Famagusta was, in medieval times, one of the richest cities in the world – courtesy its very deep harbour. Today, a last minute holiday to Famagusta is an opportunity to experience the sunshine, beaches, and sights of this beautiful city. Famagusta is served by the Ercan International Airport. The city is a one-hour drive from Nicosia.
Famagusta (Magusa in Turkish or Ammochostos to the Greek Cypriots) is on the east coast of North Cyprus. A German traveller once wrote that the wedding jewellery given to the daughter of a Famagustian merchant was “worth more than that of the Queen of France.” Its wealth came from dominating the shipping industry, especially when it came to goods from the Orient.
Today Famagusta is a busy university town, and the old city has a classic Cypriot mix of the old and the new blended together. The medieval architecture sits happily alongside the modern souvenirs while old men sit outside modern cafes playing backgammon.
In the old town, visit the walls and bastions that defended the city from those jealous of its wealth. The walls originally built by the Lusignans and later redesigned by the Venetians.
The most well-known of the bastions is Canbulat Bastion and Gate, which was the Venetian Arsenal. It is now a museum dedicated to the Ottoman war hero Cancebeilat Bey. It features a shrine and many artefacts from the Ottoman era. The museum is open every day between 8 am and 5 pm.
A must see is the Citadel known as Othello’s Tower, which is thought to be the setting for Shakespeare’s play Othello.
No one is sure which of the historical figures who lived here inspired the tragic character of Othello, although it is widely believed to be the vice Governor Christofero Moro, whose wife died here. Outside of the old city, you will find several villages which all have their own character. My favourite is Bogaz, where the little harbour has a few small but good restaurants. As well as fresh fish, there are some nice pasta dishes available.
A narrow road from Bogaz will take you to Kantara village, and from there another road will lead you to Kantara Castle (above). It is one of the best preserved castle in Cyprus, although it was partly destroyed by the Venetians so that it could not be used by the Ottomans. It is worth making a trip to the castle for the views alone because there is probably no better view of the North Cyprus coastline. It is also free to visit.
Famagusta Last Minute Holidays – Things to Do
This area has several lovely beaches, and most Famagusta beaches offer some water sports. Some of the beaches in this area are owned by hotels who charge an entrance fee to use the beach. There are mix of busy and quiet beaches in and around Famagusta. You can mostly find the usual beach facilities in this area, such as sunbeds and umbrellas to hire and showers.
This is basically North Cyprus’s equivalent of Nissi Beach in Ayia Napa! It gets rammed in the summer and the crowd is mostly very young. There is usually a DJ at the bar during peak summer season who plays until late. It is a fun beach to be at, but if you are looking for some peace and quiet during the summer months or you want to spend some romantic time with a loved one, this will not be the beach for you.
This is a nice little sandy beach which is much quieter than Glapsides. The water is very clear and there are few rocks. There are limited facilities but some nice restaurants close by. The time to see this beach is NOW as hotel resorts are being built aound it, and it looks as if it will become very crowded in near future.
This beach is located just south of the ruins of Salamis, and it makes a nice day trip to come and relax here after visiting the site. There is a small cafe at the beach but it hasn’t got much choice and there are few other facilities.
This is one of the best Cyprus beaches for snorkelling, as you are able to explore the old harbour of Salamis which is now underwater. So if you feel like submerging yourself within part of a lost city, this is the only place to be!
The Ancient City of Salamis
To get to the remains of the ancient city of Salamis, leave the Old Town of Famagusta and head towards the Karpaz Peninsula, passing Glapsides beach along the way. After about five miles, you will see a turning going east which will lead you to the ruins.
The site is spread across over two square miles, and has still not been fully excavated so allow yourself some time to explore if you want to see it properly. The founder of the city is believed to be Tefkros, the Trojan War hero. After being exiled by his father King Telamon, he fled to Cyprus, naming the new city after his homeland Salamina. It was later renamed Constantia by the Venetians who declared it to be the capital of Cyprus.
As it had a natural harbour, it had a dominant presence on the island, but was wrecked by earthquakes in the 4th century and later looted in the Arab raids during the 7th century.
The first place to visit is the Roman courtyards with their tiled marble floors. They are surrounded by columns and look quite similar to parts of the Forum in Rome. Headless statues surround the courtyard, their gold heads having been stolen long ago.
Also look out baths from the 3rd century AD. You still make out the mosaics on the walls, showing battle scenes and figures from ancient Greek mythology.
One of the most impressive excavations here is the Roman Amphitheatre which was under the the Emperor Augustus, and later rebuilt by the Byzantines. The seats have been carefully restored and a few seats are from the original stadium. It originally held over 15,000 people.
A side road will take you to the Royal Tombs. There are over 150 tombs here but most were looted over the centuries.
Two of the excavated tombs revealed treasures such as thrones, jewellery, weapons and a bed made of wood, silver and ivory. The items were left to assist the deceased in the underworld, and prove some of the writings of Homer.
The ruins are open every day from 8am to 6pm. There is an entrance fee to see the ruins, and a separate fee to enter St Barnabas.
On the same road as the tombs is the monastery of St Barnabas (Apostelos Varnavas). The apostle was born in Salamis and was stoned to death in 75 AD by the Jewish community of the city. He was buried in a secret location by his cousin.
400 years later St Barnabas is said to have appeared to the Archbishop of Salamis in a dream and told him the position of the tomb. The bishop searched and found the tomb.
It was considered a miracle and the Cypriot Church was granted independence. To this day the archbishop of Cyprus still has the right to wear a purple coat and sign his name in red ink like the Byzantine emperors.
A monastery was built at the location of the tomb, and it is now also an archeological museum. It is open every day from 8am to sunset.