A Day in Famagusta, Cyprus

Since visiting Famagusta and Salamis was easily the busiest day of our week in North Cyprus, I thought I’d do a more detailed post about it! Read on to find out about the beautiful ruined churches in the walled city, the sweet gooey baklava from Petek Patisserie, the eerie sight of the Varosha ghost town, and the fascinating ancient Roman excavations.

The Walled City

Famagusta (also known as Gazimağusa) is an old port town on the east coast, and was the key trading point of Medieval and Ottoman Cyprus. The walled city was mostly populated by Turkish Cypriots even before the Turkish invasion of 1974, but there are still many abandoned houses left by Greek Cypriots fleeing to the south of the island.

famagusta skyline
The view over the walled city from the Venetian Walls.
famagusta street
The road leading up to Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque.

The old city is surrounded by Venetian Walls and jam packed with ruins, like Othello’s Castle, St Sophia Mosque, the Venetian Palace, and at least three churches.

EDIT: OK I’ve just looked this up and there were 365 churches built in Famagusta in the 14th century. 365!

Famagusta Cyprus Walled City
Matt and I on the Venetian Walls of Famagusta. Photo credit: Tom Whitehead.

Petek Patisserie is a great place to eat on a day trip to Famagusta, with a welcoming interior and delicious fresh baked bread. We all enjoyed the traditional Turkish meatballs with delicious rice, and make sure you don’t leave without trying some of the gooey-est, sweetest baklava of your whole life.

petek
Left: The homely decor at Petek Patisserie. Right: Traditional Turkish meatballs.

Othello’s Castle

Built in the 14th century, Othello’s Castle (Othello Kulesi) was named after a Venetian governor and is believed to be the namesake of the Shakespeare play. It is the official entrance to Famagusta, and Spanish and Ottoman cannon balls still litter the courtyards – evidence of the city’s turbulent history.

Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque

The largest of all the ruins within Famagusta, towering over the other buildings in the city, is the St Sophia Mosque (Lala Mustafa Paşa Camii). Since it is a fully operational mosque, it arguably is not a ruin, but seen from any distance with its missing towers it could easily be mistaken as one.

LRG_DSC04949
The incomplete towers of St Sophia Mosque. Photo credit: Gabbi Whitehead.

Originally St Nicholas Cathedral during Venetian rule, the towers and roof of the structure was badly damaged when the Ottomans invaded, and they turned it into a mosque without reconstructing, leaving this totally unique building.

famagusta cathedral
Once St Nicholas Cathedral, now Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque.

Venetian Palace

The Venetian Palazzo del Provveditore (Venedik Sarayı Kalıntıları) was built by the Lusignan Kings of Cyprus and later used as a governors palace. Only the grand facade and back courtyard remain.

venetian palace famagusta
The ruins of the Venetian Palace, facing the mosque on Mahmut Celaleddin Sk.

Another surviving area of the palace is the Namık Kemal Dungeon, which housed the revolutionary playwright Namık Kemal in the late 19th century.

IMG_3915
Namik Kemal Dungeon and Venetian Palace courtyard.

St Francis Church

Another church built in the 14th century, St Francis Church was originally part of a Fraciscan monastery alongside the Royal Palace. Swooping buttresses would have supported the walls, but today there is only two sides of the apse and a small side chapel still standing.

IMG_3913
The remains of St Francis Church.

Sinan Paşa Mosque

Built in the 14th century by a successful merchant, St Peter & Paul’s Church was converted into a mosque by the invading Ottomans in 1571.

st peter
Left: The courtyard at the front of the mosque. Right: The flying buttresses.

It’s been used for many purposes over the years. The British used it as a grain and potato store. In the 1960s Turkish Cypriots converted it into a Town Hall. Nowadays it’s used a Public Library, and when we were visiting they were exhibiting traditional Cypriot dances and costumes.

st paul's
Left: The flying buttresses seen from the rear. Right: The back of the mosque.

St. George’s of the Greeks Orthodox Church

The southeast corner of Famagusta is historically the Greek quarter of the walled city (which explains why it is now mostly abandoned as all Greek Cypriots feld the north when it was invaded by Turkey) and had many Greek Orthodox churches, of which St George’s was the largest.

st george
The crumbling facade of St. George’s of the Greeks.

Built in the 13th century in the same style as St Nicholas Cathedral, St George’s of the Greeks would originally have been full of colourful frescos, some of which you can still see. The roof of the church collapsed due to the immense weight of the dome, which would not have been properly supported by the spindly decorative columns.

LRG_DSC04963
Bullet holes from when the church was used as a shooting gallery. Photo credit: Gabbi Whitehead.

The church was damaged even more during the Ottoman invasion of the 16th century, and you can still see holes in the outside from cannon fire. After the church was damaged beyond repair by earthquakes, the ruins were used by passing sailors as a shooting gallery.

st george' orthodox
Left: Beautiful archways inside the church: Right: Remains of the old dome.

The whole southeast quarter of Famagusta is somewhat of a ghost town, with deserted cafes, homes, churches, shops and, perhaps most notably, a retro cinema.

cinema
Left: The remains of a much earlier church dedicated to St George. Right: An abandoned cinema.

Varosha

If the deserted areas of Famagusta intrigued you, you’ll love this next bit. Athough it seems odd to be calling it a tourist attraction, the ghost town of Varosha was definitely one of the most impactful things we saw on our holiday.

famagusta ghost town
Left:Shells of former hotels. Right: Bright awnings at Devran Beach Restaurant.

Although the area is fenced off and tightly restricted by Turkish military, you can see the bombed out shells of hotels, left from the Turkish invasion, from Palm Beach.

Read more about Varosha in my previous post.

2219d3b6-5dce-4ad6-a6ab-3677b7a9f92b
White plastic loungers of Palm Beach in the shadow of bombed out hotels.

Salamis

Just 16km north of Famagusta is the ancient city of Salamis, excavated in the 19th century and open to the public.

baths.jpg
Left: Rosie and Gabbi Whitehead. Right: Hannah and Tom exploring the Roman gymnasium.

The excavations at Salamis reveal a long standing city that dates back as early as 1075 BC. Legend has it that it was founded by Teucer, who could not return home after the Trojan war because he had failed to avenge his brother Ajax.

IMG_3955
The Roman pillars around the Gymnasium and Baths.

Salamis was an important trading centre throughout ancient history, first under the Persian Empire, then Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine, before a series of natural disasters and pirate raids finished it off.

columns
Whitehead sass in the Roman gymnasium. Photo credit: Gabbi Whitehead

Excavations on the site started in the 19th century and continued through to the 1970s, when they were interrupted by the Turkish invasion.

ruins playtime
Left: More columns. Right: Roman public toilets. Photo credit: Laura Colyer

The site includes a massive gymnasium, surrounded by columns an used as an exercise ground, as well as swimming pools and baths with cold rooms and saunas. The other main feature is the amphitheatre, with 50 rows of seats that could have fit 15,000 audience members.

IMG_3961
The view from the top of the amphitheatre seats.

In the time of the Romans, the theatre would have been at the centre of town. Rich figures and officials paid to put on shows, which were free to the public, and would include all kinds of genres from romance and comedy to drama and crime (sometimes featuring live executions!).

ampitheatre
Left: Me about to climb the amphitheatre steps. Right: Laura sat in the centre of the stage.

The curtain would have been kept in the gap between the stage and the standing room, and pulled up at the end of a performance.

IMG_3965
The Whitehead clan relaxing on the steps of the amphitheatre.

North of the amphitheatre is a Roman villa, two basilicas, forum, temple and reservoir, although these are a considerable walk away from the main site and aren’t in as good a condition as the baths and theatre.

IMG_3966
The Roman Forum and Temple of Zeus.
LRG_DSC05061
The road between the amphitheatre and forum. Photo credit: Gabbi Whitehead.

St Barnabas Monastery

All the artifacts excavated from Salamis are either in the British Museum or displayed in the Archaeological museum at St Barnabas Monastery, which in itself is a gorgeous 18th century church worth driving only 10 minutes up the road to see.

st barnabas monastery cyprus
St Barnabas Monastery at sunset.

Verdict

There were a lot more ruins and abandoned buildings in Famagusta than I was expecting. Coupled with the ghost town at Varosha it gave the whole city an echo of past sadness. The excavations at Salamis were really interesting – in fact, Matt and I went visited the British Museum just recently because our visit to Salamis had made us so curious to learn more about ancient Cyprus.

Click to pin it!

amphitheatre pinterest NEW
Sophie Whitehead

I’m Sophie, a writer and blogger living in London, traveling, eating, and telling you all about it.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook

Leave a Reply