Cyprus // North Cyprus //

The Maronites of the Koruçam Peninsula

A Maronite community has existed on the Koruçam Peninsula for at least nine hundred years, though it has now shrunk to a few hundred people. Maronite Christian beliefs originated in Syria and the Lebanon, and arose from an arcane seventh-century dispute about the nature of Christ. The Maronites lost the argument, were declared heretical, and had to take to the hills. They came to Cyprus, it is said, on the coat-tails of the Crusaders: they’d helped their fellow Christians against the Muslims in the Holy Lands (though one theory postulates that they were simply joining a Maronite community which was already on the island). The Maronites congregated on the Karpaz and Koruçam peninsulas – the former disappeared through emigration and intermarriage, the latter are, just about, still there. During the troubles of the 1960s the Maronites sided with the Greeks, and following the Turkish invasion in 1974, were harassed, issued with identity cards, and refused citizenship. Most left for the south, or went abroad. Since the progressive opening up of the Green Line since 2003, however, Maronites who had made their lives in the south can now visit freely. The future of their distinctive language, a fusion of Aramaic and Arabic, is less rosy, and its demise as a living language is predicted within a few decades.

20% off ebooks

Subscribe to the Rough Guides newsletter and get 20% off any ebook.

Join over 50,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month.