Denia community council in collaboration with the UN peacekeeping forces are launching excavations in the buffer zone village to reveal treasures of religious and archaeological value, community leader Christakis Panayiotou said.
Speaking to The Cyprus Daily, Panayiotou said that a group of volunteers led by the community council in close collaboration with the Antiquities Department will begin excavations after May 10, to showcase the area of Saint Perniakos including the mineral spring.
"Before the invasion of 1974 people would visit the spring from all over Cyprus as medicine was not developed at the time and the water was thought to have healing properties, so people would bring their children from far away to bathe them in the waters," Panayiotou told the paper.
According to the leader of the community, the village had been off limits for 40 years but permission was given by the United Nations forces that control the buffer zone to begin excavations, after experts archaeologists pointed out the significance of the site.
Excavations will start some time after May 10 and the council is anticipating instructions from the Antiquities Department which will carry out the excavations led by archaeologist Stelios Perdikis.
According to Perdikis, there are numerous ancient Roman graves in the village, including one of a Christian eremite.
Based on the site plan drawn up by the British during their rule on the island, there is a natural spring not far from the grave, as well as the ruins of a temple.
The ruins are in fact an ancient tomb, half of which is carved into the natural stone and on top there is part of a structure that is thought to date back to the fourth -fifth century, based on some items found on site such as tiles with crosses on them, Perdikis told Phileleftheros newspaper.
He also said that excavations are expected to give answers to numerous questions and particularly those relating to the name of St Perniakos which seems to be an alteration of another saint's name, due to the presence of a plant called 'pernia' in the area.
Tradition says that sick children who were taken to the spring for healing were anointed in a powder made from leaves of the specific plant.
Archimandrite Photios from Morphou Bishopric explained that the name Perniakos does not exist in the Christian faith and that it was common practice during the Byzantine era for tombs to be turned into hermitages, which is most likely the case with the specific area.
He also suggested that the saint's original name was most likely Irinikos but was adapted due to the plant 'pernia' which grows in the area.
Byzantologist Christodoulos Christodoulou said that before 1974 there was an icon depicting the unknown saint which was later stolen and a replica created in the 1980s has been placed at the site.
Meanwhile, other works are also being carried out to restore the village's significant sites, such as a fenced off area enclosing approximately 250 tombs in caves.
"People are not aware that Denia used to be one of the biggest necropolis in the Middle East and has thousands of burial sites. With the permission of the Antiquities Department we have fenced off about 250 graves in caves which are being cleaned and will gradually be turned into an archaeological park," Panayiotou said.
Other monuments and nature trails are also being restored and maintained, he added.
"The village's Turkish Mosque has also been restored as Denia used to be a mixed village, so when Turkish Cypriots visit they are always amazed by how well it has been preserved," Panayiotou said.
Commenting on the works that are underway in the area, the community leader pointed out that the hope of returning to their place of birth is still alive for Denia residents.
"Things today in relation to the Cyprus problem are much better than they were 15 years ago and therefore we still have hope. I was 16 years old when the war happened and I will have hope as long as I live," he stressed.