Anger in Cyprus after church demolishes protected buildings

·2-min read
The demolished houses lie immediately next to a cathedral the church is building

The powerful Church of Cyprus has sparked anger on the Mediterranean island by demolishing four listed buildings next to a new cathedral it is building in Nicosia's historic old city.

The interior ministry said Tuesday it was "deeply troubled and concerned over the arbitrary and illegal demolition of the preserved buildings" in the capital the previous day.

It said that while the houses were on church-owned land, their demolition violated laws protecting cultural heritage.

The Cypriot Orthodox Church has considerable political clout on the island, but its decision to demolish the buildings sparked a public outcry against Archbishop Chrysostomos II.

Nicosia's Mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis told state radio CyBC on Tuesday that the demolitions were illegal and took place without any prior permit issued by the municipality.

Yiorkadjis said the municipality would demand the restoration of the buildings, which according to Cypriot records date back to 1927.

The interior ministry says 7,000 buildings have been listed across the island in an attempt to preserve the island's cultural legacy "for generations to come".

"The protection of architectural, but also historical heritage, is a priority for the state," it added.

The Technical Chamber of Cyprus, advisory body on engineering and building standards, said the Church did not have the appropriate licenses to demolish the buildings and accused it of violating the terms of its planning permission for the new cathedral.

It said the Church had a contractual obligation to maintain and restore the surrounding buildings.

The houses, a stone's throw from the archbishop's headquarters, lie in the old centre of Nicosia with its iconic Venetian-era walls and some architectural relics dating back to centuries earlier.

The archbishop's office did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment.

But Nicosia municipal councillor Chrysanthos Fakas said the archbishop had promised to restore the buildings during a meeting on Tuesday.

"During a visit I had a while ago with Archbishop Chrysostomos, I conveyed to him without hesitation this request, he assured me that the restoration of the buildings will begin soon," Fakas said in a social media post.

The demolition enraged political parties, with ruling conservatives DISY on Tuesday calling for the competent authorities to step in and "do everything that the laws of our state provide".

The Communist opposition party AKEL released a statement denouncing the destruction.

"Our cultural heritage is not the property of the Archbishop," it said.