The city of Famagusta is one of the finest examples of medieval 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).
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 travelers’ 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 neighboring 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 defenses for the use of artillery, the new type of warfare. The medieval 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.
Church of St Francis
The ruins lying next to those of the Palazzo del Proveditore belong to the church of St Francis. It was once part of a large monastery originally founded in about 1300 by monks of the Franciscan order. It consisted of a single nave with three bays and a polygonal choir at its eastern end. It is known that King Henry II (1285-1324) of Cyprus, being a supporter of the order, sponsored the construction.
Church of St George of the Greeks
The church of the Orthodox community in Famagusta was built in the 15th century and it combined both Gothic and Byzantine architectural elements. Originally it consisted of a nave and aisles ending with a triple apse. Its Byzantine style apse is high and reached the level of the Gothic vaulting in the nave. The steps in its middle apse, a characteristic of early Christian basilicas, indicate that it was a church of a bishop. In its eastern apse traces of some frescoes have survived.
The roof of the building collapsed during the Ottoman siege in 1571. The wall facing the side of the bombardment retains marks of the cannon balls.
Church of St Peter and St Paul
This edifice – according to the panel on its wall – was built by the wealthy Syrian merchant Simone Nostrano in 1360, from the profits of one of his single business ventures. However, this information is mistaken, because it is known that the church was built by a Nestorian Christian named Simon.
Its cross ribbed vaulting is supported on round columns with flat capitals. Its interior is simple and decoration is limited to the vaulting bosses which are carved with a rosette of leaves. Its main portal to the north entrance reveals exquisite workmanship and is thought to have been brought from another building.
Its sturdy construction saved it during the Ottoman bombardment in 1571 and it has survived to the present day in very good condition.
Nestorian Church (St George the Exiler)
The church was built in 1339 by a wealthy merchant. Originally it consisted of a nave and an apse. The aisles and the attractive bell tower are later additions. Above its simple entrance portal it has a beautiful rose window. Its vaulting is not ribbed and is supported by ornamented corbels. For the keystones darker-colored stones are used. In the apse some murals accompanied b\ inscriptions in Syriac, which was the liturgical language of the Nestorians, have survived.
Church of St George of the Latins
This church is thought to have been built at the end of the 13th century during the reign of the French king Louis the Saint (1226-1270), probably with material from the ruins of a Roman temple in Salamis, and is modeled after the church of St Chapelle in Paris. It had a single nave, five bays, and a polygonal choir at its north end. Only its north wall and choir have survived to the present day. Its large and slender windows once contained Gothic tracery. The attached columns of the Gothic style are carved from the classic pillars of Salamis. Their outworn capitals were decorated with deeply carved foliage motifs and winged dragons.
The crusader knights of the Temple and Hospital orders had their own churches in Cyprus. The larger of the surviving buildings belonged to the Templars and was built at the beginning of the 14th century. It was dedicated to St Anthony. When their order was dissolved by the Pope in 1313 the church was taken over by the Hospitallers who also owned the tower-like chapel beside the building.
Palazzo del Proveditore
The royal palace of the Venetians, which was originally built during the Lusignan period in the tracery window catches one’s attention. In its courtyard in addition to a Koran school there is a 16th century Venetian loggia (an open-sided arcade), which is used in the present day as the ablution area. Above the two round windows which flank its doorway the Venetian coats of arms have survived. The marble frieze decorated with frolicking animals and garlands is thought to have come from a Roman temple in Salamis.
Inside two rows of massive columns separate the nave from the aisles and support a vaulted ceiling. In the west there are two side chapels and a triple apsed choir. The rosette and lancet windows in the apse are also well preserved.
Excavations have shown that the history of Salamis goes back to the 11th 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 harbor 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 center. 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 center 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 harbor 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.
St Nicholas Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque)
The cathedral is known as one of the finest Gothic buildings in the Mediterranean world. Its foundation stone is known to have been laid in 1298 during the Lusignan rule and the construction lasted until 1312. The old tropical fig tree (Ficus Sycomorus) which stands by the entrance of the building is thought to have been planted here at the time that the work began. Until it became a mosque in 1571 a king of the island was first crowned as the King of Cyprus in St Sophia in Nicosia and then as the King of Jerusalem in St Nicholas in Famagusta, the city being closer to the Holy Land.
The western facade of the edifice, which is likened to that of Reims Cathedral in France, is the best preserved and most attractive part of the building. On this side and above its porch a fine 13th century occupied the area opposite St Nicholas. Its triple-arched facade which has survived to the present day is from the beginning of the 16th century. Above its middle arch, the coats of arms of Giovanni Renier, Captain of Cyprus in 1552, can be seen. Its four granite columns came from the ruins of Salamis.
The small building where the famous Turkish nationalist Namik Kemal was imprisoned (1873-1876) is situated behind this arcade.
This citadel was built in the 14th century during the Lusignan period, to protect the harbor. The Sea Gate, on 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 remodeled 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 or citadel consists of towers and corridors leading to artillery chambers. On one side of its large courtyard is the refectory and above it apartments, 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 Moro 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.
Although archaeological excavations have shown that the earliest settlement in the area was made during the beginning of the 2nd millenium BC, Enkomi seems to have appeared on the historical scene during the 18th century BC. Excavations earned out at various sites have shown that metallurgical activity in Enkomi and several other sites in Cyprus increased during the Late Bronze Age (c 1650-1050 BC). This is the period in which the correspondence between the pharaoh and the king of a country referred to as Alasia took place. The letters are baked clay tablets inscribed in the cuneiform script in Akkadian, the international language of the time. They are found in the palace of the pharaoh Akhenaten at Tell el Amarna in Upper Egypt and date from the second quarter of the 14th century BC. In some of these tablets the king of Alasia promises the pharaoh copper for silver and luxury goods.
Similar references to the same country are encountered in other tablets from Egypt, Syria and Anatolia between the 18th century and 12th century BC. When such information is brought together one ends up learning that Alasia supplied copper to Syria and Anatolia, that this country was an island with a king and a fleet, in the 14th century it was an ally of Egypt and an enemy of the Hittites, and it was – together with Greece, the Aegean, Anatolia and Syria – overrun by the so-called ‘Sea Peoples’ in about 1200 BC. Despite some major blocks against it, some scholars tend to believe that Alasia of ancient sources is either Cyprus as a whole or the city of Enkomi by itself.
Excavations in Enkomi have brought to light several distinct sections of the city where metallurgy was practiced. In some of these not only finished bronze objects for sale but other objects which give the impression of large scale metallurgical activity were found. Among these were unworked copper shaped like an oxide – the form in which copper was transported – fragmentary vessels, the waste left over from the casting process, scrap metal which must have been set aside for smelting, and smith’s tools.
The objects discovered in the tombs indicate that in the 13th century BC the Achaeans began to settle in Cyprus and Enkomi, and gave the island’s economy new vigor.
Most of the ruins surviving to the present day belong to the city which was rebuilt after the destruction of 1200 BC. This new city had straight streets which cut each other at right angles. The public buildings and sanctuaries were constructed from ashlar blocks and occupied the rectangles left among the streets. The central town square was paved with stone slabs. The city was surrounded by massive walls.
After the devastation of the ‘Sea Peoples’ (c 1200 BC) the city never completely recovered. Although new arrivals from the Aegean and the Mediterranean followed, Enkomi never recovered its ancient splendor. By then its inland harbour beside the city on the Pedheios river (Kanlidere) was already silted and its end was brought about by an earthquake in 1075 BC. Its last inhabitants are thought to have moved to the sea side and founded Salamis.
AYIOS BARNABAS MONASTERY
St Barnabas, who was a Cypriot Jew from Salamis, is known as the founder of the apostolic church of Cyprus in 45 AD when he arrived in the island accompanied by St Paul and St Mark during their first missionary journey. He is said to have been stoned in Salamis when he returned a second time in 52 AD.
Tradition has it that the location of his tomb was revealed to the archbishop of Cyprus in 477 AD in a dream and St Barnabas was found in his tomb with a copy of the gospel of St Matthew on his breast, put there by St Mark.
The present day building of the church dates from the 18th century and was built on the ruins of its forerunner dating from the 10th century. The capitals incorporated into the wall and a green marble column from which a liquid good for eye sicknesses is supposed to ooze are from the earlier church.
Icon and Archaeological Museum
The church of St Barnabas is exactly as it was when its last three monks left it in 1976. The church apparatus; pulpits, wooden lectern, and pews are still in place. It houses a rich collection of painted and gilt icons mostly dating from the 18th century.
The carved blocks and capital blocks in the garden and cloister courtyard come from Salamis. The black basalt grinding mill comes from Enkomi. The cloisters of the monastery have recently been restored and at present serve as the archaeological museum. This section houses an exquisite collection of ancient pottery displayed chronologically, representing the changes in morphology and decoration of pottery in Cyprus from the Neolithic to the Roman times. The rest of the collection covers bronze and marble art objects.
The object of this book is to introduce the visitor the rich, colorful cultural heritage of North Cyprus. The book includes pictures and information about 80 ancient centers of interest, and 12 plans.
The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus covers about one-third of Cyprus, some 3,400 sq km. Its population is about 220,000 people. A large part of this land is covered with citrus and olive groves, pine forests and cypresses. It is one of the few unspoilt corners in the Mediterranean world. Its climate and endless beaches have made it an important tourist destination despite the transportation difficulties resulting from its politically isolated situation. The food in North Cyprus is good and inexpensive. Its people are friendly. The pace of life is relaxed, that is Mediterranean in the true sense of the word. Violent crime is almost unknown. Street sellers chasing after foreigners do not exist.
Its first inhabitants are thought to have come from Asia Minor or the Syria-Palestine region in about 7000-6500 BC during the period when these lands were enjoying a flourishing Neolithic culture. When the weather is clear enough the coast of North Cyprus is visible from these regions, and sea-crossing in small rafts is thought to have been possible. Its rich copper deposits, which were utilized from the Bronze Age onward, gave the island its name.
In addition to copper, its ship-building timber, vines, oil and grain and its geographical position attracted the powerful kingdoms surrounding it and each occupant imprinted and left something of himself on the island, creating a rich and colorful mosaic of cultures. Egyptians, Assyrians, Phoenicians and Persians, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans were among these.
This large complex began with a court (1) 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 center. Some of its columns, capitals and bases originally belonged to the theater and were brought here after the earthquakes of the 4th century.
In one corner there were latrines (3) for 44 people. Another set of latrines (11) existed on the north side of the baths. Two swimming pools (5) occupied the two ends of the eastern colonnade (4). These were decorated with marble statues.
The first part of the baths consisted of two octagonal cold rooms (6), between which was the central sweating room (7). 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 (8) were flanked by two more sweat rooms (9). 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 (10) was situated to the north of the complex.
The present day ruins of the theater 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 theater 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 crush 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 sec-tile 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 (368-403 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.
Water Reservoir ‘Vouta’
A system of earthen pipes and conduits on a 50 kilometer aqueduct brought water to the city from Kythrea. 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.
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 honor of Livia, Augustus’ consort, and the Olympian Zeus were discovered.
Excavations in the necropolis of Salamis brought to light a number of royal tombs. In general their architecture was similar and consisted of a trapezoidal court i dromos) where the bloody sacrifices must have taken place, an entrance porch and a long burial chamber built from hewn limestone blocks. Though they were built in the 8th century BC some of them were used as late as the 4th century AD.
Along with the rich grave finds which included pottery, bronze and ivory objects, horse skeletons complete with their harnesses were discovered. The sacrifices and the architecture of the tombs bring to mind the Mycenaean burial customs referred to in the Iliad.
Cellarka is a complex of tombs carved into the living rock of the ground. The overall impression is of a hive of giant cells. The entrance of each tomb contains steps which sometimes lead to a pair of rooms. Originally their entrances were sealed with heavy stone slabs. In some of them a low base on which the body was placed was discovered.
One of the tombs has revealed five portrait busts of the dead, their personal belongings, but no bodies. The cemetery is thought to have been in use from the 7th to the 4th century BC. In the traces of pyres which were lit close by or in the entrance passages of the tombs, a number of offerings including vases smashed after a libation had been offered and remains of fruits which inferred banquets and sacrificial animal bones were discovered.
The research has revealed more than hundred grave chambers. After the chambers were filled vertical wells had been dug for more burials. The cemetery is thought to have belonged to common town people.