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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 for all.

Much of the history of the town is obscure as there are no written records and our only source of material is from travellers' 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 places.

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.


Enkomi (Alasia)

The 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

The 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

Constructed 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.

Nitovikla Castle

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.

Othello's Tower

This 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.


Excavations 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 Famagusta.

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.

Roman Villa

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.

Kampanopetra Basilica

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.

Agora(Stone Forum)

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 and fountains.

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. Paul Church)

The 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 mosque.

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.

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