The city of Famagusta is one of the finest
examples of mediaeval architecture in the eastern Mediterranean
and, in its present state of preservation, is equal to that
of the old cities of Carcassone and Ragusa (Dubrovnik).
One full day spent in Famagusta will reveal the history of
Cyprus in a nutshell.
Much of Cyprus is an outdoor museum, but only here is so
much historical interest concentrated, that is a showplace
Much of the history of the town is obscure as there are no
written records and our only source of material is from
accounts of merchants passing through. Some historians declare
that it was founded by King Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt
in 285 B.C. It is believed that the city occupies the site
of ancient town of Arsinoe. Famagusta prospered through the
destruction of the neighbouring Salamis, the former capital
of the island.
By the year 1300 A.D. the town was one of the principal markets
of the Eastern Mediterranean, the rendezvous place of rich
merchants and the headquarters of many Christian religious
orders as revealed by numerous churches of various denominations
still to be seen in the town today. This was the time of
the Crusades and when the rich Lusignan dynasty ruled Cyprus.
Lusignans fortified the town, and in the thirteenth century
built the beautiful Cathedral of St. Nicholas, transformed
since then into a mosque.
Famagusta was the seat of a Latin diocese from the twelfth
century and had residential bishops till the end of the sixteenth.
The city is protected by ramparts which encircle the town
and the citadel castle guarding the harbour, the best in
Cyprus. This citadel or Othello's tower is the first main
focus of attention for visitors.
The period 1300 to 1400 is known as the golden age of Famagusta
and was regarded as such by visiting merchants, who brought
western Europe the tales of fabulous wealth in the various
After 1400, rival factions of Genoese and Venetian merchants
settled there. The Genoese caused much strife until finally
the Venetians took command of all Cyprus and transferred
the capital from Nicosia to Famagusta in 1489. The Venetians
were in command for 82 years and it was from Famagusta that
the whole island was governed.
The invention of gun-powder and the use of cannon made it
necessary for the Venetians to remodel the entire defences
for the use of artillery, the new type of warfare. The mediaeval
square towers were replaced with round ones and all along
the walls and citadels numerous cannon portholes were inserted.
The Ottoman armada arrived outside the town in 1570 and put
it under siege for a year. In 1571 not only Famagusta, but
all Cyprus was under Ottoman Turkish rule and remained so
until 1878. The end of the British colonial rule in 1960
led to the intensification of inter-communal strife between
Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots which concluded in 1974
with the Turkish-Cypriot rule in North Cyprus.
The new town of Famagusta (also known as Marash or Varosha)
lies just to the south of the walled old-city of Famagusta.
HISTORICAL PLACES OF FAMAGUSTA
antique city of Enkomi, also known as Alasia, situated close
to the present day Enkomi (Tuzla) village, dates back to the
2000s B. C.. The excavations have revealed that the city was
under the influence of Egypt first, and Mycenae later, and that
it was surrounded with walls, and the dead were buried under
the floors of the houses with their death presents. It is observed
that the grate plan was applied to the city and that writing
was first used here. The bronze "Horned God Statue" which
seems to be under strong Hittite influnce, and considered to
be a cult statue was found in this district. A lot of things
made of bronze and residues of copper indicating the existence
of copper workshops have also been uncovered. Enkomi used to
be a harbour town. The region was abandoned never to be used
again, when the Pedios River (Kanlidere) flowing by the city
filled the harbour with alluvion, the earthquakes affected the
place negatively and the Akas started posing a continuous threat
after the 12th century.
Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque
building which was constructed between the years 1298-1312 in
the Lusignan period is one of the most beautiful Gothic structures
of the Meditteranean region. The Lusignan kings would be inaugurated
as the King of Cyprus at the St. Sophia Cathedral in Nicosia
first, and following this they would be crowned as the King of
Jerusalem at the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Famagusta. These ceremonies
continued to be held until 1571 when the cathedral was turned
into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks. The architecture of the western
front of the building has been influenced by the architecture
of the Reims Cathedral. It has an unparalleled window with Gothic
style tracery. The 16th century Venetian gallery in the courtyard
is today used as a reservoir for ablutions. A Venetian insignia
can be seen above the circular windows at the entrance. The relief
ornamented with animal figures is thought to have been brought
from a temple in Salamis. The apsis of the cathedral is in the
Eastern style and is composed of three parts as in most Cyprus
churches. The windows in the top part have been well preserved.
There are two chapels at the side. The cumbez tree in front -a
tropical fig tree- is a rare tree in the north of the island.
Latin St. George Church
in the late 13th century, the church is one of the beautiful
examples of the Gothic style of architecture. Material from the
Salamis ruins was used in its construction. It is thought to
have been modelled on the St. Chapelle church in Paris. It has
a nave with five sections and a chancel. What has survived throughout
the years is this chancel and the northern wall. The wide, tall
windows once had Gothic traceries. That the church had been constructed
before the city-walls is evident from the rampart like structure
of the building.
The castle the remains of which are on a hill close to the sea
is thought to have been constructed for the purpose of defending
the region against raids from the sea in the Middle Bronze Age.
The war between Hittite and Egypt in this period had affected
Cyprus as well. The architecture of the castle resembles the
styles of those constructed by the Hittites in Anatolia. It is
four sided and the entrance and the walls have been fortified
with towers. Big ashlars have been used in its construction.
It has a courtyard in the middle.
citadel was built in the 12nd century during the Lusignan period,
to protect the harbour. The Sea Gate on, in this side, along with
the Land Gate were the two major entrances of walled Famagusta.
The citadel was originally surrounded with a moat. In 1492 Venetians
transformed it into an artillery stronghold making alterations
similar to those at Kyrenia castle. The marble panel above the
entrance shows the winged lion of Venice, and includes the name
of Nicolo Foscarini who remodelled the tower. It is thought that
when Leonardo da Vinci visited Cyprus in 1481 he advised the
Venetians on the design of the defences of Famagusta. The tower
of citadel consists of towers and corridors leading to artillery
chambers. On one side its large courtyard is the refectory and
above it apartment, both dating back to the Lusignan period.
The present day name of the tower came into use during the British
colonial period. In his famous tragedy, where the setting is
a" seaport in Cyprus" Shakespeare makes
Othello a Moor. He must have heard of the Venetian governor of
the island, Christophoro Moor whose surname means "moor".
In the courtyard of the citadel there are some Ottoman and Spanish
cannons and their iron balls. The stone balls were for catapults.
The surviving walls and bastions of Famagusta are from the Venetian
period. On the land side the city was protected by the squat
Martinengo Bastion. This was named after the Venetian commander
Count Heracles Martinengo. In the Ravelin, which protected the
Land Gate, in addition to artillery chambers a chapel is encountered.
The large round tower, which was originally a Venetian arsenal
on the sea side is named after Dyamboulat, the Turkish commander
by whose bravery the Bastion was captured.
have shown that the history of Salamis goes back to the 1 1[h
century BC. Archaeologists tend to believe that the first inhabitants
of the town came here from Enkomi after the earthquake of 1075
BC. Traces of a necropolis and a harbour of this early period
have been located. When the 'Dark Ages' of the Mediterranean
world came to an end in about the 8th century BC, Salamis appeared
on the historical scene as an important trading centre. The necropolis
which yielded the Royal Tombs belongs to this period and gives
an idea about the richness of the city during the era. The first
coins were minted in the 6th century BC. Also, in the inscriptions
dating from this period the name of Salamis is encountered for
the first time. In this century, together with Syria and Anatolia,
the island went under the rule of the Achamenid Persian Empire
which lasted until the march of Alexander the Great into Asia
Minor. Following the unexpected death of Alexander the Great
near Babylon in 323 BC, his generals divided the lands of the
Hellenistic Empire and Cyprus fell to the share of Ptolemy who
established his kingdom in Egypt. During the Hellenistic and
the Roman era Salamis, together with Alexandria, Antioch-on-the-Orontes,
Ephesus, Pergamum and Athens, received its share of the wealth
of the period and once again became an important trading centre
between the worlds surrounding the Mediterranean. This prosperous
period continued into the Roman era. Most of the ruins unearthed
in excavations date from this recent history of the city. The
development of Salamis was often interrupted by earthquakes,
especially in the 1st and 4th centuries AD. Following the earthquakes,
the Byzantine emperor Constantius II (337-361 AD) rebuilt the
city and renamed it Constantia. However, by this time the harbour
was already silted up and more natural catastrophes and the raids
of the Arab pirates brought its end. In 648 after another raid
the last inhabitants moved to Arsinoe which was later to become
Gymnasium and Baths
This large complex began with a court surrounded with columned
arcades on its four sides. It served as an exercising ground.
During the reign of Augustus (31 BC - 14 AD) a stone basin with
the statue of the emperor occupied its centre. Some of its columns,
capitals and bases originally belonged to the theatre and were
brought here after the earthquakes of the 4th century. In one
corner there were latrines for 44 people. Another set of
latrines existed on the north side of the baths. Two swimming
pools occupied the two ends of the eastern colonnade .
These were decorated with marble statues. The first part of the
baths consisted of two octagonal cold rooms , between which
was the central sweating room . On the south wall of the latter
a fresco piece surviving from the 3rd century AD shows Hylas
- the boy friend of Heracles who gets lost in Mysia on the way
to Colchis to bring the Golden Fleece - as he refuses the water
nymphs. The hot water baths were flanked by two more sweat
rooms. In the southern one there are mosaic fragments; one
originally represented Leto's children Apollo and Artemis killing
Niobe's children with arrows. The latter who has fourteen children
belittles Leto for having only two. The second mosaic shows Leda,
the future mother of Helen, and Zeus, disguised as a swan with
the river god Eurotas. Two more mosaic fragments which do not
feature figures have survived in the north wall of the hot room
and in the northern sweat room. The stoking room was situated
to the north of the complex.
The present day ruins of the theatre date from
the time of Augustus. Its auditorium originally consisted of
50 rows of seats and held over 15,000 spectators. Its orchestra
bore an altar dedicated to Dionysus and two bases dedicated to
Marcus Aurelius Commodus, and Caesar Constantius and Caesar Maximianus.
The performances took place on the raised stage whose background
was decorated with statues. After it was destroyed by earthquakes
in the 4th century the theatre was never rebuilt and served as
a source of building material for other constructions.
This two-storey villa was made of an apsidal reception hall and
a central inner courtyard with a columned portico. The living
quarters were grouped in the inner courtyard. After the city
was abandoned this building was used as an oil mill. The large
stone which was used to cruch olives (in the reception hall),
mill stones and the straining device have survived.
This basilica was built in the 4th century and consisted of a
courtyard surrounded with columns which contained a well for
ablution, and a nave with aisles. It ended with a triple apse.
The throne of the bishop and the seats of the clergy were situated
in the central apse. At the back of the apse there was another
group of buildings with a courtyard. These seem to have included
Bathing facilities, and a sweating room. One of the rooms has
revealed a beautiful opus sectile mosaic floor.
Ayios Epiphanios Basilica
This was the largest basilica in Cyprus and was built as the
metropolitan church of Salamis during the office of Bishop Epiphanios
(386-403 AD) whose tomb still lies encased in marble in front
of the southern apse. The edifice consisted of a nave separated
from its aisles by two rows of 14 columns with Corinthian capitals.
It ended with a triple-arched semi-circular apse where there
were seats for the bishop and clergy. The rooms on each side
of the apse were used for dressing and storing liturgical apparatus.
Hypocaust remains in the baptistery show that the initiates received
their baptism in winter months with warm water. The church was
destroyed in the 7th century during the Arab raids. The ruins
at the back of the southern apse belong to a smaller church built
after the original one was destroyed.
This was the meeting place and market of Salamis. Its origins
go back to the Hellenistic period. On two sides it was lined
with columned arcades which protected the shoppers from heat
in summer and rain in winter. Only one of the columns has survived
to the present day. Its courtyard contained temples dedicated
to gods related to commerce and was decorated with statues
Temple Of Zeus
The present day ruins belong to the Roman period temple which
was built on an earlier Hellenistic one. The shrine had the
right to grant asylum and this fact was confirmed by Augustus
in 22 BC. During excavations inscriptions in honour of Livia,
Augustus' consort, and the Olympian Zeus were discovered.
Water Reservor "Vouta"
A system of earthen pipes and conduits on a 50 kilometre
aqueduct brought water to the city from Kyhrea. This Roman
period water system continued to function till the 7th century.
The walls and the remains of 36 square pillars of the largest
of the cisterns where this water was collected have survived.
In addition to the pillars its ceiling was supported by massive
corbels projecting from its longer walls. Excavations at
floor level have brought to light an exit conduit.
Sinan Pasa Mosque (St. Peter & St.
inscription on the wall indicating that the church was constructed
by a Syrian merchant named Simone Nostrano is thought to
have been due to misinformation, as it is now known that
the church had been built by a Nestorian Christian named
Simon. It has survived the 1571 bombardment because of its
strong structure. The North entrance with its unequalled
masonry is thought to have been transferred from another
place. The interior of the building is quite plain; the ceiling
resting on pillars with a flat capital. After conquering
the island the Ottomans started to use the church as a mosque.
St. Francis Church
This church is part of a monestary built by the monks of
the Franciscan order in the first decade of the fourteenth
century. Henry II, the King of Cyprus, contributed to the
construction of the building. It comprises a nave with three
sections leading to a beautiful chancel.
The Akkule Mosque
The Akkule Mosque made from hewn stone, is situated between
the old and new doors to the city walls, at the Land Gate
of the original Arch of (Ravelin - Akkule) in Famagusta.
In the past an Ottoman fountain was situated north-east of
the mosque. The typical Ottoman building made of hewn stone
has fortified Venetian walls facing south - east and south
- west and was built in 1618/19. Crooked and inclined living
areas came about due to the planning and building of the
fortified Venetian walls. There are windows on the north-east
and north-west outer walls with their upper and lower parts
plastered with plaster of Paris. The lower rectangular windows
have frontlet with pointed stone arches the upper windows
which are smaller in size also have pointed arches. The inside
of the plaster of Paris windows are decorated with raised
diamond shapes, and have double wooden wings. There is an
original stone chancel used to empty the water from the outer
side of the ceiling. There is a compressed, arched, double
winged entrance door at the north-western wall of the mosque.
The wooden wings of the door also have the raised diamond
decoration of the inside windows' wings. Above the door there
is a marble panel with a verse of the Koran dated 1618-19.
There is an arch holding the flat roof of the mosque which
stretches from east to west. On the south-eastern wall of
the mosque, there is a downward hanging riche upon which
sitting appears. The original filing on the floor of the
mosque, was replaced during restoration with diamond shaped
The Canbulat Tomb & Museum
Canbulat, the Bey (a provincial governor in the Ottoman empire)
of Kilis, was included in the Ottoman forces that were going
to conquer Cyprus. As he was extremely successful during
the capture of Nicosia, he was appointed to the Ottoman army
laying siege to Famagusta along with Iskender Pasha and Deniz
Pasha. As he is believed to have been killed in the vicinity
of the Arsenal Bastion his tomb is under this bastion. The
building was restored in 1968 and the front section was turned
into an etnographic and archaelogical museum.