Famagusta – the most mysterious city in Cyprus
Visitors from around the world come to the Cypriot city of Famagusta to see its ancient and new attractions, enjoy a comfortable holiday on the white beaches of the Mediterranean Sea and get a rare glimpse of the mysterious Varosha neighborhood, closed to the public.
This resort quarter was once considered a symbol of luxury and fashionable leisure. Its expansive beaches, beautiful avenues, ancient monuments, and rich tourist infrastructure attracted many tourists and top international stars. After the division of the island into northern and southern parts, the first-class European resort turned into a famous ghost quarter, which became one of the most interesting sights of Famagusta.
History of the city
Arsinoe, a seaport on the Mediterranean coast (first name of Famagusta), was founded in the 3rd century B.C. by the Egyptian King Ptolemy II Philadelphos, who had ruled the island of Cyprus since Alexander the Great’s conquest. Ptolemy named the settlement after his beloved wife and at the same time his sister.
The city, like the whole island, was predominantly populated by Greeks but was ruled by different states and dynasties and later was even the residence of King Richard the Lionheart. Its heyday began in the 7th century when the Arabs who invaded the island destroyed the capital Salamis and the surviving inhabitants moved to the nearby Arsinoe. The town was walled and renamed Ammohostos (City of Sands).
In the XII century the rich and well fortified coastal fortress became part of the newly formed kingdom of Cyprus. Its ruler – the former king of Jerusalem Lusignan renamed the city Famagusta. The fortress became the largest port in the Mediterranean in the 13th century after the fall of the Lebanese port city of Tyre. Many refugees from Palestine migrated to Famagusta.
Located at the crossroads of the trade routes of Europe and the Middle East, the city quickly became a rich trading center and its merchants and shipowners could afford every luxury. During the Lusignan dynasty (from the 12th to the end of the 15th century) it became the second capital of Cyprus, rivaling Rome and Paris in luxury and splendor.
Famagusta in the 1480s
In the 15th century the city passed to the Genoese and a hundred years later the Venetians, who took over Cyprus, turned Famagusta into a real jewel and center of trade and financial life of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Church of Peter and Paul (1359) was converted into the Sinan Pasha Mosque in 1571.
Port of Famagusta, engraving from Olfert Dapper’s Description exact des iles des l’Archipel
In 1570 the fortress fell under the onslaught of the Ottoman troops after a heavy siege of months. The Turks ruled Cyprus for nearly three centuries. During this period, Famagusta was still a major city in which trade, agriculture, mosques, fortresses and schools for the local population were actively developed.
After World War I Cyprus passed to Britain, and in 1925 it was declared a British colony. Famagusta was chosen by the British to build their own military base in the Mediterranean Sea. The city had a railroad that connected it with Nicosia, a modern port, wide avenues and high-rise buildings in European style.
The British government invested in the development of agriculture in the region, the construction of military installations, the drainage of the marshes and the education of the local population, with the compulsory study of English.
Famagusta Harbor, 1905
In 1960, Cyprus gained independence and Famagusta became an administrative center with two municipalities, one Greek and one Turkish. Industry developed here, and the city port served more than 80% of the island’s cargo traffic and almost half of the passenger traffic.
By the early 1970s, Famagusta had become the largest tourist center in the Mediterranean. More than a hundred modern hotels, many banks, stores and places of entertainment concentrated in the resort quarter of Varosha, one of the favorite vacation spots of world celebrities. In 1974, Cyprus was divided into the southern and northern sectors – the Hellenic Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic, which included the city of Famagusta.
Varosha: a ghost town
Life in Famagusta changed on August 20, 1974. After the division of the island, more than 200,000 Greek inhabitants moved to the southern part of the island and 30,000 Turks moved to the north. The Turkish administration gave the inhabitants of Varosha twenty-four hours to leave the city.
Later, the area was fenced with barbed wire and taken under armed guard. For more than 45 years it has been impossible to get into Varosha. The area can be seen through binoculars from the Cultural Center observation deck or from the beach at the Palm Beach Hotel. The former fashionable resort now looks like the setting for a Hollywood movie: abandoned high-rise hotel buildings, rusted cars, and sidewalks overgrown with grass. Especially interesting looks deserted coast of the resort, where umbrellas and sun loungers remained almost half a century ago, the surviving wooden porches of restaurants and equipped sites for recreation.
Entering the territory of the quarter forbidden to all, and violators face a fine of 500 euros. As an exception, local authorities allow journalists into the area, who are required to obtain accreditation to write about the abandoned resort.
What to see in Famagusta
The streets of the ancient city have preserved many beautiful structures and monuments of ancient, medieval and modern history. Famagusta is worth visiting first, starting with a visit to the city fortress.
The old city is surrounded by a stone wall 17 meters high and 9 meters wide. You can enter the citadel through a gate in the building of the arsenal, which is accessed by a stone bridge across the moat. On the side of the port are Sea Gates, built by the Venetians in the late 15th century.
The old town behind the fortress walls holds the greatest number of attractions:
Between the 12th and 15th centuries, wealthy merchants, eager to emphasize the city’s power and glory, built 365 majestic temples – one for each day of the year – on its grounds. Today, most of them are in ruins, and only a few dozen surviving temples remind us of their former splendor.
In the center of the town square stands a three-arch structure with four antique columns – the only surviving fragment of the pompous palace of the governor of the island, which was built by the Venetians in the 16th century on the site of the ruined Lusignan Palace. During Turkish rule the building was turned into a prison, and today there is a museum of the Turkish writer and social activist Namik Kemal Bey, one of its prisoners.
A 10 minute drive from Famagusta are the ruins of the first capital of Cyprus, the city of Salamis. Here you can see the amphitheater, the ancient basilicas and baths in all their ancient beauty. Unlike the sights of southern Cyprus, the ancient monuments of the Turkish part of the island have not been restored. This attracts true lovers of ancient history to Famagusta, who here have the opportunity to touch eternity.
Cuisine & Restaurants
Famagusta is a great place to discover the national Cypriot cuisine. The culinary art of the Cypriots is a combination of unique styles and elements of Mediterranean, Turkish, Middle Eastern and European dishes.
The most popular restaurants in the historic part of the city are located in the area of Namik Kemal Square. For example, Café D & B offers excellent kebabs and more than 10 types of pizza, Aspava offers the best known Turkish dishes and Ginko offers original authors’ treats and international cuisine. For a quick snack, head to Monk’s Inn Bistro & Bar, which serves more than a dozen kinds of sandwiches, sandwiches and desserts.
In the modern district of Famagusta, the most restaurants, bars and coffee shops are concentrated on Salamis Road. The Greek restaurant Spartiatis serves the best seafood dishes, and the most delicious kebab, according to tourists, is prepared in Louloudia. Ice cream and oriental sweets are the main treats at the family restaurant Petek. On hot days, the terrace of the place is full of guests, children and adults try numerous delicacies and admire the goldfish swimming in the beautiful pool with a fountain.
One of the favorite meat dishes of the locals is moussaka – thick pâté made of minced meat with potatoes and eggplant. The stefado, a beef stewed in a wine sauce with spices and spices, is a must-try.
In addition, any local restaurant will offer its guests a set of traditional snacks – meze. The ritual suggests about 15 different meat, fish, and vegetable snacks, pates, cheese and meat cuts of different sorts to be served in a certain order. Fish meze includes several kinds of seafood, grilled fish and sauces enriching the appetizers with special flavor nuances.
Vegetarians will be delighted with the variety of vegetable dishes, salads, and pickled snacks.
Most desserts are made with fresh fruit, and coffee is considered the main drink of the locals, and is always served at the end of meals.
The beaches are a long line from the suburbs of Famagusta to the Karpas peninsula, separated from one another by small isthmus. The sea is calm and crystal clear, the beach areas are equipped with umbrellas, sun loungers, toilets and showers, rentals for catamarans and water skis. On the beaches are constantly on duty lifeguard teams.
The most popular beaches in Famagusta:
Buses and coaches are available for public transport in Famagusta. Despite the large number of buses, they run irregularly and only until 20:00.
One of the most popular ways to get around the city is by own or rented car. The traffic in Cyprus is left-handed, and the basic rules of the road are the same as in Europe. Local drivers try not to break the rules and drive carefully, so the situation on the roads is quite calm.
You can hail a cab through the reception at the hotel, in any store, restaurant or just stop on the street. Cab stands are located near shopping centers, popular attractions and local beaches. Fares are about three times cheaper than in the Greek part of the island, so travelers often use this mode of transport to get from one point of Famagusta to another or to go on a tour of its interesting places.
Famagusta is a small town and can be explored on foot. Pedestrians should take precautions and avoid areas guarded by the military. Usually, such areas are marked with special signs.
How to reach Famagusta
Transportation from Nicosia to Famagusta by buses runs every 30 minutes. You can’t get to the city directly from south Cyprus – to do this, you must cross the border in the north. The nearest place where you can do this is Strovilia checkpoint, located on the territory of the British independent military base.
The dead city of Famagusta in Cyprus; history, attractions
The city of Famagusta in Cyprus has a very long and eventful history. It was founded in III B.C. by a king of Egypt, after which it became the residence of Richard the Lionheart, a British port and a major center of Mediterranean Christianity.
Famagusta is a ghost town: History
It is forbidden to take photos and videos of the old town of Famagusta.
Famagusta (Cyprus) remained the main tourist resort of the island until 1974. In the 70s, due to the growing number of holidaymakers, many hotels were built here, especially in the Varosha area. The hotels were so popular with tourists that the best rooms were booked several years in advance by wealthy Germans and Englishmen. Wealthy Cypriots also came here to relax in villas, luxurious by the standards of the time.
The peak of the resort’s popularity fell on the period from 1970 to 1974. Here came such celebrities as Elizabeth Taylor, Raquel Welch, Brigitte Bardot, Richard Burton. This part of Famagusta housed a large number of hotels, entertainment venues, restaurants, nightclubs and bars.
The now dead city in Cyprus Famagusta at the peak of its glory had 45 resort-type facilities, 60 residences, about 100 entertainment centers, 24 theaters, 21 banks and 3000 different-sized stores.
After the occupation of Cyprus by the Turks, only stones remained of the settlement. The Turkish army occupied about 40 percent of the island, including Famagusta and the suburb of Varosha. The inhabitants were forced to leave their homes, but with the certainty that they would return very soon.
After the second phase of the Turkish invasion on August 14, 1974, the inhabitants are still unable to return to their homes in Varosha.
Varosha in Famagusta, once an elite neighborhood, has been fenced off, looted and turned into a ghost town. Today you can read a lot of stories about how the neighborhood still has fully equipped hotels and clothing stores. But that’s not true-not even the window frames remain.
Several decades have passed, but the inhabitants of Famagusta, the ghost town, have never been able to return home. The only inhabitants of Varosha today are birds, rodents and stray cats. At night, only the posts of the Turkish military are lit. The golden sandy beaches have been deserted for years. Varosha is a ghost town in Cyprus that has become a bargaining chip between the Turks and the Greek Cypriots.
Tourists are not allowed in the dead city in Cyprus, as reminded by numerous warning signs. The Turkish services do not allow you to approach the fence and take pictures. But interest in Famagusta and the ghost town in it does not die away, so a special place from which for a small fee you can through a telescope to observe the resort, which came to a standstill more than 40 years ago.
Famagusta – the old town
The streets of the resort are steeped in history, with many ancient buildings, cathedrals, public baths and other ancient buildings. The ruins of the city are carefully guarded.
There are potholes on the city walls that are a reminder of the time in the 16th century, when the Turks first invaded Famagusta.
Since that time, most of the ruined buildings have remained. According to reviews of tourists, in the southern part of Cyprus, all historical monuments as if carefully ironed and repaired to attract the attention of tourists. There is no such thing in the northern part; you can see the true original history in every stone. The absence of crowds of tourists gives you the feeling that all this antiquity belongs only to you. The beauty of ancient buildings, the serenity of ruined temples – that’s how ancient Famagusta is. And near the historical monuments fit perfectly modern stores, restaurants, cafes and banks.
Cyprus, Famagusta, ghost town – how to get there
Buses leave every 30 minutes from Nicosia, the capital of the island. Travel time is 1 hour. From airport Ercan it’s 40 minutes.
In Cyprus, distances in Famagusta itself are short, so buses rarely run here, and tourists can avoid renting a car and get to any point on foot. Sometimes cab services are required, be sure to check the cost before taking this form of transport.
When walking around the city you should be careful and avoid the special areas, which are controlled by the Turkish army and UN troops.
Abandoned City of Famagusta in Cyprus – hotels, accommodation conditions for tourists
Today, there is a confident demand for trips to Cyprus for recreation by the sea and excursions to Famagusta. In and around the city you can find great 5 star hotels (eg Palm Beach Hotel, Kaya Artemis Resort & Casino). There are also budget options for those who want to spend more time outside the hotel or are very limited in funds – Kocaries Holiday Village, Long Beach Club Resort, etc.
Cuisine and shopping
Famagusta has many stores with various goods (clothes, dishes, homeware, souvenirs, etc.) as well as shops with Cypriot souvenirs.
The main medieval church of St. Nicholas in Famagusta on the east coast of Cyprus.
Decent restaurants in both the new and old part of town. In the historic center we recommend visiting D & B Café, Aspava, Ginko Restaurant. In the modern town, the best eating places are on Salamis Road.
Othello Castle is a fortified structure in the city of Famagusta on Cyprus. At the moment in Turkey.
The resort beckons travelers with a large number of historical sites. In Famagusta there are attractions throughout the city. These are medieval Renaissance buildings, Venetian-style streets, and fortresses.
If you have not read about the northern city of Kyrenia in Cyprus, you should read the article; the city of Kyrenia in Cyprus.
What to see in the city of Famagusta (Cyprus)? The list is really big. The most striking and popular sights are the Gothic Cathedral of St. Nicholas, the Church of St. George, Othello Castle – the hero of Shakespeare’s tragedy – the place where the story described in the novel took place. Interesting tourist sites – the Palace of the Venetian governor Giovanni Riviere and the square with a Roman marble sarcophagus.
A 10-minute drive from Famagusta takes you to the town of Salamis, which boasts preserved basilicas, ancient baths, and an amphitheater.