphos). It is a small yet distinguished architectural masterpiece with stuccoed interiors and marble floors.
Opposite it is the old Post Office, housed in the former Rossides residence, with its west facing arcaded parches. To the east, along Themidos street are the old colonial law courts, built in 1911 to the plans of W Williams of the Colonial public works department.
If you choose to double back to Agia Napa cathedral, continue westwards along Agiou Andreou street (St Andrew’s street). Lined with stately buildings designed by architect Vondas and executed in dressed stone with European stylistic features, they contrast strikingly with the tiny Orthodox shrine of Agia Marina, located in a closet on the side of one of the shops. Further on are simpler buildings constructed by anonymous Cypriot masons with less ornate decorative features, but with traces of richly coloured stucco plaster in deep ochres and warm red ambers.
The pigments came from mines throughout the island, such as Polis, Skouriotissa or Troulli. The deep warm tones of the walls are offset by the cool blues and aquamarines of the shady wooden latticed windows. Sadly, renovations, often neglect to preserve the rich tonal hues, which are now seldom seen.
At the end of Agiou Andres street, the road continues into the Turkish Cypriot quarter under the name of Ankara street (Agkyras street). At the northwest corner is a conspicuous two storey konak, or mansion, known as “the konak of Hadjiibrahim Agha”, built during the Ottoman period. The building takes up the entire corner of the block and has arcades shops on the ground floor and two separate entrances to the main dwelling above. One entry was for the women of the house, on Ankara street (the harem), leading to the kiosk on the second floor. This is a lightweight wooden lattice construction, like a closed balcony, extending over the street. The men’s entrance (the selamlyk) was on the side of Eirene’s street.
From here you can either –
- Continue westwards along Ankara street into what used to be the Turkish Cypriot mixed-use neighbourhood of Ottoman style houses, shops and artisan workshops and later double back to the old fishing harbor, situated to the south or
- Go directly to the old harbor to the south and resume route 2 as mentioned above or
- Follow route 3,go northwards, along Eirene’s street – Eleftheria’s street, to one of the residential neighbourhoods, characteristic of the late19-early 20th century.
Ankaras street (Agyras street on the map)
Kiosks grace the upper residential storeys of the buildings lining the street, while the ground floors serve as shops, store-rooms and workshops. The kiosks offered a shielded view of the street to the women of the house and also let the cool south-westerly sea-breeze into the interiors of the detached buildings with their closed courtyards. In the early 20th c. kiosks were abandoned in favour of open-air balconies with ornate metal balus trades. Note the mixture of materials, styles and epochs often co-existing on the same facades – stone arched opening above the entrances (used for cooling and ventilation)older solid wooden shutters, leafy latticed shutters, decorative mosaic-tiled fronts of the 1960s.
Note also the even the 1960s modernist buildings adhere to the heights of the older neighbouring structures while refereeing to the kiosks and balconies, albeit in a modern context.
The west end of the street is accentuated by the minaret of Jami Jedid Mosque. The smaller of the town’s two mosques, it was rebuilt in 1909, after the floods of 1894 undermined the original building of 1825. The original mosque is said to have been a votive dedication by a notable after he survived the Ottoman-Napoleonic wars at Acre in the beginning of the 19th century. It is a single room structure, with an arcaded portico on the street side, which could double as extra praying space (the portico walls were originally painted in Venetian red). In the courtyard lies the grave of the founder together with graves of other notables.
East of the mosque, embedded into one of the Ottoman era buildings, is a rare, wall-mounted colonial post-box dating to the reign of the British King George VI.
To the north is a building of the Colonial era with wild daffodils carved on both sides of the ornate portico arch, constructed as a school for Turkish Cypriot girls. The building now functions as a home for elderly persons displaced from the north of the island. Today, this part of the town also houses most of the small workshops of the people displace since 1974.
At the west end of Ankara street, turn left at the mosque, towards Agios Antonios church. As you do so, note the fading inscription of the corner restaurant “Romantic bar & restaurant” in what is otherwise a rather derelict part of town, cut in two by the relentless stream of traffic and shoddy public development, pause and register the surroundings. On the left is the Jedid Mosque, with its minaret, where the Hodja would call to prayers. From across the river bed, lined in prickly pear cacturs, cypress, olive and palm trees, the prayer bells of the 19th century Agios Antonios church would sound together with the Hodja’s cries.
The ships and fishing boats, would add to the evening sounds, as Christian women crossed the Ottoman neighbourhood to go to vespers, greeting their neighbours on the way.
In doorways men would smoke hubble-bubble pipes, the clack of dice and back-gammon, punctuating the air. The cries of innumerable swallows preparing to roost complete the evening sounds as the birds swoop over the still surviving mud brick buildings, in pockets of the old neighbourhoods.