Famagusta History Of A 'Prince of Walled Cities'

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Famagusta

Thanks to its troubled History, Famagusta is in fact two towns rolled into one. The ancient walled city of Famagusta is much as it was over five hundred years ago when Ottoman siege engines lay beyond its walls. Meanwhile the modern day town of Varosha (which flourished after independence in 1960) now lies trapped in the buffer zone between North and South Cyprus. The town is locked in a historical stasis; washing still hangs from sagging lines and the empty streets are given over to stray cats. The Turkish authorities have cut off all access to the city and so it remains a melancholy symbol of a land divided; its presence a reminder to the Greeks of all they have lost.

Seven hundred years ago Famagusta was the richest city on earth; famed throughout the world for its mercantile magnificence. Famagusta's economy boomed under Venetian rule, fed by trade routes that spanned the globe from England to India. In fact, the city was so well known that Shakespeare chose it as the setting for his play Othello. Famagusta's new wealth spurred on a frenzy of medieval building, many of which can be seen today, including: the Cathedral of St Nicolas, numerous houses and the remains of the fortified citadel. Unfortunately the fortifications weren't as robust as they could have been, and the city was taken by the Ottomans in the sixteenth century.

Famagusta soon slid into decline to become a remote 'backwater posting' that normally signaled the end of an official's career. Ironically this neglect both preserved the city and drained it of life. Today the shell of the walled city survives; an impressive façade which promises more than it delivers. The exception is the city centre, which has been recently renovated and retains much of its historical appeal. Otherwise those looking for a taste of Famagusta's medieval past should poke around the ancient bazaar in the heart of the old town or head up to the Venetian fortifications.

Although Famagusta is still a rather depressing place to spend a great deal of time, a short stop to see some of the Gothic architecture should be enough to pursuade those history inclined tourists. The Venetian Palace and museum should be your first stop then head to the Church of St John before moving on. If you are prepared to stay a tad longer, the St George of the Greeks church is a fascinating detour where you can still see the remains of cannonballs that have collided with the walls.

The celebrated travel writer Colin Thubron once referred to Famagusta as a 'prince of walled cities', yet anyone hoping to discover another Dubrovnik or Carcassone may leave disappointed.