In times gone by | Limassol

Check-in, Cyprus unlocked

Text: Ioanna Christodoulou 

Photos: Edward's Limassol 

Every corner of Limassol has a memory to share about its past, especially with young locals and visitors. The architect Christakis Serghides, born and bred in Limassol, reveals the best of his memories. 

Christakis Serghides

Architect and our guide through historical Limassol.

I was born in beautiful Limassol in 1952, and my first memories date back to when I was five years old. Our home was on Ifigeneias, a street in the middle of town that ran perpendicular to Ayiou Andreou, our main commercial thoroughfare. This street ran parallel to the waterfront. Today, it’s pedestrianised and given over to tourist shops mainly.

Back then, after crossing the coast road and heading towards the sea, you came to Molos, the waterfront promenade. In my youth, both had very little traffic. These were where the citizens of Limassol would gather for strolls. As kids, we would come almost every day year-round unless the weather turned bad. When storms blew up, I remember the sea smashing into the breakwater with such force that the waves would spray over the road and soak the buildings opposite. Today Molos is much broader, and the coast road has four lanes with a sizable causeway. The causeway is now a pleasant recreational area with grass and footpaths, playgrounds, quays and jetties, a sculpture park and cafés.

There used to be an old jetty opposite the coast road called the Continental Pier. In the mid-1920s, a unique building was constructed on the corner that later became a hotel. That is how the nickname for the jetty came about. The building, preserved to this day, is home to the Cyprus University of Technology, as are others in the historical city centre. There used to be a lovely coffee shop on its ground floor famous for its delicacies, especially the Black Forest cake. Like other seaside establishments, they would arrange tables on the promenade in summer.

West of the Continental was a comparably-sized building in neo-Byzantine style, constructed in 1919, which still stands. This is the Holy Metropolis of Limassol. Behind are the church of Ayios Andronikos and the city’s old cathedral of Ayia Athanasia, built in the mid-19th century. We used to call it Mitropolouda. This was the site for the historical Enosis Club, a reading room for the intelligentsia and prominent citizens of the city. That is where they would gather and commence their promenade, strolling along with their canes, boater hats and blazers. I remember them telling us off for always getting under their feet. Sometimes, when we felt particularly daring, we would stand on the very edge of the pier, and they would yell at us to step back so we would not fall into the sea.

Other prominent buildings in the area were Barclays Bank and the modernist Amathus Club where friends would meet to chat, play cards and have drinks. Further down were the Palace Hotel, office buildings, tavernas, cafeterias and other shops leading to the old harbour. Today it is changed into a recreational and shopping hub that extends down to the coastal fort and a refurbished square.

One of my most abiding childhood memories is of being told how far we were allowed to run so as never to be out of sight of our watchful escorts. Usually, we could go as far as the Cathedral of Ayia Napa, but not a step further. The church in question was built at the start of the last century and was considered by many to be the most beautiful in Cyprus. We’d always attend Sunday and holiday services there. The main entrance was at the junction of Ayiou Andreou and Koumandarias, the latter street named for Limassol’s famous wine and the shops that used to ply that trade in the area. The whole place was thick with its intense aroma. Opposite, there was a modern building which housed the headquarters of the Bank of Cyprus. It was built in the late 1940s in inter-war style with a row of high pilasters on its facing façade. 

The east section of the promenade was dominated by a row of two-storey neoclassical mansions. Now they are apartment blocks. The most impressive was a 19th-century mansion that housed the Cypriot Club. Fortunately, this structure alone has withstood the tide of modernisation and remains in place to this day.

Further down the promenade was a building surrounded by enormous araucarias. Back then, the city expanded out to the edges of the waterfront and was in places past it. This building and another further along to the east divided the promenade into three. These were the boundaries for our frenetic childhood games. Back then, had the area been laid out as it is today, we could have run all the way to the Roman Catholic Church that was built in the 1870s.

We children were not allowed to stay out past sunset. When the political situation imposed a curfew, we could not so much as set foot outside. On my way to school, I passed an art-déco building identical to mine, which housed the Ottoman Bank. The entire upper floor was for the manager.

Opposite the bank were the elaborate Pavlides buildings. North of these was a colonial-style government building that was built to house courtrooms. The date ‘1911’ was inscribed over the entrance. Eventually, the courts moved further down into a neoclassical building that began life as a school for girls in the 1920s. However, the cafés frequented by lawyers with their clients did not move with the courts. The location stirs memories of humorous exchanges between teasing lawyers and endless socio-political discussions. These old coffee shops have been taken over and transformed by the youth of Limassol.

Another vivid memory is accompanying my grandmother to the Μarket. We would pass the post office on our way, a monumental structure dating from the late-19th century. The facades of the ground and upper floors were decorated with grande arches. The municipal authorities were the original occupants. A merchant eventually purchased the building and converted the ground floor into offices, the upper floor into two apartments. I remember being fascinated by a shell casing on display in the building, the type that bombarded Limassol during WWII. City Hall stood opposite the post office. It was contemporary for its time. Built during the war, it combined various aspects of modernism with minimalist takes on classicism. Next door was the Lanitis mansion, an older but well-maintained and eye-catching structure with three storeys reminiscent of others nearby the church of Ayia Napa.

On our way, we usually stopped in a bookstore where I liked to buy comics. We also bought magazines and weeklies that my family enjoyed. Newspapers were delivered; a man on a paper route would come on his bicycle and leave the newspaper in a basket that my grandmother hung from our balcony with string. She always had exact change for him.

In those days, we used to call the Market the Pantopoleion (everything shop). It had been around since 1917 and had an impressive entrance with columns and an arch. Inside, there were fishmongers and butchers hard at work, grocers and greengrocers, and shops that sold what we called ‘colonial goods’. These were coffee, tea, cocoa, rice and spices from British colonies around the world.

The market is still there today. Renovated, it now hosts eateries, cafés and a handful of shops. Seeing it brings back a flood of memories – one is of my grandmother engaging the services of a Hamalis (porter) to follow us with a big basket to carry our shopping. When we got home she would put the meat in the fridge, an old model that ran on diesel. This always struck me as being odd given the brand name on the appliance, Electrolux. Then my grandmother would put the rest of the groceries away in the kitchen pantry and cellar.

Τhe coastal waterfront, the historical Enosis Club where the city’s intelligentsia used to meet and the Holy Metropolis of Limassol built in 1919.

The Ayia Napa Cathedral was considered by many as the most beautiful in Cyprus.

The Palace Hotel used to be a gem of the coastal front. The Continental Hotel, a building constructed in the mid-1920s.

The city expanded out to the edges of the waterfront. The characteristic building on the pier with the araucarias. The locals used to enjoy a stroll by the sea.

Built during the World War II the City Hall was considered modern for its time.

The old port of Limassol was crucial in developing the city. The post office, a monumental structure dating from the late 19th century.

The Μarket, built in 1917, was the centre of city life for decades – a vibrant conglomeration of merchants, shopkeepers and locals who flocked there to purchase fresh fish, meat,
and produce.

The coast road  and the pier were the places where the citizens of Limassol would gather for strolls.

The east section of the promenade was dominated by a row of two-storey neoclassical mansions, which have now been replaced by apartment blocks.

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