Many miraculous stories have been linked to this holy site, which is dedicated to the Prophet Mohammad’s aunt, (or wet nurse - accounts vary) Hala Sultan. Legend has it that during the Arab raids, in the spring of 647 or 649 AD, Hala Sultan joined the raids in Cyprus with her second husband, Ubada bin al-Samit. It is said that during the raid she fell from her horse, broke her neck and died. The same evening “a divine power placed three giant stones at the place where she lay; one at her foot, one at her head and one over the other two.” It is believed that when a plague struck in 1760, Sheikh Hasan found the grave and being a Nakşibendi dervish began spreading the news about Hala Sultan; soon people from all over the island started visiting the site where Hala Sultan lay and the Sheikh granted permission to have a tomb built over her grave.
As archaeologist Mr. Tuncer Bagiskan explains, historically Hala Sultan Tekke was always visited by pilgrims on the third and fourth days of Ramadan and the Sacrifices Festival. “Peddlers gathered in the square in front of the Tekke and turned the place into a fair, where visitors used the garden for picnicking.”
The monument survived against the odds. The aggressive coastal environment coupled with the ravages of time, insect infestation and water penetration caused extensive damage over time to the mosque, minaret and its surrounding courtyard and grounds. Serene and majestic in its oasis-like setting, Hala Sultan Tekke has long been a characteristic landmark on the Larnaca skyline.
The restoration work at Hala Sultan Tekke started in 2001 with the support of the Bi-communal Development Programme - UNDP-ACT’s predecessor. The main objective was the necessary structural reinforcement that would serve to protect and preserve the integrity of the monument.
The final phase of the restoration work began in April 2005 and according to UNDP’s Andrew Russell, “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. The project is also part of the UN’s continuing efforts to foster a meaningful dialogue in Cyprus and elsewhere, as a way to bring about better understanding between cultures worldwide”. He further commented that, "There are two ways of looking at the history of this monument. Either as a symbol of the past and all that this implies for Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, or as a solid beacon for the future, in which both communities can sit and discuss their common issues in an environment of cooperation and trust."
This project is just one of many initiatives in which both the BDP and UNDP-ACT have been engaged, in an ongoing effort to enhance among Cypriots a sense of their common culture and history. The aim was not just to restore and preserve a building and allow pilgrims to attend the site and fulfil their religious duties, but also to unite people in respecting and preserving their island’s multicultural history together.
Indeed only weeks after the restoration of the mosque was completed dozens of Turkish Cypriots crossed from the northern part of the island to celebrate the Kurbam Bayram at Hala Sultan Tekke. For some it was an emotional experience as they remembered their childhood Bayrams visiting this sacred site and returning now, they wished for the reunification of their homeland.
A virtual tour is permanently situated at the site where visitors can view the history of the mosque and the various stages of the restoration process. To access the tour electronically please visit http://www.undp-act.org/Main/Tekkefinal191204.htm
The Bi-communal Development Programme was supported by USAID and UNDP and executed by UNOPS.