Travelling through Guidebooks

Reading and Remembering Imagined Topographies of Nicosia


  • Aslıhan Şenel Istanbul Technical University



Guidebooks, Topography of Amnesia, Spatial Practices, Nicosia, Travelling


This article presents a journey through the divided city of Nicosia on the island of Cyprus by confronting its dominant representations in guidebooks dating back to 1960s with my personal urban experience in the northern part of the city, and placing these readings in the context of the delicate political history of the city. This approach provides an account of the extant, the constructed as well as the subjectively remembered and imagined spaces of the city. The act of reading books includes spatial and temporal activities: following the lines, stopping at certain words, jumping through paragraphs, searching for certain images and turning the pages back and forth. These activities, in the case of guidebooks, may evoke spatial memories of textures, lights, sounds, streets, buildings and people. Travelling through the different representations of sites in the guidebooks, and mapping this activity of reading, enabled me to lay out the ways in which traditional guidebooks cause a kind of topographical amnesia by privileging dominant knowledge in relation to places and decontextualizing other knowledges.

I have used this multiple reading as a critical topographical practice that can question and dismantle the fixed representations in the guidebooks. Such a critical topographical practice is indeed a practice of writing place, referring to the word’s etymological meanings: toposfor ‘place’ and graphe for ‘which writes’ or ‘is written’. This topographical practice critically and subjectively relates knowledge to place and time. It offers the possibility for me – as a traveller and researcher – to temporarily appropriate real spaces and sustain other future spatial possibilities. With the following pieces of writing about sites in Nicosia, I propose possible but partial narratives of places, which are alternative to the officially acclaimed interpretations present in the guidebooks. My alternative narratives of places offer imagining the ground of the controlled buffer zone as unfixable, dead ends as spaces resisting dichotomies of centre-margin, public-private, and local-occupier, and envisioning the horizon as a continuous extension of boundaries.

Author Biography

Aslıhan Şenel, Istanbul Technical University

Aslihan Senel is an associate professor of architecture at Istanbul Technical University. She obtained an MSc in architecture from ITU and a PhD in history and theory of architecture from the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. She currently runs an architectural design studio entitled collectiveimaginations and an elective course called topographical practices, both of which bring together her academic research and her practice on experimental pedagogies. She has contributed to publications such as Performative Urbanism: Generating and Designing Urban Space(Jovis, 2015), The Politics of Making (Routledge, 2007), and disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory(April 2014), with her research on critical mapping, embodied knowledges, performative theories, and urban and architectural representation. Exploring the same topics through making, she has co-organized many international workshops, the last of which is a school of unknowables in the framework of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial.



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