Famagusta is a city in Northern Cyprus. Famagusta in North Cyprus is a delightful medieval walled city with architecture to rival the finest in Eastern Europe. Famagusta is still very much a working city, preserved by the hundreds of generations of Cypriots who have lived and worked here since before the time of Christ.

History and Mystery of Famagusta

The exact age of this ancient city is uncertain, although some scholars believe it was founded in 285 BC by the Egyptian king Ptolemy. There were certainly settlements in the area a lot earlier than that, including the Bronze Age settlement of Enkomi. Indeed, the medieval walled city of Famagusta may have been built on the site of the ancient town of Arsinoe. Certainly, Famagusta benefited from the destruction of the nearby prosperous town of Salamis, when the residents probably moved from the ruined Roman settlement to Famagusta.

Famagusta’s fortunes changed dramatically in 1291, when Christian merchants fled from the Saracens in Palestine. They came to Famagusta, where they could trade as middle-men between west and east. By 1300 AD, Famagusta was a major trading port in the eastern Mediterranean, and a city well known for its wealth and excesses. It was said that in Famagusta, merchant’s daughters wore more jewels than kings at their coronations. It was also the centre for several Christian religious orders, as Cyprus was an important staging post for Crusaders heading to the Holy Land.

In 1489, the Venetians moved their capital city from Nicosia to Famagusta, and they too began a massive programme of improving the town’s defensive walls, adding towers and cannon posts.

The Siege of Famagusta, North Cyprus

Their precautions were justified when the Ottoman navy arrived in North Cyprus in 1570 and laid siege to Famagusta. Lala Mustafa Pasha tried to take the town in October 1570, but finding the fortifications too strong, decided to sit out the winter at his camp in nearby Pomodamo. Extra troops arrived in April 1571, and the siege began in earnest. By May, the Turks had managed to dig under the arsenal tower, but the plot was discovered. The defenders of Famagusta took the gunpowder destined to blow up the tower for themselves, and literally fired it back at the Turks!

However, by August the citizens had run out of food, ammunition, and men fit to fight. On 1 August, 1571, the town surrendered to the Ottoman invaders. By the end of 1571, the whole of Cyprus had fallen under Ottoman rule.

Under Ottoman rule, Famagusta all but fell silent, the buildings within the walls neglected and the city being used as an exile home for Ottoman political prisoners.

Nowadays, the new town of Famagusta lies to the south of the old walled city, known by its Turkish name of Gazimagusa. Famagusta continues to be an important port, having the deepest harbour in Cyprus, with regular exports of citrus fruits and livestock

What to see in Famagusta

  • Very interesting historical sights – the Cathedral of St. Nicholas (Cathedral of St. Nicholas), converted and renamed the mosque Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque after the Turkish conquest, and the Greek Church of St. George ) with its frescoes. You will see a lot of interesting things in the old town, where sights are waiting for the tourist on almost every corner.
  • You can also see the ruins on the site of the city of Salamis (Salamis), located north of Famagusta, if you go in the direction of Iskele (İskele) (Greek Trikomo). It is also worth seeing the late Bronze Age city of Engomi.
  • Monastery of St. Barnabas (St. Barnabas monastery). On its territory there is a church, which serves as a museum of icons.