Famagusta is one of the most impressive fortified cities in the Mediterranean. Its name comes from a Frankish adaptation of the Greek name which means ‘buried in the sand’. It was founded by Ptolemy II (Egyptian King 308-246 B.C.) and has always been a stepping stone between the Near East and Europe. The city’s real growth took place during the Lusignan reign when diverse races of the Near East settled within its walls.
Famagusta grew because it was a chief business centre in the Mediterranean. In fact, one of Famagusta’s nobles was one of the richest men in the world at that time and it was said that his daughter had more jewels than the King of France! The inhabitants lived in extreme ease and luxury, making Famagusta a premier city. To express their wealth and importance, the merchants would build churches. Hence it is rumoured that there are the ruins of over 350 churches scattered within the ancient city walls.
An interesting, yet sad, feature in Famagusta is Varousha, which was the modern part of the city and was its main tourist centre prior to the events of 1974. It is now an abandoned area in no-man’s land and is as it was left during those troubled times.
Even with the loss of Varousha, Famagusta’s brilliant sandy beaches are well known throughout the world and it is still an important centre for tourism today. The town centre is now home to ruins of a Venetian Palace, and the huge Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque (St. Nicholas’s Cathedral). It was decided in 1298, that Famagusta deserved a magnificent Latin cathedral. St Nicholas is an outstanding example of Gothic architecture and was consecrated in 1326. It was here that the Lusignan King of Cyprus, who had already been crowned in Nicosia, had his second coronation, which as King of Jerusalem brought him even more power. It was converted to a mosque in Ottoman times.
The square is a really appealing place to sit and relax. The side streets are full of small markets and shops, and hidden museums. The ancient town walls, stretch for miles, impressively in tact, and can be explored , entering them by Othello’s tower. We recommend at least 3 hours to explore this ancient city,and then perhaps you would like to explore other fascinating sites in the surrounding area :
Enkomi (Alasya) Ruins
Enkomi was one of the first settlements in the east of Cyprus. Important for the production and export of copper during the Bronze Age, it dates to the 15th Century B.C. but it was finally destroyed in 1200 B.C. by a series of earthquakes. Most of the population settled on the coast where the first Greek settlers established the Kingdom of Salamis.
St Barnabas Monastery
St Barnabas was born in Salamis to a Jewish family and educated in Jerusalem. His real name was Joseph Levi. He returned to Salamis and started to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His fellow citizens did not like this and they plotted his murder. He was eventually killed and his body was buried under a carob tree in a cave. His grave was opened by the order of Bishop Anthemios 432 years later, his Bible, a copy of St. Matthew’s version, was still lying on his chest.
The saint’s remains were sent to Emperor Zeno in Istanbul and in return the church of Cyprus was granted its independence and a monastery was built on the site where St. Barnabas’s body had been found in 477 AD. Later it was rebuilt by Archbishop Pilotheos in 1756, and remains to this day as a museum of archeology and Christian icons.
Huge limestone blocks were used in the construction of the Royal Tombs. Excavations have revealed significant remains which showed burial costumes of the Mycenaean times. During excavations in 1964, complete horse skeletons in full harness were unearthed together with chariots and pottery.
It is believed that the ancient city of Salamis was founded by Teucer on his return from the battle of Troy. During the Roman rule, Salamis was the greatest commercial center of the Emporium in the East. In the 1st Century A.D. it was destroyed by earthquakes but was rebuilt in the 5th Century A.D. and renamed Constantia by the Emperor Constantine. It enjoyed the status of a capital for next 300 years, but after further earthquakes and Arab raids it was finally deserted in the 8th Century. Today you can still see the breathtaking ruins of mosaics, an amphitheatre, forum, basilica, gymnasium, baths and a market place. It sits beside one of the longest and sandiest beaches in Cyprus in area that it partly forested.
Our Favorite Resorts;
- Arkın Palm Beach www.cyxptravel.com/arkin-palm-beach
- Salamis Bay Hotel www.cyxptravel.com/salamisbay
- Kaya Artemis www.cyxpytavel.com/kaya-artemis-karpasia
- Noah’s Arc