Founded by Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt in the
3rd Century BC. Originally a fishing village Famagusta was grown
by the influx of refugees first from Salamis in 648 then by the
Christian Refugees after the invasion of the Holy Lands.(1291 AD.)
It soon became one of the most important and wealthy cities in the
region. At one time (early 14th Century) about 350 churches and
many trading posts were built within the area later fortified with
impressive defensive walls by the Venetians. In 1372 The Genoese
invaded the island and the City sacking most of its wealth. In 1571
under the long siege by the Ottoman Turks many buildings were damaged
by the cannon balls. The British used the stones to build the Suez
Canal and the Quays of Port Said. In 1974 the City was again under
siege by Greek Cypriots, with 11,000 Turkish Cypriots defending
the City until it was ended by the arrival of the Turkish Troops.
The important Historical monuments worth visiting are: The Walls
and Bastions, Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque (St. Nicholas Cathedral)
Othello Tower, Remains of Countless Mediaeval Churches. Salamis,
Kings Tombs, St. Barnabas Monastery, The Ruins of Enkomi. The visitor
will enjoy many fine beaches stretching miles along the coast of
LALA MUSTAFA PASHA MOSQUE ( St. Nicholas Cathedral )
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
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.
St. GEORGE OF THE LATIN 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.
SALAMIS - ANCIENT ROMAN CITY
The ancient city of Salamis became the capital of Cyprus as far
back as 1100 BC. The city shared the destiny of the rest of the
island during the successive occupations by the various dominant
powers of the Near East, viz. the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians,
and Romans. The ancient site covers an area of one square mile extending
along the sea shore. There is still a large area awaiting excavation
and this is forested with mimosa, pine and eucalyptus trees.
The finding of some gold coins bearing the name of Evagoras, 411
to 374 BC, is the first genuine evidence of the city's importance.
A severe earthquake destroyed the city in 76 AD after which the
Gymnasium with its colonnaded Palaestra was built by Trajan and
Hadrian. This is the most monumental part of the site but columns
differ in size because after the second great earthquake of 331
AD, the Christians set up new columns which they dragged from the
The theatre with 50 rows of seats and a seating capacity of 15,000
is the second most spectacular sight. All around the buildings that
have been excavated are many niches which contained marble statues,
and those that can be seen are headless. When Christianity was adopted
as a state religion, all these nude statues were to them an abhorence,
and were thrown into drains or were broken up. In fact, any indications
of Roman pagan religion such as mosaic pictures were effaced or
The Romans had an obsession about baths, and in the Great Hall buildings
one can make out the Sudatorium (hot baths), the Caldarium (steam
bath) and Frigidarium (cold baths). Before the Christian period,
ie. before 400 AD, it was quite a colourful city; the marble columns
were covered with coloured stucco, coloured statues, and numerous
polychrome mosaics of which only a few are left. It was during the
Christian period that walls with rectangular towers at regular intervals
were built, but all that one can see of these today are mounds of
The late Roman period after 400 AD up to about 1100 AD is known
as the Byzantine epoch, when the first great Christian churches,
called basilicas, were built. The visitors should see the St Epiphanos
and Campanopetra, for they are the largest churches in Cyprus.
About 674 AD, Arab invasion brought about the destruction of the
entire city and the inhabitants fled south to build the medieval
town of Famagusta (Magusa). There must have been a great change
in the climate as the city was overwhelmed with sand, and only the
tops of the columns peeped above. Coins of the Middle Ages, Lusignan
period, were found around the basilicas, from which one can conclude
that squatters lived in the ruins perhaps up to about 1300 AD.
For the next six hundred years the ancient site was looted and
regarded as a quarry for building. During the Venetian occupation
of Famagusta, many columns and pieces of sculpture were dragged
from the site. The constant looting was not halted until 1952 AD
when organised excavations by the Department of Antiquities began.
The archeological site is the most spectacular in the island because
the ruins are very extensive and are in a wonderful state of preservation.
For more than a thousand years, the Roman city of Salamis lay buried
in sands which saved the site from wanton destruction in the Middle
Ages. It must be remembered that all the ancient ruins in Europe
were -free for all- quarries for the builders of the medieval castles.
It was not until the late 19th century that various governments
formed departments of antiquities which began keeping a watchful
eye on ruins. In a similar way, Pompeii lay buried in volcanic ash,
and was also saved from vandalism. As Pompeii is to Italy, so is
Salamis to Cyprus.
SINAN PASA MOSQUE (St. Peter & St. Paul Church)
The church of St. Peter and St. Paul has not only borne witness
to almost seven centuries of this struggle, but stands as an icon
of the rich and transient dynastic rivalries which in turn molded
the identity, and therefore the appearance, of modern Cyprus. Though
overshadowed, undoubtedly, by the ‘The Daughter of Notre Dame
of Rheims’[St. Nicholas Cathedral], both now seem architecturally
and doctrinally out of context in a Muslim (verging on secular)
society, on an island in the far reaches of the Eastern Mediterranean,
where their decaying remains stand as a symbol of wealth and power
from long forgotten halcyon days in the island’s history.As
a barometer of civic pride, refined aesthetics and Northern European
engineering prowess, the church represents only a fragmented hint,
a shatttered remnant, of this brief cultural zenith and period of
extreme economic prosperity. Surrounding SS. Peter and Paul are
the ruins of Greek and Latin churches, Venetian palaces and crusaders’
fortifications, which, though fundamentally different in doctrine
and architecture, at some point in history met a similar calamitous
fate. The church of St. Peter and St. Paul, whether used as a mosque,
a barn, a grain store, a petroleum repository or a library in the
past, has now been disused for some time. It does, however, defiantly
remind us of its raison d’etre, symbolizing the intended permanence
of the Medieval church and embodying the great outpouring and abundance
of labour, skill, faith and wealth, so typical of the Lusignan era.
The Nestorians or Chaldeans originally came from Syria. They used
the Chaldean language in their liturgy. The Nestorian Church was
only one of several Semitic churches that had separated from Greek
Orthodoxy in the 5th century over the contentious issue of the mixture
of God and man in the person of Jesus. They are now represented
by the Assyrians of Iraq (Mesopotamia).
Wealthy Syrian Christian traders occupied the high land in the north-west
corner of the medieval old town of Famagusta. In 1359 during the
reign of King Pierre I, the fabulously wealthy Francis Lachas and
his brother began work on a church for their fellow Syrians of the
Nestorian Church. The result is surprisingly modest for this pair
of brothers, whose daughters wore jewellery richer than that of
the kings of France. It began as a single-aisled chapel, which was
then doubled in size, a porch tacked onto the central nave and courtyards
added to taste. This organic growth contrasts with the neat triple
apse of the east end and the clean lines of the belfry façade
with its pair of lancet windows.
The interior retains only patches of its once rich and diverse
frescoes, which were accompanied by Syriac script. Other peculiar
features include the variegated stones of the altar arch and the
Romanesque zigzag decoration cut into the arch of the original courtyard
gate. It is tempting to see this as a deliberate archaic reference
to the architecture common in the old Crusader states of Palestine.
At Engomi, archeologists have uncovered the remains of a great Bronze
Age city, possibly that of ancient Alasia, whose kings shipped copper
to the Pharaohs of Egypt.The site contains some of the richest Bronze
Age tombs ever excavated.Items discovered there include gold and
ivory objects, imitation diamonds, glass vases, and rare examples
of Mycenian pottery.
The evidence of an Achaean settlement at Engomi supports the legend
that nearby Salamis was founded by Greek colonists led by Teucer
soon after the Trojan War.It was first investigated by a British
Museum Expedition in 1896, when a number of tombs containing rich
finds was opened. In 1913 Sir John Myres together with Cyprus Museum
and in 1930 the Swedish Cyprus Expedition led by Prof. Gjerstad
excavated a score of tombs.
The earliest remains at Engomi beginning of the second millennium
B.C. (2000-1700) which correspond with the Middle Bronze Age.A period
of prosperity for Enkomi begins about 1550 B.C. Enkomi become an
important centre of copper, where the copper worked and then exported
to the East.
The most brilliant period of Engomi begins about 1450 B.C. Her
cooper products were sent abroad both to the East and to the West.
Its name was then Alasia and under this name Cyprus is reffered
to in a correspondance between the king of Alasia and the pharaoh
of Egypt, Amenophis IV (1370-1352 B. C.). During that time Engomi-
Alasia was fortified with a strong wall.
Cyprus had become a part of the Hitite Empire between 1500 and 1450
B.C. It was used as an exile place of the Hitite kings upon the
state archives in Bogazkoy (Hattusas).
By the end of the 1300 B.C. Engomi - Alasia was conquered and destroyed
by "The people of sea". It was however rebuilt. Later
in the 12th century an earthquake destroyed part of the city again.
In the early 11th century B.C. the city was finally abandoned.
Othello's tower is the medieval fortress or citadel guarding both
the harbour and the town of Famagusta. This is referred to in one
of Shakespeare's plays in which Othello is described as a Moor.
This is not so; it is the name of a Venetian governor of 1506. However,
Shakespeare knew little about Cyprus and had never been there. The
entrance to the tower is shown in the picture and is pierced through
the Venetian fortifications which date from between 1500 and 1550.
Above the gateway is a marble slab on which sculptured the badge
of Venice, a winged lion, so frequently seen in other parts of Cyprus
such as in Kyrenia Castle, Nicosia, and Bellapais Abbey. Inscription
on the marble reads `Nicolo Foscarini, the Venetian Captain', together
with the Venetian lion of St. Mark.
An aerial view would show the shell of the medieval castle inside
the Venetian Walls and an imaginary sketch of this is shown here.
As a result of the inventions of gunpowder and cannon, the Venetians
altered the castles in order to suit the needs of their artillery.
Usually they did not destroy the old walls, they were far too thick,
but the old square towers were replaced with round ones.
It should be obvious that a rectangular tower could easily have
its corners knocked off by gunfire. Wherever the old walls were
preserved, they were pierced by gunports. On entering the courtyard
of the citadel there are some interesting old cannon lying on the
ground. One of them is made of bronze and is in excellent condition
after being out in the wind and rain for 400 years. It is Spanish,
and this kind of alloy metal was much favoured by the
Spaniards in their great galleons. Cannon were fired by a red hot
poker inserted into a hole at one end, but sometimes, owing to faulty
methods of casting, guns exploded and then there was a nasty accident.
The Turkish cannon had iron rings along the muzzle and can be seen
in the courtyard. There are some cannon balls lying about and most
are of cast iron.
Inside the Walls is the Great Hall, and with the large kitchen at
one end, it is presumed that this was the refectory or dining hall.
It dates from about 1300 and is massively constructed with a vaulted
roof supported by tall Gothic arches. Windows were usually very
small for defence purposes and no glass was used, pieces of cloth
or carpets kept out wind and rain. However, in those times it could
be a quite comfortable place with fine tapestries on the wall and
huge fires blazing away at one end, where the whole carcass of a
moufflon could be roasted. Not faroutside the town there is vast
interior plain of Cyprus known as the Mesarya and here the nobles
Steps lead up to the embattlements where there is a fine view of
both ancient and modern harbours. Modern ships still use the same
harbour entrance as it was in the golden age of Famagusta, 1300
to 1400 A.D. In those times harbours were defended by a huge iron
chain slung across the water, and just by the entrance, and the
opposite the Citadel, can be seen a clump of rocks on a promontory
where there was the chain tower. The chain was lowered into the
water when enemy ships were in the offing. The other harbour in
Northern Cyprus, Kyrenia, was also defended by chain and there the
chain tower still stands in the middle of the harbour.
St BARNABAS MONASTERY
The Monastery of St. Barnabas is at the opposite side of the Salamis-Famagusta
road, by the Royal Tombs. You can easily tell it by its two fairly
large domes. It was built to commemorate the foremost saint of Cyprus,
whose life was so intertwined with the spread of the Christian message
in the years immediately following the death of Christ.Barnabas
was a native of the ancient city Salamis, and was a Jew, though
his family had been settled for some time in Cyprus. His real name
was in fact Joses, or Joseph; Barnabas was the name given to him
by the early Christian apostles because he was recognised as `a
son of Prophecy', or as Luke puts it `a son of consolation'. There
is no contradiction here. Luke is merely emphasising that one of
the great historic functions of prophecy was to console the believer
and keep him in the faith.
He was reputed to be an inspired teacher of Christianity, but more
than that he played a very great role in the development of early
Christianity. He was also the man to acknowledge that Paul's conversion
to Christianity was absolutely sincere, and above all he recognised
the genius of Paul, whom he introduced to the Christian fellowship
in Jerusalem. When Barnabas was later sent to Antioch to supervise
the work of the early Church there, he had Paul as his assistant.
Later still, of course, he undertook his great missionary journey
with Paul, visiting among other places, his own country of Cyprus.
Finally, of course, we know certainly that Paul and Barnabas had
a strong diffrence of opinion about Barnabas' nephew, John Mark,
and the two friends parted company. Paul wrote later that the rift
was healed but by that time Barnabas was probably already back in
The monastery which bears Barnabas' name was originally built in
the last part of the fifth century, to commemorate the discovery
of his body, and the dignity and the seniority it brought to the
early Christian Church of Cyprus. Parts of the early building have
been preserved in the more recent churh which was built by Archbishop
Philotheos in 1756. The money for the purchase of the land on which
the monastery was built, is supposed to have been provided by the
Byzantine Emperor at the time Barnabas' body was found.
When you look carefully at the church you will notice the traces
of the original fifth century building and also places it seems
to have been enlarged and changed, probably in the very late mediaeval
period. But in the main it is fairly conventional Greek Orthodox
architecture of the eighteen century.
On one of the walls, the story of how Barnabas' body was shown
to the Archbishop in a dream, is rendered in small pictures. These
were done in the present century, but some of the icons and statues
are a good deal older.
On another wall, somewhat incongruously, hang wax replicas of limbs
in a gesture of gratitude for the ailing limbs which the Apostle
Barnabas is supposed to have miraculously cured. Close by, the image
of st. Heraklion stares at you from every angle you choose. All
these items, ancient and modern have been very well looked after
and are shown with great oride by the curator of the church.
The marble columns supporting the domes are conspicuous and rather
spectacular. It is impossible to be certain, but these may well
have come from Salamis. In one sense, the little rock tomb in which
Barnabas is supposed to have been found gives the authentic flavour
of the Christian evangelist and martyr much more effectively.
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 come
from Enkomi. The cloister 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 CANBULAT TOMB & MUSEUM
The main road from Nicosia to Famagusta docks passes alongside the
Canbulat's Bastion (Arsenale).
Canbulat, the Squire (Bey) of Kilis in Turkey, was one of the high-ranking
Ottoman soldiers in the conquest of Cyprus in 1570-1. He took part
in all of the operations, and distinguished himself by his valour,
especially in the capture of Nicosia. After the capture of Nicosia,
the main army moved to Famagusta, the strongest point of defence
of the Venetians in Cyprus, and laid siege to it on 18th September,
Canbulat was among the officers commanding the right wing of the
Turkish army, which was placed to the south of the walled city.
According to an old legend about his martyrdom , Canbulat Bey drove
his horse on the big grinding knife which was mounted by the Venetians
to the entrance of the Arsenal Bastion in order to prevent the advance
of the Turkish Army. Thus he was martyred but the doors for the
conquest of Famagusta were opened for his army. He was buried in
the grounds of the same bastion, for which he had given his life
and a tomb was erected over his resting place. The tomb has since
been restored and it is a place of pilgrimage for Turks, ranking
after the Hala Sultan (Umm Haram) Tekke at Larnaca.
The precincts leading to the tomb have been converted into a museum
in 1968 and it owns many fine examples of the Turkish folk art.
It is a large round tower made very conspicuous by the modern lighthouse
perched on top.
Outside this tower and along the moat the Ottoman Turkish artillery
were encamped in 1570 and it is from here that the town was bombarded.
This is the reason why so many churches within the walls show damage
on the side facing this spot. Fierce fighting went on here for nearly
a year, as the visitor can see today with the gaping cavities along
the walls and towers.
The Ottomans tried to mine into the tower at the base and the results
of their efforts are still very visible. In spite of the use of
gunpowder the attempt failed, owing to the great thickness of the
walls and showers of missiles hurled from the battlements above.
All around the moat, one can come across pieces of iron from carts
and cannon and of course many cannon balls.
St GEORGE OF THE GREEK CATHEDRAL
This cathedral was probably built in opposition to the nearby Latin
(Roman Catholic) cathedral of St. Nicholas (now Lala Mustafa Pasha
mosque). An exterior view of the apse at the eastern end is shown
Here we have the typical semicircular apse while the central part
of the cathedral had a large dome which in this case has been blown
off in 1571. Notice how the bombardment came from one side, and
this is the side facing the distant bastion of Canbulat, where the
Turkish artillery was deployed in 1570.
As you go round the various churches, it will be observed that most
of the damage is on the the side facing Canbulat. One must remember,
also, that the city of Famagusta suffered from two severe earthquakes
in mid 18th century.
With the numerous cannon balls lying about both in among the ruins
and in private gardens, one gets the impression that the siege only
took place a few years ago. This is why Famagusta as a historical
centre unique in all Cyprus.
Inside the cathedral are some fragments of wall painting, then
best being in the eastern apse. In the nave are the foundations
of some Roman columns where the method of binding stones with iron
ties is visible. The use of iron ties for constructing masonry without
cement was often used by the Romans in harbours and jetties.
NAMIK KEMAL DUNGEON & MUSEUM
This two-storeyed hewn stone dungeon was built, during the Ottoman
era, on the ruins of the old Royal Palace .
Namik Kemal (1840-1888), a distinguished nationalist poet and novelist,
spent his thirty-eight months in this dungeon when he was sent into
exile by the Ottoman Sultan on April 9th 1873 soon after the first
performance of his play 'Vatan or Silistre' at Gedik Pasha Theatre
in Istanbul on April 1, 1873.
The ground floor, with only one vaulted cell is in the shape of
a rectangle and it has low arched entrance door which opens on to
the courtyard of the Venetian Palace as well as the two windows
in the same wall. When Namik Kemal came to Famagusta, he first stayed
at the ground floor, but after a while he was taken to the second
storey with the permission of the Cyprus Governor, Veysi Pasa. The
steep stone stairs at the side of the building take you to the rectangular
second storey which has two large windows, a landing in the front,
a marble floor and a timbered ceiling.
After having been forgiven by Murat V. on June 3rd 1876, Namik Kemal
returned to Istanbul on June 29th 1876.
Restoration of the Namik Kemal Dungeon and Museum was started at
the beginning of 1993 and completed it within a short period of
six months. Organization of the museum was made with the collaboration
of the Ministry of Education and Culture.
THE ROYAL PALACE
It was originally the Royal Palace of the Lusignans, built in the
13th century, just opposite the St. Nicholas Cathedral (now Lala
Mustafa Pasha Mosque).
It was in this palace that the Kings and Queens of Cyprus were
crowned until the reign of' Peter II in 1369. As it was ruined by
an earthquake little now remains of this palace of the Lusignans.
All that remains is the shell of the western portion of it, a large
''L'' shaped building of the early sixteenth century and its facade,
a magnificent piece of architecture consisting of three arches supported
by four grand columns brought from Salamis. Over the central arch
stands the coat-of-arms of Giovanni Renier, Captain of Cyprus in
Beyond and inside the courtyard are numerous cannon balls and pieces
of a large granite column.
After the Ottoman conquest in 1571, the Palace was used as a prison.
Among the prisoners was Namik Kemal, the Shakespeare of the Turkish
literature, who was held there between 1873 and 1876, having been
exiled to Cyprus after criticising the Sultan. Next to the Namik
Kemal prison is a museum about him and his works. There is a bronze
bust of the poet facing the square, by the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque.