Rowdy tourists alarm once sleepy fishing village
AYIA NAPA, CYPRUS
It is midnight Saturday, and the neon-lit central square is heaving with rowdy young people. Nightspots pump out a cacophony of rock, pop, house and garage music. Fast-food outlets brim with customers. The balmy night air is a soup of perfume and after-sun lotion.Skip to next paragraph
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Welcome to Ayia Napa, the gaudy but good-natured party town on Cyprus's southeast coast that has become the dance capital of Europe, overtaking the more established Spanish island resort of Ibiza, with which it is often compared.
It is an uneasy transformation, for while holiday revelers feed Ayia Napa's economy, their conduct sometimes offends residents of this conservative former fishing village. Ayia Napa - like Taormina, Italy; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Santorini, Greece and other once sleepy locales discovered by tourists - has become a place where foreign and local values sometimes clash.
"Things are out of control in some ways," says the Rev. Panayiotis Papageorgiou, the town's soft-spoken, energetic priest.
Just three decades ago Ayia Napa was a sleepy place, home to just 100 souls. These days only a few hundred Cypriots, most of them involved in the tourist industry, live in town, and they are vastly outnumbered by the tourist hordes.
Many of the original inhabitants live in plush villas outside town, having sold their land to developers in the building boom that followed the 1974 Turkish invasion, when overnight little Ayia Napa ascended as the replacement for the resort of nearby Famagusta, which ended up behind Turkish lines.
At Ayia Napa's heart stands a picturesque 16th-century Greek Orthodox monastery with a pretty, cloistered courtyard. It was once a retreat for those seeking a contemplative, celibate existence away from worldly temptations. Now it is surrounded by pubs, clubs and self-catering hotel apartments packed with party animals, most of them from Britain, the island's former colonial master.
On a late Friday evening, Fr. Papageorgiou, whose church is next to the monastery, says midnight mass, which is broadcast outside by speakers. The solemn chanting clashes with the cacophony from the nearby nightspots.
It is not just the easy morals of a seductive pop culture that may threaten his flock, says Papageorgiou. Long hours spent working in the tourist industry have broken up marriages and limited the amount of time parents can spend with their children. The priest's concerns are shared by many Ayia Napans as they struggle to strike a balance between making a good living and conserving traditional family values.
Tourism is the engine of the booming Greek Cypriot economy, and a record 2.7 million vacationers are expected this year, a figure more than three times greater than the Greek Cypriot population.
A series of lurid stories in the local press about the vulgar behavior of young tourists provoked an uproar this month.
"Are young people incapable of enjoying themselves without the sort of excesses that lead to court cases and gross public indecency?" the English-language Cyprus Mail wondered, while another newspaper asked: "Ayia Napa - out of this world or out of control?"
Papageorgiou, an open-minded man who spent 16 years in the US studying chemical engineering before earning a PhD in theology, does not despair but relishes his assignment. "I thank God for giving it to me. It is an important mission. The Church is an ark of salvation in this storm. It will be here well after the people get tired after all that outside."