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There is so much to thank Rome for

Tom Roche

Tom Roche

There is so much to thank Rome for

  • 17.07.2017

WHAT have the Romans ever done for us? As Reg and his band of rebels from Monty Python’s Life of Brian were loath to admit: sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, fresh water and public health. They missed out concrete.

Hard to imagine a world without it, but it was the Romans who invented the stuff and used it to build such marvels as the Pantheon, still standing after 2,000 years. Only recently has our knowledge of concrete caught up with them. In fact, scientists in Utah have just discovered that the mix used by Roman builders makes a better waterproof defence for sea walls and piers than modern materials.

I wonder what the Romans who gave us Salamis and so many other great gifts would make of today’s concrete structures? Their architects might well be impressed with the sheer scale of construction. Their aqueducts, amphitheatres and triumphal arches show they weren’t afraid to think big, and they even built the first examples of what we would today describe as blocks of flats. But they didn’t have the benefit of machinery to pump their concrete skywards . . . unlike the developers who have ruined Girne.

The little harbour and its surrounding streets used to be a magnet for us. It’s hard to pinpoint just when the attraction wore off. Was it the flashing lights, the loud music – or even the smell?  We retreated to the “Old Town” as some call the Turkish quarter, for drinks at Sele and dinner at Efendi.

But our Girne was not content to remain a little Mediterranean town. Gradually we heard it described as a “city”, a description which seemed to give the green light to greedy men with bulldozers all too happy to nourish the ambitions of our preening politicians.

The concrete used so imaginatively by our Roman forebears has become a cancer, eating up perfectly viable old buildings and spreading its dark shadows across our streets.

Each new creation seems determined to look more outlandish than the last in a stupid game of constructors’ willy-waving. The latest, I noticed this week, is taking shape next door to the new municipality offices near the Hirondelle roundabout. This one looks like a gigantic doughnut, designed no doubt, to be more “impressive” than the ski-slope affair further down the road.

It’s too late to stop it now. How can any Cypriot on the make be refused planning permission when his friends and neighbours have already got their noses in the trough?

Wherever you look there seems to be a new monstrosity and the disease is spreading outside the town centre too. Before you know it, this ever-hungry beast will devour Karaoğlanoğlu, Alsancak and Karakum, and Girne will be just another anonymous blot on the map. Croydon without the trams or a decent shopping centre.

Apart from the sheer ugliness of it all, this high-rise mania poses some disturbing safety questions. Only last week, we read of a woman who was trapped on her fourth-floor balcony for more than an hour because Girne fire brigade’s ladder could not reach her. Fortunately we’re not talking Grenfell Tower here, but does anyone imagine that the TRNC has the capacity to deal with anything remotely like that shocking tragedy? As for the dangers of cladding, well just look around you. Never mind, I’m sure it has all been tested and declared fireproof by our health and safety experts!

Amid the encircling gloom there is at least one kindly light, so lovely and so encouraging; the living wall of greenery that has almost magically appeared around the extension being built to The Colony hotel.

This Hanging Garden of Girne sends a powerful message to the stack ‘em high and sell ’em cheap merchants – you could do better if only you tried.

The Colony itself, its sister restaurant The House and the events venue, The Garden, are shining examples of what good development can achieve; the hotel a modern take on early 20th century style and The House a stylish transformation of what was an eyesore on the main route into town.

They are the work of entrepreneur Erbil Arkın, a Turkish Cypriot who went to London and became a man of wealth and taste. He has recently taken on the somewhat poisoned chalice of the Louzidou house behind The Garden, another grand old building which was the subject of a controversial compensation case between Turkey and its former Greek Cypriot owners. I wish him every success with his plan to turn it into this country’s first University of Creative Arts and Design.

Erbil is just the sort of chap we need to oversee the future of Girne but when I put it to him that he would make a great mayor, his reaction was: “God forbid.” Unfortunately, like most of our successful business people, he is too smart to become embroiled in the dirty machinery of North Cyprus politics.

And so up, up and away soar the monuments to vanity, but I’ll bet a denarius to a sestertius not one of them will still be standing in 100 years, never mind 2,000.

***

I SORT of felt obliged to write something about The Talks this week and dutifully read everything on offer about events in Switzerland. The truth is, I quickly got fed up with it. Claim and counter-claim, dissembling all round and our local media excelling themselves interviewing each other every night. Let’s wait and see what, if anything, the parties come up with, but please, no, not the United Nations declaration that the negotiations should have no deadline. Forever and ever? Amman!

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