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THE SPLENDID SEA AND FAMAGUSTA

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Famagusta (Gazimağusa in Turkish) is coastal town in Northern Cyprus. It possesses the deepest harbour of the island. Famagusta forms a bridge between Near East and Europe. The city developed throughly under the rule of Lusignans. Those coming from Near East dynamised the inhabitants of the city by means of their culture and values.

With a population about 64.269, Famagusta is home to Eastern Mediterranean University. The golden sand beaches Famagusta are accepted as one of the best beaches in the world. Famagusta Municipality and Eastern Mediterranean University jointly organize International Famagusta Culture and Art Festival every year.

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Famagusta is 50 kilometers from the airport. If you travel to Northern Cyprus, it will be wise to rent a car with a price starting from $35 per day. The gas price is very reasonable in Northern Cyprus, thus you can travel the whole island with a full tank.

The main landmarks of Famagusta are Saint Barnabas Monastery, Kertikli Bath, Namık Kemal Museum, Salamis Ruins, Othello Castle and Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque.

St. Barnabas Monastery is among the most intriguing places in Famagusta. St.Barnabas, who was born in Salamis into a Jewish family, returned to Cyprus after studying in Jerusalem. St. Barnabas and St. Paul together undertook missionary journeys to spread Christianity in 45 A.D. Due to the evangelization efforts, St. Barnabas was murdered by citizens and his body was hidden in a swamp so as to throw to the sea. The body was found by the students of St. Barnabas, and was buried into an underground cave, in western Salamis, together with Gospel of Matthew on his chest. The body remained hidden for years as the exact location was not known. After 432 years, Archbishop Anthemios demanded an exhumation, asserting that he had seen the tomb in his dream. He identified St. Barnabas easily due to the Gospel of Matthew. Having identified the tomb of St. Barnabas, Archbishop Anthemios headed to Istanbul to inform Byzantine Emperor Zeno. As a reward, Church of Cyprus became an autocephalous Greek Church by an edict of Emperor Zeno who, then, donated to have a monastery built on the same location where the tomb was found. At the request of Zeno, the monastery was constructed in 477. It consist of a church, a courtyard and chambers in which the priests used to live.

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St. Barnabas Monastery includes a church that is currently used as Icon Musuem in which a great collection of items dating from 18th century is exhibited. During the construction of monastery, the basaltic mill was brought from Enkomi (Tuzla in Turkish), and the other columns and stones were brought from Salamis. The chambers in which the priest used to live, were restored and converted into Archeology Musuem which the largest musuem of the area. It is possible to observe artifacts or items dating from a long historical period from Neolithic Period to Roman Period in the museum.

Kertikli Bath, which is located in Naim Efendi Street, is a structre dating from the Ottoman Period. The bath, especially noted for its dome, consists of six chambers covered with a dobe, a water reservoir covered with vault at the back of the chambers, and tumbledown structures that is believed to be the changing room in the past.

Namık Kemal Musuem which is situated in the courtyard of Venetian Palace located west of Namık Kemal Square, is a duplex and square-shaped structure. The only door of the cell opens into the courtyard of Venetian Palace.

Namık Kemal was sent to Cyprus for exile in April 9, 1873 after he performed his play named “Vatan yahut Silistre” (The Country or Silistra) in April 5, 1873 in Istanbul Gedik Pasha Theatre. Primarily he was exiled in a dungeon in the basement floor, then he served his time in upper floor by permission of Cyprus Governor Veyis Pasha. He returned to Istanbul after being forgiven by Sultan Murad V in June 3, 1876. Having renovated and environmentally planned  by the Deparment of Restoration of General Directorate of Ancient Arts and Museum, Namık Kemal Museum and the Dungeon has been on public display since 1993.

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Salamis ancient city is located 6 kilometers north of modern Famagusta on the bank of Kanlıdere (Pedieos) River. According to legend, the city was founded by Teucer in the late Bronze Age. After Trojan War, Teucer, who was the son of Salamis Island’s king Telamon, could not return Salamis Island as he had not managed to avenge his brother Ajax. Thus, he was dismissed by his father and and founded Salamis city.

The earliest archeological findings date from 11th century B.C. during which the city was ruled by Phoenicians. The whole island and Salamis were taken under control by Assyrians in 708 B.C. Then the Egyptians took the control of the city that had been living as Independent Kingdom since the dissolution of Assyrian rule in 669 B.C. When Egypt was invaded by Persians in 525 B.C, Cyprus was ruled by Persians until the campaign of Alexander the Great.

The studies have revealed that the city was severely damaged as a result of earthquakes occured in 76-77. Though it was reconstructed, the city became nonhabitable due to large magnitude earthquakes occured between 332-342. Salamis was rebuilt by Constantius II under the name of Constantia, and became the capital of the island. However, Salamis was abandoned as a result of Arab invasions, starting from 647, and earthquakes. Those who abandoned Salamis, is believed to have settled in Famagusta.

Salamis is one of the most prominent historical site in Northern Cyprus. The city was excavated between 1952-1974. The excavations at Salamis reinitiated by Ankara University in 1998.

Most of the ruins in historical site date to the Roman period. The extant ruins consist of public structures like a gymnasium, theatre, forum, agora and bath.

The gymnasium was situated at the northernmost part of the city. An epighraph revealed that there had been a Hellenistic gymnasium dating from second century B.C. in the area. When the Hellenistic structure, surrounded on three sides by porch, was demolished due to the earthquakes, it was renovated and added another porch during the time of Augustus. The gymnasium got damage one more time as a result of earthquakes in 79, yet it was restored again with some additions in the period of Traianus and Hadrianus. Pools located northernmost and southernmost part of palaestra which was surrounded on four sides by column porches, were the additions made during the period of Traianus and Hadrianus. The gymnasium was rebuilt as a bath by Constantius II in the early Byzantine period after it got damage due to the earthquakes in 332-342.

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The Theatre of Salamis is located north of the gymnasium. The theatre was built in the period of Augustus, and took its last shape in 1- 2nd centuries. It was destroyed due to earthquakes in in 4th century, and much of the structure were used in the restoration of gymnasium and building of early period Byzantine baths. The theatre consists of three sections; stage building, orchestra bore and auditorium. The stage structure, which was decorated with frescoes, niche and statues, hosted both performances and greenrooms. However, only the basics of the stage structure have able to been survived today. The auditorium originally consisted of 50 rows of seats that were covered with whitewash. Only small part of the auditorium remained intact today. It is estimated that the auditorium could hold over 15.000 spectators. After renovation and consolidation process, the theatre is currently used as historical place in which various cultural and art activities take place.

St. Epiphanios Basilica is the largest known basilica in Cyprus. The basilica was the Metropolitan church of Salamis in the past. It is considered that the basilica were constructed during the term of service of Bishop Epiphanios (368-403) whose tomb is located in the basilica as well. St. Epiphanios Basilica is divided into three sections by two sets of fourteen columns. The apsis includes the benches for bishops and priests. The rooms on either side of apsis were used by priests to put their clothes in and to store materials used during the rituals. The heating system below the baptistery’s floor level indicates that hot or warm water was used for baptising ceremonies in cold winter months. Another small church was built to the south of the basilica in 7th century after the Arab invasions.

Located on an area about four square miles, Salamis Necropolis extends over from Enkomi to western part of Salamis forest and St. Barnabas Monastery. It is considered that some of the excavated tombs were belong to the kings due to their structure and precious findings. Its main architectural characterisctics are long and sloped areas situated in front of the vaults. They would sacrify funeral coach horses in honor of deceases people and would arrange jars full of oil, wine and honey on these sloped areas. The studies revealed that the tombs were built in 8th century B.C. and were used until 4th century A.D. Precious findings were excavated especially within the tombs number47, 50, 79 which are consdired to have been belong to the kings. The grave number 50 is used as a small church dedicated to St. Catherine. It is also known as St.Catherine Prison as it is believed that St. Catherine was imprisioned here by his uncle who was the governor of Salamis. Pots, ceramics, objects made of bronze and ivory, as well as bones of sacrified horses have been excavated out of the tombs.

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Cellarka Mass Graves is a mass necropolis area where poor or common people were buried. It is located 500 meters southeast from the royal tombs. About 120 tombs has been excavated till today. It is considered that Cellarka was used between 8th century B.C and 4th century B.C. Steps carved out of rocks in front of tombs that are covered by huge slabs draw attention. As the necropolis was fully occupied in time, new graves were built by downsizing the old ones until 4th century B.C. Bones of animals and pot – ceramic findings in the ash of the fire lighted in front of the graves indicates that the place had been used for ritual sacrifices.

Nikokreon Monument which is located within Salamis Necropolis is considered to have been erected in honor of Nikokreon, the last king of Salamis. It is stated in the studies that Nikokreon preferred to commit suicide rather than surrender to Ptolemeos. His wife, to, committed suicide after she killed her family and set palace to the fire. A furnace that can be reached by climbing some steps and iron bars, as well as statues made of clay and stone were found. These statues have the characteristics of late Ancient Greek sculpture.

Othello Castle which was built by Lusignans in 14th century, was used as a main entrance of Famagusta. Lion of St.Mark was engraved on the main entrance of the castle, along with the name Nicolo Foscari, who restructured the castle, and the date (1492). The castle is surrounded by a deep ditch and it includes towers as well as long corridors. The courtyard contains artilleries, cannon balls and pellet dating from both Ottomans and Spanish. The land gate was protected by a Ravelin. In addition to passages, there are also grottos used as chapel and dungeon. The castle took its current name when the island was under the rule of the British. A chapter of Shakespeare’s well-known play Othello takes place in a port in Cyprus.

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The lead character in Othello is introduced as Moroccan (Moor). It is believed that Shakespeare heard the surname of Cyprus’ Venetian Governor Christophoro Moro, and may have considered he was Moroccan. The hall inside of the castle hosts many cultural activities today. For example; Famagusta Culture and Art Festival organized by Famagusta Municipality and Eastern Meditarrenean University is generally held in this hall.

Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque was built between 1298 – 1312 during the period of Lusignan. It is accepted as one of the most beautiful structure in Gothic architecture. Lusignan Kings were crowned as the King of Cyprus in St. Sophia Cathedral in Nicosia, then as the King of Jerusalem in St. Nicholas Cathedral in Famagusta. The coronation were held till it was converted into a mosque in 1571. During the construction of western side, the most well-preserved and beautiful side, of the Cathedral, the architects probably influenced from Reims Cathedral in France. Having a unique window decorated in Gothic style, the Cathedral includes a Venetian Gallery, dating from 16th century, in its courtyard.

Coat of arms belonging to Venetians can be seen on the circular windows. It is considered that some embosses, with animal figure, have been brought from a temple in Salamis. The apsis of the cathedral consists of three sections and in Eastern style just like the other churches in Cyprus. Historic sycamore tree and fig tree, 700-year old, located in the entrance of the cathedral, are the oldest living creature in Cyprus.  

The tree is considered to have been planted in 1298. The stem of the tree is divided into seven bough after 2.70 meters. It yields fruit seven times a year and shades perfectly. The tree has been significant since the period of Egyptians as it yields a yummy fruit, shades perfectly especially for hot places, has a valuable timber for furniture making. This might be the reason why it is called Pharaoh’s fruit in Turkish.

Famagusta has the most beautiful beach and sea in Northern Cyprus. 5-star hotels with casino like Kaya Artemis, Palm Beach and Salamis Bay Conti are available in Famagusta.