From Obscurity to Fame, From Unkown to Over-trampled
The premier canyon in Cyprus, easily one of the most impressive natural landforms on the island, is the Avgas Gorge. Once an obscure, little known place visited only by a handful of local shepherds, the Avgas Gorge quickly emerged into the spotlight and became one of the most “hot” and “must-see” destinations in western Cyprus during the late 1980s and especially throughout the 1990s-early 2000s. The advent of 4×4 excursions (so-called “jeep safaris”) into the Akamas Peninsula, initially from hotels mainly in Paphos, propelled the gorge onto the public stage, but that same notoriety and touristic activity has been responsible for profound changes and impacts within the canyon system itself, not many of these changes being good ones.
It’s the same cycle of environmental degradation for countless pristine environments around the world: The more you promote it as a unique, sensitive yet spectacular Nature Monument, the more people want to go there; and the more who visit, the greater the damage and negative impact. So it goes, and so it will always go. Good management and sensible control measures will result in damage limitation, but nothing will offer complete protection.
The Gorge Entry Point
Local authorities have already taken some very positive steps. The Forestry Department in Cyprus should be commended for introducing a sturdy metal bar or barricade at the western end of the Avgas stream, the main point of entry for over 95% of visitors, which completely blocks all vehicular traffic into the gorge. They also invested in a proper car park with WC facilities (no, not Wine Cellar!) and a brand new concrete bridge at this western entry point into the canyon. Prior to these measures, that is especially during the mid-1990s-early 2000s, at times dozens of vehicles, often commercial Land Rovers packed with up to 11 persons each, would forcefully drive along the narrow floodplain leading into the gorge.
Even after only a few years of this, deep tyre ruts would form in the soft clay-loam soil and during springtime the dense floral displays that once characterised this zone started to disappear. Today nobody can drive into the gorge proper. That is a very good thing.
Location and Place Name Dynamics
The Avgas Gorge is situated just a few of kilometres north of the modern hamlet/fishing harbour Ayios Georgios tis Peyias, where the ancient Hellenistic- Byzantine settlement of Drepano lies directly opposite Yeronisos Island. This puts it right in between Cape Drepanum and the promontory of Lara, two important landforms on the western coast. The gorge itself is set back from the coastline by a small alluvial plain, which leads from a sandy beach currently called Toxeftra (a major sea turtle nesting spot) to the convergence of two major streams, the Avgas and the Argaki ton Kouphon. A small stream called Kalamoulli (“small reed”) carries the combined water discharge from both streams to the sea.
If you consult the old 1930s-era 1:5000 cadastral maps (a fantastic source of information pertaining to original place names), you will see that the actual “Toxeftra” toponym applies to the inland spot where the Avgas and Kouphon streams converge, not to the beach with that same modern name some 700 metres to the south. The 1885 Kitchner map seems to agree with this by designating the area at the two- stream convergence point as Toxeftra Chiftlik. The Greek place name “Toxeftra” refers to the curved shape of the area, which mimics the shape of an archery bow. “Chiftlik” is an old Ottoman-period word, which in Turkish means “agricultural estate” or “agricultural fiefdom” or “plantation.” (Note: during the Ottoman period, most of rural Cyprus was divided into individual Chiftliks. For example, the so-called “Baths of Aphrodite” was actually called “Potami Chiftlik” before modern times.) Today you can still find visible traces of the old Toxeftra Chiftlik: an old stone water fountain and olive mill at the entry area to the Kouphon stream, and a series of old stone farm houses on the elevated southern ridge overlooking Karamoulli stream as it flows to the sea. Probably somewhere towards the end of the Ottoman period, these buildings became the property of the Paphos Bishopric, and sat long abandoned, until about 10 years ago, when they were restored and made fit for modern habitation. The Bishop of Paphos himself today uses them as his “Exokhiko” or “rural retreat.”