Famagusta North Cyprus – A favorite holiday destination
Famagusta and its surrounding environs like İskele are the second most popular holiday destination in North Cyprus, after Kyrenia. However, this was not always the case. Famagusta was one of the “Hot” tourist destinations prior to the island’s separation in 1974. With the erection of high-rise hotels and holiday apartment blocks, the long sandy beach that reaches southwards from the harbor all the way to Protaras and Cape Greco was gradually but inevitably expanded.
Much of its construction is now hidden behind the wall that surrounds Famagusta’s Marash/Varosha neighborhood. It is a “No Man’s Land,” a point of contention in the reunification discussions. It is still deserted, forlorn, and dilapidated.
It can only be seen from afar and cannot be visited because it is patrolled by Turkish and UN personnel. The “fact” that Famagusta is a ghost town is emphasized in propaganda aimed at discouraging visitors from visiting the north of Cyprus. Famagusta, however, is much more than the abandoned structures of Varosha. The walled city of Famagusta has been a Turkish city since it was seized by Ottoman soldiers in 1571, and it has remained so through good and bad times. There are several reasons why you should visit Famagusta city!
Nothing compares to the deadly fight when the Venetians fought so heroically to hold on to their city in a siege that lasted nearly a year, and nothing compares to the mood that permeates from every stone in its huge walls that have few competitors throughout Europe.
Originally fortified during the Lusignan period, the vast defenses that can still be seen today were built under Venetian administration. The stone blocks that make up the walls and bastions were cut out of the rock that the city is built on. The moat that surrounds the city was formed by the Venetian masons when they chiseled the building blocks.
Only the Djambulat bastion or the Diamante bastion provide access to the moat north and south of the harbour. It is around two kilometers long and makes for a great springtime stroll.
Famagusta, which has been described as a massive outdoor museum by many, should never be rushed. There is so much to see that a day journey can just scratch the surface. The “Chimneyed House” has a well-stocked museum of ancient treasures that should not be missed. The Harbour Citadel, also known as “Othello’s Tower,” has a magnificent view of the city, as well as dark passages leading to the gun ports and the Great Hall, where the knights and their ladies used to dine.
There are churches to see, many of which were abandoned following the Ottoman takeover and are now nothing more than a few courses of stone. However, many are still operational and in good condition. Some have been converted into mosques and are no longer used as Christian churches, but they can still be visited. The great church of St. Nicholas is now the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, which is located in the heart of the city, directly across from the ruins of the massive palace that served as the Lusignan monarchs’ residence and is well worth a visit.
Despite the fact that it has been stripped of any internal trace that it was once a catholic church, the walls have been bleached and the stained glass windows have been replaced with plaster filigree, there is still an air of sanctity and tranquility.
The Martinengo bastion, an exceptional example of military construction, is located in the north-west corner, and inside its precinct are the Armenian and Carmelite churches, both of which are ruins but worth seeing. Round holes in the dome can be observed in the former, which are resonance chambers to improve acoustics, and vestiges of frescos depicting saints, notably St. George, can be seen in the latter.
There is the destroyed church of St. George of the Greeks, which was originally the Orthodox cathedral, as well as the little Byzantine church of Ayia Zoni, which is close by another church dedicated to St. Nicholas. There is the Sinan Pasha mosque, which was once the church of St. Peter and Paul, as well as the Templar and Hospitaller orders’ twin churches.
One of Famagusta’s oddities is the underground chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Golden Cave, which is located outside the city walls right opposite the point of the Martinengo bastion. Access is gained through a flight of steep stairs cut into the rock that leads to a symmetrically carved gateway, which is set in a walled enclosure. The inside is clearly that of a religious building.
The apsidal end is to the east, and there are niches cut into the wall on either side that would have once held statues. Only fragmentary traces of fresco depicting coats of arms remain of the interior decoration, and there is a deep unguarded well on the floor that is the likely reason for this strange church being built hundreds of years ago.
In a time when hygiene was poor and diseases were common, clean water that was free of human or animal waste was essential. As a result, an underground spring that provided pure water would be deemed holy and a perfect location for a worship site.
The City of Salamis, located to the north, is unquestionably the largest and most important Roman city site on the entire island. Each summer, excavations discover more of this intriguing city, and more time is required to fully study it. The main component of the complex, which includes the theatre, amphitheater, bathhouses, and gymnasium, is easily visible. The other features, such as the vast cistern that held water for the public fountains, private dwellings, and baths; the basilica of St. Epiphanios, the agora, and the temple of Zeus; and the villas and the Kampanopetra basilica near the shore, require a good walk.
The church of St. Barnabas, Cyprus’ patron saint, is located a kilometer west of Salamis. This church, built near the saint’s tomb, today serves as an icon and archaeological museum. It is still one of the island’s holiest sites and a point of pilgrimage for all Cypriots. It is easy to see why the Famagusta region was once so popular, with so many attractions and some stunning beaches. There is no reason why this should not be the case again.
We would not hesitate to recommend the Palm Beach Hotel in Famagusta as a first choice of hotel; it is located on the northern edge of Varosha, on a magnificent beach lapped by crystal blue water, and it is extremely quiet due to the “ghost town” to the south. However, the Palm Beach hotel has undergone substantial renovations. As a result, it is required to travel north of Salamis in order to obtain suitable lodging and a base for exploration. Salamis Bay Hotel is a sophisticated hotel that offers everything for everyone.
It is the only true high-rise hotel along this beach, having been built prior to division in 1974. We can also recommend Sea Life Hotel in İskele, which are further north. Both of these hotels feature beautifully decorated rooms and delicious foods. Sea Life features a freshwater pool and water slides, as well as access to the sea via a purpose-built jetty on the opposite side of the road. The hotel is located directly opposite the popular İskele Long Beach.
İskele is a wonderful location for exploring the sea, Kantara’s mountain castle, and adjacent settlements, notably the Buyukkonuk eco-village.
You can read our previous blog post to know more about the charming city of Famagusta, North Cyprus!