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The history of Eleftheria Square from 1882 to 2018 (pictures)

December 24, 2018 at 11:40am

Six years after construction started, Eleftheria Square will open for the public in the next days.

The unofficial history of the Square starts in 1567, when the Venetians, who then ruled Cyprus built the capital’s famous walls.

Fast forward to 1882, four years after sovereignty over Cyprus changed hands from the Ottomans to the British and the island became a crown colony.

In 1882, British colonial authorities decided to build a wooden bridge at the end of Ledras street to connect the walled city with the government offices. The bridge and the area around it became known as Limassol or Hadjisavva opening and was later renamed to Metaxa Square.

Since then, the Square has experienced colonisation, demonstrations against the 1974 coup d’etat and the Turkish occupation of Cyprus, concerts, mass gatherings, cultural and sporting events as well as celebrations for Cyprus’ ascension to the European Union.

The Square was renamed Eleftheria (Freedom) Square after 1974.

First bicycles in the Square

The British imported the first bicycles to Cyprus in 1890. Initially, bicycles were considered a ‘luxury’ item as most locals could not afford them. However, some years later the bike became the main means of transport for Cypriots and dozens of them rode through the Square.

In 1945, Nafia Michaelidi led a group of women who became the first Cypriot women to ride a bike in public and gradually destroyed existing gender stereotypes.

The moment was captured by photographer J. Arthur Dixon and became a postcard. Today the postcard can be found at Leventis Museum.

In 1950, Nicosians who started filling the Square again after WWII, experienced a very rare phenomenon as Metaxas Square turned white from snow.

Snow in Metaxas Square. Photo by Felix Yiaxis.

EOKA period (1955-1960)

Daily life in Cyprus was severely affected between 1955-1960 when the British imposed strict security measures as a response to EOKA’s struggle.

Empty roads, closed shops due to British curfews in Metaxas Square in 1955.

Metaxas Square June 1956: A donkey wearing a sign saying “I surrender.” A message to Colonial Governor of Cyprus John Harding who was calling EOKA members to give themselves in to authorities.

Eleftheria Square Expansion Project

In 2005 an architectural competition was announced to redesign the Square. This was won by a group led by Zaha Hadid.  In 2009 the initial excavation works revealed archaeological findings that have forced alterations to the original design.

Zaha Hadid’s designs for the Square before construction started.

Works in Eleftheria Square eventually started in 2012. The initial completion date of the works was February 6, 2013.

However, the redevelopment project, which was originally budgeted at €23 million, has been beset by several delays due to several technical and contractual problems.

In February 2014, the first contractor, Miltiades Neophytou resigned. The state paid him €522,000 in compensation and Lois Builders took over the project.

The square was set to be delivered by April 6, 2016.

However, new delays set the project back again. In March 2016, the Republic’s Treasury agreed with the parties involved for the Square to be delivered on January 3, 2018.

A new deadline was set for July 24, 2018.

On December 21 2018, the upper part of the Square opened for the public.

The square will open completely in January after construction in the trench is finalised.

Metaxas Square 1957. Photo by Felix Yiaxis.

Eleftheria Square in the late 80s-early 90s. The rapid post-1974 economic growth reflected in the capital’s landscape.

(Photos from Phileleftheros’ archive)

Read more:

Eleftheria Square bridge to open today (pictures)