Larnaka exudes a lively, constantly evolving energy yet manages to preserve its authentic, picturesque charm in defiance of the passing of time.
Text: Andreas Katsis
Photos: Panayiotis Mina
Whenever I visit Larnaka, I feel intensely free, euphoric and overwhelmed. Everything is different here: the people, the history, the culture, the picturesque alleys, the pedestrian streets and the neighbourhoods – everything exudes a strange charm. Walking along Zenonos Kitieos Street, I see an old barber shop where Mr Panicos stands at the entrance, watching the passers-by. Inside, Mr Stavros meticulously cleans scissors, combs and shaving equipment. “We’ve been in business for over 40 years. We started this venture in our twenties, and look at us – here we are, still going strong,” says Panicos. They tell me that much has changed in the region in recent years. It is gentrifying, new shops have opened, and many people pass by almost daily for coffee or a bite. They suggest Kapitanis just down the road from their shop for a classic sesame cheese pie, and a chocolate milk, just like in elementary school. When I return to Larnaka, I feel as if I’m returning to the past and a Cyprus I may not have lived in but know very well from the stories of my grandparents.
Larnaka Municipal Engineer Andreas Karakatsanis is waiting for me outside the new Municipal Market, a real gem that seems to have been worth waiting for to open. At first glance, its futuristic design makes it seem alien alongside the traditional aesthetics of the surrounding area. Yet, strangely, it blends in perfectly. Karakatsanis makes an insightful observation, saying it is one of the most iconic projects to have taken place in Larnaka in recent memory, attracting a constant stream of visitors since its opening nearly a month ago. The market’s popularity extends beyond weekdays, as it’s also bustling with activity on Saturdays when the outdoor area is open. Its goal is to bring together all the local producers under one roof, making it easy for visitors to find all the Cypriot products they desire. Everywhere you turn, there are Cypriot delights. The market has everything from delectable dairy products to fresh fruits and vegetables, tempting sweets and artisanal crafts. Upstairs, two new restaurants are set to open. And the roof garden boasts breathtaking views of the sea, the historic church of Ayios Lazaros and the newly renovated Zouchouri Square, my next destination. It’s a testament to the remarkable transformation of an abandoned historical monument into a vibrant square in the heart of the city, just a stone’s throw away from the sea. In addition to long walks, visitors will soon be able to indulge in various street foods and partake in cultural events featuring local artists and musicians.
THE IDEAL CITY FOR STROLLS
Larnaka is arguably the most walkable city in Cyprus, with a maximum elevation of 20 metres and a city centre spanning a radius of approximately 700 metres. Despite being great for cycling, the timing isn’t suitable, so I continue exploring on foot.
I indulge in a coffee break amidst the charming courtyard of the Creative and Cultural Centre, formerly known as the Larnaka Club. This architectural gem, one of the most prominent buildings in Larnaka, has been impeccably restored, boasting a serene courtyard perfect for enjoying coffee and snacks. Despite its location in the bustling city centre, the peaceful atmosphere makes you feel as if you are in a secluded countryside retreat. In addition, you can explore the permanent painting exhibition housed in the upstairs gallery, showcasing breathtaking works by Cypriot and international artists.
I cross Ermou Street and notice how nicely they’ve managed to upgrade the area without altering its character, how harmoniously they’ve combined modern aesthetics of cafés and restaurants with old mansions and buildings that now house shops without one interfering with the other. The centre’s design prioritises seamless movement for pedestrians and vehicles, with no obstruction from either side. However, on weekends, the streets are closed allowing visitors to freely explore the area and shopkeepers to set up tables, transforming the space into a bustling communal courtyard.
According to the locals, Paul’s Coffee Roasters boasts the finest courtyard in Larnaka, and it’s hard to disagree. The enclosed space is a lush oasis filled with greenery, trees, and even animals, as the shop is pet-friendly. As I cross the street, I meet a smartly dressed gentleman playing an old waltz on his accordion. Mesmerised by his performance, I stand still, staring at him in awe. He smiles. I pick up a hot sandwich with all the fixings from Takis’ kafenio before continuing. To my surprise, I notice that every wall is covered in artwork, and every alleyway hides a gallery. I never realised Larnaka had so many until that moment. As I walk, I arrive at Ayios Lazaros Square, where Lazaris Bakery bustles with people enjoying their coffee and food. The church is nearly empty, one of the few times I’ve seen it that way, but its mystique and beauty captivate me every time. It’s like walking through a living museum, a sense of reverence filling the air.
I head down the coast towards Piale Pasha, where they’re upgrading the seafront and improving the facades of houses in the area. Karakatsanis had mentioned that their goal is to make them reminiscent of traditional Cypriot houses. They will be the first things anyone arriving in Cyprus via Larnaka will see once the project is complete. As I cross the Turkish Cypriot quarter, I can’t help but feel like time has stopped in the 50s. The area boasts traditional houses with quaint courtyards, whitewashed walls and fragrant jasmine trees embracing their front doors. Elderly women chat animatedly from windowsills, sharing the latest news and gossip. Just down the street, new restaurants and bars are popping up, making their mark in the city, all located right next to the sea.
The district of Ayios Ioannis offers a comparable ambiance, with its unaltered 60s characteristics featuring quaint cafés and unassuming tavernas serving souvlaki and homemade Seftalies (traditional sausage). Interestingly, a project to pedestrianise the area is ongoing, serving as an antidote to the activity of the city centre.
THE FUTURE OF THE SEAFRONT
Although the districts have a unique charm, it’s the city’s coastal front that shines. Stretching over 17 kilometres, it reaches as far as Pervolia. There are many options, whether you’re looking for a bustling, popular area or a more peaceful, secluded spot within city limits.
Moreover, the revitalisation of the city’s eastern seafront following the removal of oil tanks promises to be fascinating. There will be private developments, but the state is also collaborating with local authorities to construct a three-kilometre pier that will reach 60 metres out to sea. What sets this development apart from others will be the new public beach with all the essential infrastructure and amenities.
Sitting on a bench in the square outside the Municipal Gallery, I transfix my gaze on the vast stretch of sea before me. Lost in thought, I contemplate returning to this beautiful spot and exploring the area by bike in the near future.