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Hala Sultan Tekke and the Larnaka Salt Lake Complex

Date of Submission: 08/02/2016
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Ministry of Transport, Communications and Works
State, Province or Region:
Coordinates: N34° 53' 39,851" E33° 36' 41,941"
Ref.: 6084

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The site, located in the Larnaka District, comprises a Salt Lake Complex, and the so-called Hala Sultan Tekke, which is a mosque of great importance for the Muslim world. The site also includes a prehistoric settlement, suggesting the diachronic habitation of the region and the assimilation of different cultural traits over time.

In particular, the coastal Salt Lake Complex, covering an area of about 1761 ha, consists of four main lakes, the main Salt Lake (Alyki), Orphani, Soros and the small Airport Lake, which was part of the Orphani Lake. The wetland includes extensive halophytic communities on the shores of the lakes and in the areas between the lakes and the sea. More specifically, the lakes of the Larnaka Salt Lake complex are inter-related lakes and they vary among them from an ecological point of view. It is also one of the two main wetlands in Cyprus of international ecological significance. The hydrological balance of the lakes plays an important role in the ecological equilibrium of the wetland (including flora and fauna) and is maintained with rainfall, surface runoff, underground flow from aquifers and possibly seawater intrusion. Most significantly, they comprise an important overwintering and stopover area for birds and other species (see below). Due to its ecological significance, the whole area is included in the Natura 2000 Network, both as a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area. Moreover, the main Salt Lake (Alyki) is since 2001 a Ramsar site as it is considered to be a wetland of international importance.

Apart from their natural significance, the lakes played an important economic role in the past, as they were exploited for their salt from the Roman to the modern period (20th century). The site however is not only important from an ecological and environmental point of view, but also for its association with Muslim tradition, evidenced in the Hala Sultan Tekke, a monument associated with the first invasion of the island by the Arabs in 647 AD, thus reflecting the inter-cultural interactions that took place during that period between Cyprus and the East. The monument of Hala Sultan Tekke is undoubtedly a representative example of Ottoman architecture and preserves fine examples of calligraphy from various periods. Evidently, it is within this coastal landscape that one should envisage the significant tradition of Umm Haram and the development of this place of worship on the west bank of the main Salt Lake.

According to this account, Umm Haram, daughter of Milham and a follower or relative of Prophet Mohamet, accompanied the expedition or raid that was commanded by an Arab Sheik named ‘Mabias’ (probably the famous Sultan Moawiyeh of Damascus). Umm Haram died from a riding accident and is believed to have been buried at the site of Hala Sultan Tekke in 649 AD. The tomb is set in a prehistoric monument-tomb, temple or treasury that is thought to be related to two other monolithic structures in Cyprus. Umm Haram’s grave was identified by the Ottomans, after they invaded Cyprus in 1571. In 1760 Mehmet Aga, the governor of Cyprus, enclosed the tomb with a wooden barrier. A year later the wooden barrier was replaced by a wall with two bronze gates.

The monument itself, which also served as a residence for the Dervishes, was erected between the 18th and 19th centuries. It consists of a mosque, a mausoleum, a cemetery and living quarters for men and women. There are several building phases, the first involving the erection of the mausoleum over Umm Haram’s grave in 1760 and a water cistern. The mosque itself, in the classical Ottoman style, belongs to the second building phase and was founded by the governor of Cyprus, Es-Seyyid Mehmet Emin Efendi, an was completed in 1817. The convent was founded in the third phase, in 1813, and the drinking fountain in 1830. The portico in front of the mosque’s north façade is a later addition. The main entrance of the site leads to an open court surrounded by the Tekke which is divided between the south and north tract, reserved for women and men respectively. The square mausoleum is covered by a dome, with five smaller domes on the east side; in the middle stands the cenotaph of Umm Haram. East of the mausoleum there is a cemetery.

Archaeological investigation revealed the diachronic occupation of the west bank of the Salt Lake, from the Late Bronze Age to the Hellenistic times. In particular, a Late Bronze Age cemetery was excavated by the Swedish Archaeological mission, which belonged to the inhabitants of an important urban centre, situated a few hundred metres to the West of the Tekke, while excavations conducted by the Department of Antiquities below the women’s and the men’s guest houses revealed archaeological remains dating to the Classical and mainly the Hellenistic period. A surface survey indicated that the settlement extended several metres around the area of the mosque, also including evidence from the Geometric period.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

This splendid site represents an Outstanding Universal Value as it combines in a unique manner ecological, environmental, religious, historic, archaeological and cultural values. Despite the complexity of its character due to the combination of these different elements, the monument and archaeological remains were developed on the west bank of the Salt Lake in a harmonious manner, thus adding to the exotic character and tranquillity of a landscape tightly affiliated with the Muslim religion. On these grounds, it becomes possible to bestow an Outstanding Universal Value to the entire site, including the Salt Lakes, the Monument and the archaeological remains as a whole, but also to each component distinctively.

The Outstanding Universal Value of the Larnaka Salt Lakes mainly extends from their role as an important overwintering and stopover area for waterbirds, especially in spring. In particular, many birds overwinter here, such as the Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), various duck species, as well as seagulls. It is also an important spring stopover site for many other species of waterfowl and a breeding area for others (eg. Kentish plover). In addition, the area supports several species protected under national legislation and under the Bern Convention and CITES. Some of theses species are Crypsis factorovskii, Filago mareotica, Limonium mucronulatum, Suaeda aegyptiaca. The endangered species of Ophrys kotschyi and Cachrys scabra are also present in the area, contributing towards the Outstanding Value of the Salt Lakes. In addition, the area supports habitats listed in the annexes of the EU Directive 92/43/EEC, such as halophilus scrubs (1420), which comprise the main vegetation in the wetland. It also includes communities, such as these of Arthrocnemum macrostachyum, Halocnemum strobilaceum, and Sarcocornia fruticosa, as well as salt meadows communities (1410), including Juncus sp., halophilus and halo-nitrophilus pioneer therophytic communities (1310), such as Salicornia europaea, Halopeplis amplexicaulis, and Mesembryanthemum nodiflorum, phrygana formations (5420), small reed beds (CY02), grassland mainly composed of therophytes (6220)  and many more. The biodiversity of this landscape and its worldwide significance, as it is home to many endangered species and migratory birds, manifest the Outstanding Universal Value of this natural habitat and its contribution in the survival and protection of wildlife and the environment as a whole.

This Outstanding Universal Value of the natural landscape co-exists with the Outstanding Universal Value of the monument, envisaged in its symbolic and religious connotations. At the same time, it is very important for the intangible evidence of cultural and religious heritage it is associated with, as the traditional account of the story of Umm Haram provides testimony to the Arab expeditions, which have marked Mediterranean history. The limited number of such monuments in Europe adds further value to the Hala Sultan Tekke, as it represents the Arab expansion from the East to the West, the survival of traditions, the dissemination of religious beliefs and symbolisms reflected in material culture, and their development within a wide time span, as revealed by the erection of religious buildings. Another vital aspect reflected in the site, is the role played specifically by the island of Cyprus as a bridge in the transmission of cultural traits from the East to the West, also in this period. It is worth underlining this role of the island from a very early stage in human history, as evidenced in the World Heritage Site of Choirokoitia, dating to the Neolithic period. The importance of this monument in Muslim religious practices is also evidenced to this date, as it is the most significant religious centre for the Muslim community of the island.

Hatice Adile Huseyin Ali, queen of Jordan, is buried by the easterly row of arches. The queen escaped to Cyprus in 1925 and in 1929 and was buried near the grave of Hala Sultan because her husband, the King of Jordan, was a descendant of the Prophet. 

Criterion (iii): The site with the monument represents a unique testimony and strong relationship and spiritual commitment to the Muslim religion, especially as the monument is still in use for its original purpose. As it is important to the Muslim community of the island, it comprises an example of a living cultural and religious tradition.

Criterion (iv): The monument within its natural settings is an outstanding example of a point in human history associated with the Arab raids and the transmission of religious beliefs from the East to the West, attested by the intangible evidence provided by the oral tradition of Umm Haram, who was a relative of Prophet Mohamet and the development of the mosque, according to Ottoman architectural and artistic elements.

Criterion (vi): The site is still associated with the Muslim tradition and beliefs it represents. It is used for its original purposes by the Muslim community of the island, while the oral account associated with the site is still important for the Muslim religion and part of the living tradition of the community. Moreover, the site symbolises the peaceful co-existence of the Muslim and Christian religions on the island.

Criterion (ix): The Larnaka Salt Lake Complex is one of the most important wetlands in Cyprus with significant on-going ecological and biological processes evidenced as follows: the alga that forms the basis of the food chain in the lake is Dunaliella salina, which is a very salt-tolerant species, on which feeds the Brine shrimp, Artemia salina that can withstand very large salinity fluctuations. Both Artemia and Branchinella spinosa, the latter being another shrimp species, start laying cysts at the end of the season, when the salinity rises usually in the early summer and reaches a certain threshold. They will hatch when the conditions are right, which is after the lake is full of water again. These shrimps are the main food of the Flamingo and of other birds in these lakes. The salinity fluctuations of the water are very important for the reproductive cycle of the shrimps. Moreover, the Larnaka Salt Lakes are mainly known for their waterfowl. The area has a large diversity of plants, some of which are endangered, but which nevertheless show on-going natural processes.

Criterion (x): Larnaka Salt Lakes have eight different types of natural habitats, the biodiversity of which is preserved in-situ. These are  listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), while two of which are of significant importance – 1150* Coastal lagoons and 6220* Pseudo-steppe with grasses and annuals of the Thero-Brachypodietea. Moreover, the endemic orchid Ophrys kotschyi, is also listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive. The area supports several species that are listed in the Cyprus Red Data Book of Flora such as Crypsis factorovskii, Filago mareotica, Limonium mucronulatum, Suaeda aegyptiaca.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The site satisfies the conditions of integrity, as the cultural, religious and environmental heritage values it represents are intact and fully convey its significance. As with the Outstanding Universal Value, the integrity is expressed as a whole, i.e. the ensemble of the Salt Lake Complex and the Hala Sultan Tekke, and also as distinct components. The Salt Lake Complex, and the natural landscape in general, is characterised by integrity, also due to its ecological significance. The importance of its integrity is manifested in the inclusion of the Complex in the Natura 2000 Network under the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive, and the fact that the main Salt Lake (Alyki) is a Ramsar site as it is a wetland of international importance. These inscriptions provide that the Salt Lake Complex is a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area, thus highlighting further its integrity. Moreover, ongoing actions for protection and management are undertaken by the competent authorities, in order to preserve the site at a favourable status and mitigate any possible threats.

Concerning the monument of Hala Sultan Tekke, integrity is attested in the preservation of the various phases it underwent since its erection, and most importantly of the tomb of Umm Haram, which is the centre of the place of worship. As outlined in the description above, the various additions and alterations comprise the religious monument in its contemporary form, safeguarded through conservation works and legislation. In particular, as per the Antiquities Law, Capital 31, of the Republic of Cyprus, the monument is declared as an Ancient Monument of Schedule B, which protects it from any interventions that may affect its integrity or put its universal values in danger. For any alterations or works involving the monument, the permit of the Director of the Department of Antiquities is needed.

Conservation works, aiming at preserving the monument, are being conducted by the Department of Antiquities on a systematic basis since 1967, involving the masonry, the wooden or other artistic elements. Between 2001 and 2005, the mosque, minaret, mausoleum and ancillary buildings were consolidated and restored by the Department of Antiquities through funding from USAID and the United Nations Bicommunal Development Programme (UNDP UNOPS). These conservation works, building on the need to secure the unique universal values of the monument, aimed at addressing the deterioration processes and ensuring the preservation of the structure of the monument.

Further to the investment in its conservation and preservation of its integrity, its cultural and spiritual relationship with the Muslim community is also diachronically maintained, as the mosque is still in use for its original purposes. This relationship, and the perseverance of the cultural and religious values, are further protected due to the association of the monument with the important natural landscape; in other words, the safeguarding of the Salt Lake Complex through national and international legislation, provides the broader framework for the protection of the monument itself within the wider site.


The mosque of Hala Sultan Tekke maintains a high level of authenticity in its present state. The consolidation and conservation works undertaken from 1967 to the present day aimed at securing the intactness of its form, design, materials and artistry. These works are well documented and permit the understanding of all values attributed to the monument. The way the monument is preserved, in association with the survival of the oral tradition of Umm Haram, reflects its form as it developed in the Ottoman period, and expresses its unique values and religious symbolisms.

All attributes relating to authenticity are expressed, as it is particularly evidenced by the fact that it is still used for its original purposes. The attributes of use, function, spirit and feeling, are therefore constant, and most importantly, still operating within the same context, i.e. in its exotic natural settings, created by the idyllic scenery of the Salt Lake Complex. Concerning the latter, as noted above, its authenticity in terms of its ecological significance and biodiversity is recognised and preserved through its inscription in the Natural 2000 Network and the Ramsar Convention.

Comparison with other similar properties

The cultural importance of religious monuments in association with their natural context, within which they developed and flourished, has longed been acknowledged, as such mixed properties enable a better understanding of their impact in the transmission of ideology to society. Their symbolism can also be better elucidated in conjunction with their surroundings, while it is difficult to envisage the preservation of such religious centres without their natural context, as they still contribute towards transmitting the mysticism and all related symbolisms. This aspect becomes more significant when considering that natural landscapes are equally important in their own right, as they form ecosystems which are vital to preserve and secure from future changes, ranging from climatic to modern development and other contemporary threats.

A close parallel is the site of the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid Region in the FYROM, which presents Outstanding Universal Values in terms of its natural and cultural values. Concerning the Lake Ohrid, as with the Larnaka Salt Lake Complex, it comprises a refuge for numerous endemic species of flora and fauna including algae and rich birdlife. The cultural and religious values of this site are tightly related to the natural values represented by the Lake, due to the settlement situated on its shores, including the Byzantine monastery of St Pantelejmon, which highlights the spiritual aspects of the site. The archaeological remains furthermore provide evidence for the continuous habitation of the lake and the settlement from prehistoric to Medieval times, again, as with the site of Hala Sultan Tekke and the Larnaka Salt Lake Complex. 

Similar properties, important for their religious and natural Outstanding Universal Values are for example Mount Athos and Meteora in Greece. Although these spiritual centres are Christian Orthodox, they combine natural beauty, religious architecture and are still in use for their original purposes by living communities, practicing living traditions and beliefs. In these World Heritage Sites, too, the landscape maintains population of flora and fauna, many species of which are endangered.

Another World Heritage Site that the present site of Hala Sultan Tekke may be compared with, is the site of Alhabra, Generalife and Albayzin, in Granada, as it is also associated with the first period of Arab raids and the transmission of eastern notions, ideas and beliefs to Europe. In particular, also in this case, the first historical documents refer to the Arab raids of the 9th century AD, although the monument was developed in later phases. As noted above, the monument of Hala Sultan Tekke is associated with the Arab raids of the 7th century AD through the oral tradition of Umm Haram. Both sites therefore comprise unique examples for their role as representatives of this phase in human history, the dissemination of cultural traits from the East and the subsequent influences on social, ideological, political and economic structures.