Restoration of historic mosque on Cyprus

Restoration work has been completed on a 200-year-old Muslim shrine in Cyprus' coastal city of Larnaca, U.N. officials said Friday. The Hala Sultan Tekke mosque is believed to cover the grave of Umm Haram, a female relative of the prophet Muhammad. Built under Ottoman rule, it is a principal place of worship for Turkish Cypriots.

The shrine was restored by the United Nations Development Program, or UNDP, in a four-year program that cost US$3 million (about Ђ2.6 million). "The project is part of the U.N.'s continuing efforts to foster a meaningful dialogue in Cyprus and elsewhere, as a way to bring about better understanding between cultures worldwide," UNDP program manager Andrew Russel said.

"This restoration demonstrates what motivates UNDP's work in Cyprus, to help Cypriots from all communities find vehicles for cooperation that can build mutual trust." Cyprus has been divided into Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot sectors since a Turkish invasion in 1974, precipitated by a failed coup backed by supporters of union with Greece.

Until 2003, Turkish Cypriots were unable to visit the shrine freely. Movement restrictions were partially lifted that year, with five access points currently operating between the two communities. Hala Sultan Tekke is located on the west bank of a salt lake. The coastal environment, coupled with the ravages of time and water penetration caused extensive damage to the yellow stone complex.

Umm Haram, the Arabic form of Hala Sultan, is thought to have died during the siege of Larnaca in the 7th century. A shrine was built on the spot that is believed to be her grave in 1760, and a mosque and minaret in the classical Ottoman architectural style were added in the early 19th century, reports the AP. N.U.

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