The legendary Walled City of Famagusta. Alive and coloured by its vast diversity of history and culture. Immerse yourself in the city’s deep-rooted traditions, and soak in the legendary Cypriot hospitality.
The Walled City of Famagusta is a cultural heritage site of international importance that has survived a varied, at times turbulent history. 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 the history of the town is obscure as there are no written records and our only source of material is from traveler’s accounts of merchants passing through.
Some historians declare that it was founded by King Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt in 285 BC. It is believed that the city occupies the site of ancient town of Arsinoë. Famagusta prospered through the destruction of the neighbouring Salamis, the former capital of the island. Guests take pleasure in the quaint streets lined with welcoming cafes, historical buildings, ceremonial churches, and colourful Ottoman period mosques.
Visit cultural heritage sites and museums for a deep understanding of the historical context of this fabled city, connect with nature and history through a walk along the sea wall and fortress that inspired Shakespeare’s Othello, or simply relax and join us at a local cafe for traditional food and wine.
St. Nicholas' Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Mosque)
Possibly designed by the Frenchman Jean Langlois, St. Nicholas' Cathedral was begun in 1298 and consecrated in 1326. Until 1372, the Lusingnan kings came here to be crowned King of Jerusalem—a purely ceremonial honour, since the Crusaders lost the Holy Land in 1291.
Several royals were buried here, including James II the Bastard and his infant son James III, the last two Lusignan rulers, in 1473 and 1474. And it was at St. Nicholas' that the widow of James II renounced her royal rights and ceded Cyprus to the Doge of Venice in 1489.
The cathedral was badly damaged during the attacks of 1571 and by an earthquake in 1735. After the Ottoman conquest, the cathedral was transformed into a mosque with the addition of a mihrab and minaret and the complete destruction of all art depicting human figures. The frescoes were whitewashed and the altars were demolished. The twin towers were decapitated, and, as at Nicosia, the floor-tombs were emptied.
Nevertheless, the architecture remained entirely intact and its use as a mosque spared it from the Baroque additions and 19th-century restorations that were inflicted on most European cathedrals. The building is thus a rare example of pure Gothic architecture.
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 Roman theatre.
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 abhorrence, and were thrown into drains or were broken up. In fact, any indications of Roman pagan religion such as mosaic pictures were effaced or destroyed.
The Monastery of St. Barnabas
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.