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In his book Journey into Cyprus, which follows the author on a three-month journey through the pre-invasion Cyprus of 1972, Colin Thubron wrote the following:
[The Cypriot] is entering in thousands that trough – of how many generations? – between peasant honesty and urban refinement. 'To be civilised,' a Nicosia friend told me, 'our people must first be vulgar. It is the bridge between simplicity and culture.'
If this was the case back in 1972, then judging by the healthy prosperity of southern Cyprus today, it's probably fair to say that a fair chunk of those thousands of Cypriots who started their journey to urban refinement have reached it. The thing that depresses me, as Cyprus gears up for potential inclusion in the European Union, is that the scars of that period of vulgarity are still there for all to see. I'm talking about the appalling state of Cypriot architecture from the 1960s onwards.
Concrete is a modern cancer that seems to have developed a taste for previously beautiful sun-drenched islands, and Cyprus suffers from the blight of grey box-like buildings in the same way that the Greek islands do. Even the most picturesque villages in the Troodos mountains are spoiled by a suburban sprawl of utterly unimaginative concrete bunkers, and although new, richer developments may well be moving away from the ghetto-esque mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s, it's a shame that Cyprus couldn't have sold its soul to tourism without bearing the scars pretty much everywhere. Even Nicosia, which hasn't been able to call itself a tourist destination since 1964, suffers from insensitive concrete development, though perhaps it's churlish to complain about the quality of redevelopment in a war zone; however it is, I think, fair game to lament the loss of traditional Cypriot stone architecture in the face of yet more concrete.
Another apparently negative aspect of Cypriot architecture, though, is more commendable on closer inspection. Even those developments that manage to capture a pleasant white-and-red villa style tend to come attached to rows of ugly water tanks, sitting on their roofs like industrial experiments gone wrong.
It would be easy to criticise this unpleasant trait as unfortunate, except each of these tanks is attached to a solar panel that heats the water in the Cypriot sun, thus saving a small fortune in electricity. It still looks awful, especially on rows and rows of apartments, but it's a trade-off that is worth the sacrifice.
There is a positive side to all this mindless development, though, and that's its comedy value. If for a moment you can forget just how sad it is to see such a pretty island being dumped on by the tackiest designers on the planet, there's a lot of hilarity to be found while wandering round the tourist areas of Cyprus.
The two best spots I found for tacky architecture were Agia Napa and Pafos, though the former does it on a far larger scale than the latter. Agia Napa's tacky buildings are too numerous to list, but special mention must go to the Acropolis Restaurant, a few kilometres west on the main coast road out of town. This restaurant has a bar area outside that's modelled on – you guessed it – the Acropolis, and for your delectation you can sit on authentically fake lumps of ancient civilisations, assuming such woeful treatment of Greece's past doesn't give you indigestion.
Top of the pile, though, has to be the Roman Hotel in Pafos, and its sister hotel, the imaginatively named Roman II Hotel. These two behemoths, situated delightfully close to the ruins of Nea Pafos, are truly amazing, decked out as they are with Greco-Roman frescos on every wall (including those in the gym!), fake statues and bits of authentic ruin kicking about everywhere, and a collection of vases and pots that makes the British Museum look positively bare. Indeed, the hotel's leaflets (which you can and should pick up from reception as a memento of your visit) have this to say, in English, German and, strangely, Russian:
Once inside the Roman Hotel, you will be stunned, as you are immersed in centuries of Greek history and mythology. Resembling a Greek palace, the museum-like interior has to be seen to be believed.
A Roman Hotel that's designed to look like a Greek palace? That's just the start. I genuinely recommend a visit if you're in town, as it's the funniest thing you'll see all week (until then, feast your eyes on their website). Only after seeing it in the flesh will you appreciate that the guy who wrote the leaflet had a masterful way with sarcasm. At least, I hope he did; I really was stunned, and it really did have to be seen to be believed. Hell, my eyes are still hurting...