|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Cyprus Branch of the MGS
On the morning of Saturday 17 May 2014, 22 members, partners and guests descended on the village of Malia, situated in the foothills of the Troodos massif. The number in the group had to be restricted due to the somewhat intimate size of the properties to be visited. Once all were gathered in the village square, beneath the shade of an enormous plane tree, we were welcomed by Elizabeth Thorneycroft, who gave us an introductory talk on the history and current situation in the village. Elizabeth is an expert on Eastern Mediterranean history and a permanent resident of Malia.
Before the troubles that led to the political division of the island, the residents of the village had been predominantly Turkish Cypriot (approx. 88 %). Following the upheavals of 1974, the properties of the Turkish Cypriots were used to house Greek Cypriot refugees from the Turkish-occupied area. However, with the village being inland and agricultural in nature, and the refugees being mainly from coastal districts and skilled in the ways of the sea, they gradually gravitated to areas where they felt more at home and could find employment suited to their old way of life. The houses, thus abandoned for a second time, became neglected and fell into disrepair.
Many have been saved from total destruction by what have come to be known as ‘weekenders’, people looking for a property to use as a weekend retreat. Permission was sought from the appropriate authorities and was granted under certain conditions. Basically they must be refugees; they must renovate the property at their own expense (along with paying a peppercorn rent to the appropriate government department); they must understand that they have no right of ownership as one day the rightful owner may be able to reclaim it; all renovations must be in the style of the original.
The houses are, in general, quite small but have been beautifully restored and the gardens, most of which are courtyards, lovingly planted. Several of the occupants were extremely welcoming, opening their gates and doors to us and telling their individual stories, many illustrated with before and after photographs.
At the end of a very interesting and intriguing morning, several of our group stayed to enjoy lunch served under the plane tree where we had begun our tour. While cradling a cold, reviving beer in this quiet, out-of-the-way village with only 57 permanent residents, I couldn’t help but think back to my early experiences of Cyprus in the 1960s, and maybe even earlier, so that I could almost imagine Lawrence Durrell strolling around the corner and sitting at an adjoining table, with a bottle of the local wine of course!