Some interesting facts about North Cyprus
For many tourists, entering North Cyprus is like traveling back in time. The crowded resorts, shops, and famous international brands of the south have been replaced with rural villages and a slower pace of life – or, as the local tourist board puts it, “the Mediterranean as it used to be.” The island of Cyprus is a fascinating place to visit for vacation, honeymoon, and even real estate investment. You can read our previous blog post to know some facts about North Cyprus!
The Republic’s government has done everything it can to keep relations between north Cyprus and the rest of the world at a minimum, and the problem of Turkish-Cypriot (and indeed Turkish) occupancy of property owned by Greek Cypriots in the north remains a key roadblock to reunification. The republic’s position on “legal” entrance points and property ownership has been consistent and unambiguous. Nonetheless, many Greek Cypriots cross into the north on a day visit and for overnight stays.
This is largely owing to the progressive opening up of the Green Line, which serves as a de facto dividing line between the two communities – there are now seven crossing places, with two more being considered.
Since Mustafa Akinci became President in 2015, the process of entering the north from the south has been made even easier; one of his first acts was to eliminate visa restrictions. As a result, visitors staying in the south may see as much of the north as they want, with numerous destinations only a half-hour drive from the south’s major resorts. Others prefer to spend their entire journey in the north, which means passing via Turkey.
North Cyprus is home to two of the island’s most beautiful towns (Gazimağusa and İskele), half of the capital city (Lefkosia/Lefkoşa), three of the island’s most powerful Crusader castles (St Hilarion, Buffavento, and Kantara), and perhaps the island’s most important ancient site (Salamis). Many of its beaches remain thankfully free of high-rise resorts, especially in the Kyrenia Mountains.
Furthermore, any trip to Cyprus that takes in both sides of the island provides a rare opportunity to witness two very different cultures: Orthodox Greek Cypriots and Muslim Turkish Cypriots.
There is also the issue of cost: because it is not in the Eurozone, the north can feel significantly less expensive than the south, and its tourism infrastructure, while still lacking, is progressively developing.
When it comes to touring in the north, many museums and other points of interest may appear neglected and outdated, while its hotels and restaurants lack the refinement of the south. You can also encounter a casual attitude toward listed opening times; if something is critical to you, call beforehand or check with the tourist office. Finally, do not worry if you have not been able to purchase Turkish Lira; euros and dollars are often accepted.
Gazimağusa (Famagusta) and its environs
A complex of ruins about 8 kilometers north of Gazimağusa, indicated from both the coast road to Boğaz and the major route to the city, are among the most important and spectacular in all of Cyprus. The predominantly Roman ruins of Ancient Salamis are by far the most famous and photographed. The Royal Tombs, the Monastery of St Barnabas, now a museum, and the prehistoric remains of Enkomi-Alasia are all within a few minutes drive of this massive beachfront site. Allow a full day for a thorough check or half a day for highlights.
Ancient city of Salamis
Salamis is one of the most important archeological sites in the Mediterranean, not only for the richness and scope of its ruins, but also for its pleasant beachfront setting. The site is massive, and despite nearly a century of archeological investigation, it has yet to be fully explored. The site is approached via a road that runs alongside a large picnic area, and the first thing you will notice is a restaurant (Bedi’s) with a freshly added beach bar and pier, as well as a great sandy beach.
You can park behind the restaurant or in one of the two car parks at the archeological site. A site map at the entrance (well marked from Gazimağusa) shows two walking routes, one short and the other long. Fortunately, the most important and thoroughly examined buildings are located immediately beyond the entrance. It will take a lot of walking if you want to see every aspect of the city, so be prepared.
Salamis was an important cultural center throughout Classical Greek and Roman times, becoming the richest and most significant city on the island for roughly 1700 years. It was founded circa 1075 BC by Greek and Anatolian settlers and reinforced by refugees as Enkomi-Alasia was abandoned. Its kings claimed genealogy from Teucer, the hero of the Trojan War and brother of Ajax, and son of the King of Salamis, an island south of Athens (hence the name). After earthquakes destroyed the city between 332 and 343 AD, Byzantine Emperor Constantine II rebuilt it and renamed it Constantia.
However, the harbour sank, there were other earthquakes, and the Arab incursions that ravaged Cyprus from the seventh century AD onwards gave the final blow. Salamis’ residents relocated to what is now Gazimağusa in the south.
The Gymnasium and Baths, built originally by the Greeks and considerably remodeled by the Romans and Byzantines, are the earliest impressive complex of ruins. The massive open courtyard, encircled by columns and with the ruins of a plinth in the center, is at the core of the edifice. This is the palaestra, where people exercised or gossiped in the shade of the colonnaded stoa encircling them.
Much of the tessellated marble flooring has survived, with inscriptions visible in certain places. The ruins of several stores can be found to the west of the palaestra. To the east are the baths, which have the customary succession of rooms with ascending temperatures ranging from frigidarium to caldarium.
The hypocaust (underfloor heating system) beneath the floor has collapsed in certain areas. Plunge pools flank both sides of the baths, the northern one rectangular and encircled by headless sculptures (through which you approach the site). There are also latrines, three octagonal pools, and a water supply aqueduct.
A column-lined corridor leads to the sketchy remnants of an amphitheatre/stadium after exiting the baths via the south plunge pool. Beyond here comes the far more magnificent theatre, which is one of the site’s highlights. It was built during Augustus’ reign (27 BC–14 AD) and features the classic Greco-Roman semicircular layout, however, it was built upwards in the Roman style rather than blending into a hillside as the Greeks did.
The seating curves steeply to the left around the semicircular orchestra as you enter from the north, with the stage and proscenium straight ahead. It could initially seat 15,000 spectators in fifty rows and has been renovated (the new seating is clearly recognized from the old — it’s white instead of red/brown).
An altar to Dionysus existed in the orchestra, and statues flanked the stage.
When you exit the theatre, take the short way back to the entrance, passing through the second car/coach park. The long route continues south, past the ruins of Cyprus’ largest basilica, founded by St Epiphanius in the fourth century AD – his empty marble-lined tomb can be seen at the end of the south aisle – to a large Byzantine cistern or vouta, where water was stored before being distributed to the baths via an aqueduct 50 kilometers away.
The enormous Roman forum or agora (of which only a single column remains) and the few ruins of a temple to Zeus are beyond this.
Returning past the basilica of St. Epiphanius and turning out towards the sea leads you to another Byzantine structure on the plans dubbed “The Olive Press,” but whose original purpose is uncertain — it was formerly used to house an olive press. The Byzantine Basilica of Kampanopetra is a slightly later, fifth-century AD structure beyond this.
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