S.O.S. for Architectural Treasures: Neglect = Decay = Destruction

Degredation of traditional stone and mud-brick architecture is rampant throughout Cyprus. For various reasons, whether due to the political events that caused people to move or flee their homes, or whether due to natural disasters like floods, earthqakes or disruption of water availability, we have many dozens of abandoned villages, deserted architecture, and deteriorating old buildings scattered over the island’s landscape.

Since the arrival of the first permanent settlers of Cyprus during the early phase Neolithic, people have been living in houses made of stone and mud-brick. This type of architecture requires constant maintenance. If left neglected for extended periods, exposure to the elements will cause deterioration. Add human activities, like pilfering roof tiles, wooden beams, doors, stone slabs from floors, etc., these buildings become extremely vulnerable to collapse and/or unrepairable damage.

Here are two examples of what can happen in the span of approximately three decades to traditional stone architecture left neglected and vulnerable. Both examples are found within the Xeros Potamos river valley in the Paphos District:

Example 1: A Water Mill with Three-Arched Aquaduct

One of the most overlooked categories of architecture in Cyprus is the old stone-built water mill. There are dozens of them scattered up and down river valleys throughout the island, with most dating to the 14-17th Centuries.

In a remote location deep inside the Paphos District, we have this fantastic three-arched example, referred to by Hogarth in his late 19th Century travel book “Devia Cypria” as the Rhoudias Mill. Take a look at these photos showing it’s sad decay over a few decades of neglect and lack of attention to keep it in decent shape. If we don’t hurry, in an historical blink of the eye, it will be gone. If we can’t take measures to save one little (beautiful) water mill, what hope do we have for larger issues of conservation?

A view of the mill with three arched aquaduct in mid-1990s.

2019: The mill is starting to collapse, loose sections and lean away from it’s original orientation. S.O.S.

Example 2: To Spiti tou Moukhtari (“The House of the Mukhtar”) at Vretsia Village

This photo shows “The House of the Mukhtar” in Vretsia Village in October 1990.

I’ve been visiting this fantastic abandoned Turkish Cypriot village of Vretsia since the early 1980s. At the centre of the settlement is this prominent house that used to belong to the “Mukhtar” (village headman or Mayor).

It’s a fantastic location, right on the edge of the Paphos Forest of the western Troodos Mts. Geologically, it sits virtually on top of the contact zone between the white chalky limestones and volcanic pillow lavas, meaning there are numerous active springs in the area as well as copper ore deposits and abundant wood resources. The views over the upper Xeros Potamos valley and into the forested mountain landscapes leading up to Mt Olympus are impressive.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, one could enter the Mukhtar’s house, which lay completely abandoned and empty, walk up a staircase and stand on the upper story with it’s fine wooden roof beams (“volitsia) and walk across the floors made of high quality gypsum flagstones. The large balcony was still sturdy enough to stand on safely.

However, at some point during the early 1990s, people from nearby areas started to “harvest” materials (i.e. steal, pilfer, remove illegally or “recycle”) like roof beams, stone floor slabs, roof tiles, wooden window shutters and even complete doors. This fine piece of traditional Cypriot architecture, left vulnerable to the human and climatic elements slowly deteriorated to the state illustrated in the next photo:

This photo from August 2019 shows the degree of deterioration after nearly three decades of exposure and vulnerability. Photo: Simon Ritchie.

On the other hand, there are examples of dilapidated stone structures nearing collapse that were given proper attention and were saved from destruction.

Example 3: The “Chiftliki” (Manor House) at Kouklia 

One of the only surviving bits of Lusignian architecture in the Paphos District is the “Chiftliki” or Manor House at Kouklia. For many years it used to serve as the main entrance to the Archaeological Museum, artefact storerooms  and summer residence of Prof. Franz Maier, the German archaeologist who headed the Swiss archaeological expedition that excavated the Sanctuary of Aphrodite site.

Let’s compare the state of this fine stone building before and after restoration:

To Chiftliki at Kouklia before rennovation. (Specific date of photo unknown, but probably sometime in the 1930s.) Photo: Sypros Kharitou

Here’s the same building, after rennovation. The photo was taken in the 1990s when this was still the main entrance to the Archaeological Museum.