Can an Ambitious New Park Unite a Divided Cyprus?

Eleftheria Square, a newly completed public park by Zaha Hadid Architects, is designed to reunite the segregated Greek and Turkish districts of Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus.

Eleftheria Square. Photography by Laurian Ghinitoiu

Nicosia has been divided between Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish communities for nearly 50 years, since the fighting of the Cyprus crisis in 1963-4. Despite the massive Venetian fortifications along the island nation’s 100-mile-long Green Line that bisects the capital with a dry moat, a newly completed park called Eleftheria Square may become the first of many public spaces seeking to be a unifying force. Zaha Hadid Architects landed the $45 million commission nearly two decades ago, but managerial and financial woes hamstrung progress and delayed the inauguration until late 2021. 

Eleftheria Square seeks to unite the two communities by reframing the nearby dividing lines and sparking new dialogue about the realities of coexisting under segregation. “The idea here was to look at the separation that existed between the two communities, a sort of forced separation, and to think about how the form of the urban fabric has become a reflection of the political situation,” Christos Passas, a Cypriot designer at Zaha Hadid Architects who spearheaded the project, tells Fast Company. “In our playful, idealistic moments, we thought maybe the moat, which was a space where people would fight and maybe die, can become a space of peace.”

An elevated curving pedestrian bridge, which opened in 2018, physically links the two districts; below sits five acres of granite-paved pedestrian plazas shaped in dramatic sinuous forms—a Hadid signature—and interspersed with tree-lined promenades and water features. Though idyllic on paper, many Nicosians harshly criticized the project for not respecting the city’s history and appearing out of place. One local even told the Cyprus Mail that Hadid’s design “is the sort of thing you’d see in Dubai. It looks more like a simulation.” While Eleftheria Square may not be a perfect solution, it’s a promising starting point to patch up some of Nicosia’s deeply rooted divisions—and presents a vision for future interventions along the Green Line.

Eleftheria Square. Photography by Kyriacos Arkatites
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