Sunday, 25 February 2018

Quick and Dirty: Limassol, Cyprus

This week's post is inspired by a recent Guardian article, Limassolgrad, about the influx of Russian money into Cyprus.


Image taken from Wikipedia, Plamen Matanski

This coastal port is the second largest urban center in Cyprus, with just shy of a quarter million people in the greater metropolitan area. It has an archaeological history that goes back at least as far as the 8th Century BC, which means human habitation has existed on that site since the Homeric Age. Its earliest history is lost to time; the information we have suggests that the first few times people tried to establish a city there, the experiment failed.

However Limassol survived, and became an important see in early Christian history. King Richard Lionheart of England captured Cyprus from its Byzantine overlords during the Third Crusade, and eventually gave the island to the Templars in exchange for 100,000 bezants, but the Templars provoked revolt by enforcing high taxes to recoup the cash they paid for Cyprus. This eventually led to Cyprus being bought by a French knight, Guy of Lusignan, inaugurating the Kingdom of Cyprus.

Cyprus remained a thing to be bought and sold, however, and in 1489 its ruler, Queen Catharine, let Venice purchase it, as she had no heir. To the Venetians, Cyprus was just another asset, but their rule was relatively peaceful, right up to 1570 when the Ottomans conquered it, and took Limassol without a fight.

Thus began an uneasy relationship between the Turks and Greeks that persists to this day. Even now, parts of Famagusta in Cyprus are a ghost town, fenced off  since the Turks invaded in 1974. For a very long time, the entire city was off-limits; it's only since 2003 that the former Greek Cypriot population was allowed to return, to a reduced portion of Famagusta. 

The British took Cyprus from the Turks in 1878, and Limassol began a regeneration. The city's infrastructure improved enormously, and it became something of a tourist resort, albeit a modest one. However by the 20th Century, change was in the air; Marxist and pro-independence groups called for a free Cyprus. This alarmed the Turkish Cypriots, who saw this as an attempt by Greeks to force them out. Greek Marxist terrorists clashed both with the British government and the Turkish opposition movement, and meanwhile Turkey tried to bolster its claim to the island by relocating more and more Turks to Cyprus, so the Turkish Cypriot minority would become the majority.

This led to the crisis of 1955-9, and eventually Cyprus became an independent republic in 1960. The Republic immediately suffered internal division; the Greeks were highly annoyed at the amount of influence given to Turkish Cypriots, who were still a minority population despite the move from Turkey to relocate more Turks and alter the population balance. This eventually culminated in the Turkish invasion of 1974, and division: Northern Cyprus became Turkish, and separated from the rest of the island by a buffer zone protected by barbed wire and troops. Despite continuous negotiation, this armed stalemate persists today. 

Cyprus became a member of the EU in 2004, and in 2014 produced a Joint Declaration with a view to bringing the ongoing internal conflict to an end. So far, negotiations are ongoing.

Its current crisis is economic, not political. Cyprus suffered significantly as a result of the US subprime mortgage collapse in 2008, which led to a recession in Cyprus in 2009 followed by a home-grown debt crisis in 2012-13. Cyprus was bailed out by Russia, which advanced billions in loans in 2012. At the time this was seen as an attempt by Russia to bolster its hold on Cyprus, which already relied on Russian money and deposits for a substantial amount of its economy. Among other things, it led to a 'citizenship for cash' initiative, in which foreign investors who had lost more than a certain amount of money in the Cyprus cash crisis would be fast-tracked for Cyprus citizenship - and thus, an EU passport. This was announced by Cyprus President Anastasiades to a group of Russian investors in 2013, at a conference held at Limassol. Nowadays it's a straight cash-for-passport deal: invest two million in Euro in property, and you too can have an EU passport. This led to a steady influx of Russian cash, and Limassol's skyline blossoms with new luxury apartment buildings, while its coastline sprouts marinas packed with luxury yachts.


Urban population over 180,000, and the greater metropolitan area boasts just shy of a quarter million, which puts Limassol on par with North Las Vegas, Nevada.

The majority population is Greek Cypriot, with a healthy mix of Turkish and Armenian Cypriot.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a substantial minority population of Pontic Greeks, from the shores of the Black Sea, settled in Limassol, but this population is overshadowed by the larger influx of Russians since the 2008 economic collapse and Russian regeneration. Some 17% of the population of Limassol is Russian-speaking, and at least 8% are Russian born. Cyrillic signage, adverts and similar are commonplace.

Greek is the official language, with English a very distant second at 4% of the population. 

The vast majority are Greek Orthodox, with Roman Catholicism a very distant second at 2.9% of the population.

Literacy is at 99%.


The crime rate is low, in comparison to similar EU cities. Armed violence, or criminal acts against the public, are remarkably absent. Similarly drug trafficking and transnational smuggling is a minor concern; there's some hashish and cocaine traffic, but Limassol isn't considered a major smuggling hub.

However like many cities in Greece there is a significant organized crime network in Limassol. Cigarette smuggling is the traditional source of income for these Godfathers of the Night, but they involve themselves in every financial sector. This is one of the reasons why Russia's organized crime networks haven't penetrated Limassol quite as thoroughly as might have been expected, given the circumstances; the locals have the situation all sewn up. This includes officialdom; it's widely believed that public officials and police are in the pockets of the Godfathers. These organizations are family-like cells, with the father supporting several sons, but it does not follow that there are blood ties between father and son, or that they are all Greek Cypriot. These organizations are known to accept other ethnic groups into the family.

By far the most significant crime in Cyprus generally, and Limassol in particular, is financial. Cyprus' lax financial regulations make it a money laundering magnet; even back in the 1990s, according to Misha Glenny, approximately $1 billion in Russian capital was being processed by Cyprus each month. 

Tensions between ethnic Turks and Greeks remain high, but Limassol is on the southern coast of Cyprus, about as far as possible as it is to be from the Turk/Greek buffer zone and still be in Cyprus. 


Limassol's Kolossi Castle is one of the ten castles of Cyprus. Built by the Byzantines originally, around 1000 AD, it's supposedly where Richard Lionheart married his Queen, Berengeria of Navarre, during the Third Crusade. The current version of Kolossi was built by the Hospitallers in 1454, and consists of a large, square keep with rectangular bailey. It houses a medieval museum, with artefacts that date back to 400 AD in some instances.

Image sourced from Wikipedia, Gérard Janot

Limassol's building boom is a huge part of its current economy. Cranes and half-built luxury apartment buildings are an almost permanent part of the skyline, and new luxury megayachts are docking at one of the New Port's marinas every day. The best have beachfront views, naturally, but the mix of architectural styles and accommodation mean that Limassol's architecture is idiosyncratic, particularly when compared to Cyprus generally. 

Image taken from Limassol Royal real estate agency.

Limassol is famous for its carnivals, particularly the ten-day festival that takes place just before Lent each year. Supposedly an outgrowth of a pagan tradition, the carnival has some similarities with Venice's - not surprising given Cyprus' Venetian ties - but by comparison Venice is much more formal, where Limassol is relaxed, carefree, and more than a little inebriated. There are masquerade balls, cheese feasts, a satirical King or Queen of the Carnival, and parades galore. 

Carnival 2014, image taken from Wikipedia, Sergei Galyonkin

Three Hooks

The Conspiracy mooks your team just dropped all have Cyprus passports and ROC tattoos, and one of them has brochures from a Limassol real estate agency in his pocket. This ties in with rumors you've been hearing through your Network contacts, about a major Conspiracy asset - possibly even a vampire - that relocated her assets, and perhaps her sanctum, from Russia to a European base of operations. Is she there herself, or does this mean there's a Conspiracy node operating in Limassol? 

The people smugglers you've been tracking have a significant operation in Cyprus - mainly supplying unskilled labor and sex workers. However a look at their recent pattern of operations (Traffic Analysis, possibly Human Terrain) indicates that the flow of sex workers in particular has increased significantly, and that can be attributed to a small string of Limassol nightclubs controlled by an organized crime group, increasing demand. But what is it about those nightclubs that forces them to bring in so many sex workers? What's happening to all those women?

A former member of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization is shopping data on targets in Germany, Switzerland and Greece. This spy got badly burnt in a recent operation, and wants guarantees of safety in exchange for the information she possesses. However before negotiations conclude she's snatched off the street, and indications are that one of Cyprus' Godfathers of the Night paid for her abduction. Where's her data, and why are OC elements based in Limassol so interested in what she had to offer?

Thrilling Elements

  •  Groups of laughing, drunken young revelers meander from nightclub to nightclub along the waterfront. After 2am, if you're over 24, you'll feel as old as Methuselah.
  • After another Limassol football victory, sports fans throng the streets, cheering and boasting.
  • Expensive sports cars and the ultra-rich flock to the marinas at Limassol's New Port; celebrities and those who love to stalk them are often seen. 
  • A cruise ship docks, disgorging hundreds of tourists that scatter over the city, seeking diversion.
  • Tourists wind through the streets of old-fashioned wine making Omodos village, only a short distance to the north of Limassol proper. 
  • A group of disparate foreigners - surely not fun-seekers - cluster together at a café, eyeing strangers suspiciously. They're all young men of fighting age - might they be on their way to some Middle Eastern war zone?


  1. Cyprus indeed has such a challenging history. Thanks for making us familiar with all its struggles. I've never heard about all those carnivals in Limassol, but now I also want to visit that ten-day festival that takes place just before Lent each year. Apartments are probably much more expensive during that season? My budget is quite limited and I'm not sure weather the carnival season is the best possible option for me. I've read here that the cheapest time to go to Cyprus is winter. Have you ever been there in winter?