In North Cyprus’s tourism league table, the lovely city of Famagusta is second only to Girne. Like Girne, Famagusta has a charming old town encircled by crumbling Venetian walls, a remnant of its important location facing the Middle East. Its shops, restaurants, and cafés weave in and out of the beautiful ruins of churches that were burned or damaged during the Ottoman siege of 1570–71.
The ghost town of Varosha, once the center of Famagusta’s tourism economy, has been isolated since 1974. To the north, there are a number of historically significant monuments, including ancient Enkomi/Alasia, Apostolos Varnavas Monastery, the Royal Tombs, and, above all, ancient Salamis, as well as miles of beaches that line Gazimağusa Bay.
Gazimağusa is known by a variety of names, which can be confusing. The Turks renamed the city Gazimağusa (often shortened to Mağusa) in 1974, after it had been known as Famagusta from Lusignan/Venetian times, derived from French (Famagouste) and Italian (Famagosta). Ammochostos is the Greek name for it. If that was not confusing enough, the republic also uses the name Famagusta/Ammochostos for the district over the Green Line to the east, of which the city is the nominal capital.
A brief history of Famagusta
Located in the northeast corner of Cyprus, Famagusta is a charming Mediterranean town that has a long history and awes visitors with its mix of old and new structures. It is one of the nicest cities in Cyprus for a sightseeing excursion. Every day, numerous tourists flock to Famagusta to see its captivating sights. Famagusta also features some of the most stunning golden sand beaches in North Cyprus. Famagusta is a famous holiday location in North Cyprus.
After Salamis was destroyed by Arab assaults, refugees from Salamis founded the current site of Gazimağusa during the Byzantine era. Under the Lusignans, the new city reached its pinnacle, especially after the Saracens captured Acre in 1291 AD, bringing a flood of Christian merchants and craftsmen. When the pope prohibited direct business links with infidels, Gazimağusa became a key entry point for the entire Middle East, renowned for its wealth and as a melting pot of various cultures and religions – hence the vast diversity and number of churches (one, it was said, for every day of the year).
It began to deteriorate in the late fourteenth century but was strengthened by the Venetians as they attempted to counter the growing threat of Ottoman encroachment. The city fell in 1571 following a nine-month siege, completing the Ottoman conquest of the island, as it had done at Girne and Lefkoşia. During the siege, 100,000 cannonballs are reported to have smashed into the city, and the Ottomans made little attempt to repair the damage, therefore the ruins still stand today.
Greek people were expelled from within the walls three years after the siege. Many of them relocated just to the south, eventually forming Varosha. Varosha and its beaches were the epicenters of significant tourist development in the 1960s and early 1970s, only to be stuck in time by conflict.
Visiting Famagusta from the southern part of Cyprus
There are two convenient crossings to Gazimağusa from the south, both in the Dekhelia Sovereign Base region. The first, named variously as the Pyla/Beyarmudu/Pergamos crossing, is the most convenient if you are staying in Larnaka. Take the coast route or the A3 motorway from Larnaka to Agia Napa, then turn left at the Pyla sign. Drive through Pyla and up the other side of the hill. The crossing is located a few kilometers along the main road.
After crossing, you will arrive in the village of Beyarmudu; keep the name in mind because you will need to return there. Drive for 9 kilometers till you reach a junction, cross it, and continue for another 9 kilometers until you reach the major Lefkoşa–Gazimağusa highway. Turn right onto the dual carriageway, which will take you all the way to Gazimağusa. Make sure you do not miss the exit off the motorway towards Beyarmudu on your way back.
The Agios Nikolaos/Akyar/Strovilia crossing is the second alternative, which is especially useful if you are staying in the Agia Napa/Protaras area. Pass via Paralimni on your way to Derynia. Continue past Derynia on the main E305 road to Frenaros, then turn right at the Vrysoulles marker. At the T-junction, turn right, and the crossing point is about 3 kilometers away. Gazimağusa is only 5 kilometers away once you have crossed.
The walled city
Gazimağusa’s city walls, which were originally built by the Lusignans, owe their current impressive dimensions and design to the Venetians, who spent half a century up to 1540 remodeling them for medieval battle, including building ramps for hauling cannons and rounding square towers to make them resistant to artillery fire. Three of the four sides were surrounded by a dry moat, with the fourth facing the sea.
Because of the presence of an army camp, the northwest section of the wall and the Martinengo Bastion, with a group of places of worship, were restricted until recently, but this has now been abandoned, and the entire area, and indeed the walls as a whole, are once again open to visitors – British officers even played golf along the top of the walls in the 1930s.
The Ravelin Bastion and the Land Gate
The Land Gate, one of the two original main entrances to the ancient town (the other being the Sea Gate), is located in the southwest corner of the walls. Look to the right as you cross the bridge for a fine view of the stretch of the wall leading to the first “Santa Napa” bastion. The tourist office is on the left once you enter. The Ravelin Bastion (or Rivettina Bastion) in front of the gate was prominently involved in the Siege of Famagusta, and when it appeared that the assailants were about to capture it, the Venetians blew it up, killing a thousand Ottoman soldiers and a hundred Venetians.
The white surrender flag was also hoisted here, causing the victors to nickname it Akkule, or “White Bastion.” The public is welcome to tour the bastion’s interior, which includes a maze of corridors, rooms, and flights of stairs.
You can check out our previous blog post to understand Why you should visit Famagusta city!