Famagusta (Turkish: Gazimağusa or Mağusa, Greek: Αμμόχωστος Ammochostos) is a city in Northern Cyprus, with a population of 55,648 in 2019. It's a seaport and tourist resort and has a walled old centre created in the 13th century.
- "News, lads! Our wars are done. The desperate tempest hath so bang'd the Turks that their designment halts.
- A noble ship of Venice hath seen a grievous wrack and sufferance on most part of their fleet." - Othello Act 2 Scene I
Wishful thinking by Venice. When the Italian short story Un Capitano Moro was first published in 1565, Venetian Cyprus was still holding out against Ottoman advance. But it was conquered in 1571 with great slaughter, and when Shakespeare adapted the story into Othello in 1603 that memory was still fresh. The action is mostly set in a Cypriot sea port, which a marginal note suggests was Famagusta, and it was indeed the leading port of that era. So the fictional warriors mobilised against the Turks had little better to do than troll Desdemona.
The town in antiquity was Arsinoe, and grew from the 7th century when the port of Salamis was abandoned. The Greeks regarded it as "lost in the sands", Ammochostos (Αμμόχωστος) which morphed into Famagusta. From 1192 AD the Lusignan ruling dynasty made it their capital and built the city walls. It passed to Genoa in 1372 then the Venetians in 1489, whose merchants showed off their wealth and piety by building churches. After the Ottoman takeover Famagusta languished as a port, until British colonial rule in the late 19th century. It also developed tourism. But it lay on the fault line of Greek - Turkish ethnic tensions, and was an early target of the Turkish invasion of 1974. Fifty years later this remains a "frozen conflict" with the ceasefire line just a few km south of the city and a swathe of territory blighted as a military zone. Western mass tourism cheerfully visits Girne / Kyrenia on the north coast but has not returned to Gazimağusa as it's now called.
1 Gazimağusa Otobüs Terminali the inter-city bus station is on Ayhan Nizani Sk, 500 m west of the main roundabout. Few facilities here, and on Thursdays the hall becomes a veg and clothing market. Dolmuşes run the same routes, departing whenever full from the main roundabout, look for the Itimat sign.
From the south, drive across Dhekelia the British military zone to enter TRNC at Strovilia border post 5 km west of Famagusta. Your car insurance or rental agreement needs to be valid for both sides.
The old city is compact and best explored on foot. Taxis and dolmuşes can take you further out.
- Fortress walls surround the core of the old city, dotted with cannonballs from the Turkish siege. Fifteen towers along the walls are still standing: most impressive are the series along the waterfront near the castle.
- 1 Othello Castle, Othello Sk. The Lusignans were a French dynasty who ruled Cyprus in the 14th century and built this fortress. Their successors the Venetians reinforced it, but it fell to the Ottomans in 1571 after a 13 month siege. It was turned into a museum in 2015 but there's not much within. Adult 100 TL.
- Church of St George of the Latins across the street from the castle retains only a north and east wall. It was probably built in the 1280s / 90s, before the city walls.
- 2 Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque (former Cathedral of St Nicholas), Liman Yolu Sk 12. This was built during the 14th century in "Rayonnant Gothic" style, reflecting French influence. It was consecrated as a cathedral in 1328, in spite of the bishop embezzling the building fund. When the Ottomans captured the city it became St Sophia Mosque, with all Christian imagery removed or plastered over. Lala Mustafa Paşa was the victorious commander and the mosque was re-named for him in 1954. Free.
- Namik Kemal's Dungeon is just west of the mosque. The building was part of the palace, but used to imprison Kemal 1873-76 after he wrote a seditious play. He wrote two more plays here and what can only be described as negative reviews of Famagusta in general and his cell in particular. In 1993 it was restored as a museum, but no visitor in years has managed to get in or out, which is the whole point of a dungeon.
- Palazzo del Provveditore or Venetian Palace was built by the Lusignans around 1300 AD. Only a facade remains on Namik Kemal Cd, named for the fellow in its dungeon.
- Franciscan Church is a few scraps of wall with lancet windows. It's across the street from the Venetian Palace and probably built at the same time, as part of a monastery.
- Twin Churches (İkiz Kiliseler) are 100 m northwest of the mosque. The larger was built for the Knights Hospitaller in the early 13th century and the smaller for the Knights Templar towards 1300.
- Church of St George of the Greeks was built in the 1360s but is now tumbledown. A fresco remains in one corner. It's in the lane 100 m east of Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque.
- Nestorian Church or Church of St George the Exiler is on Necip Tözün Sk, 300 m west of Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque. The Nestorians were an Eastern Orthodox sect and the church was founded by a pair of Syrian merchants in 1360. After the Ottoman conquest in 1571 it was used as a stable for camels, but the British handed it over to the Greek Cypriots in 1905 and it became a parish church. It was abandoned during the violence of the 1960s. It's now a cultural centre for the university and closed to visits.
- 3 Sinanpaşa Mosque was originally the Church of St Peter & St Paul, built by the Lusignans in the 1360s. Its exterior is ugly because massive buttresses shore it up again earthquakes, but within is the usual delicacy of Gothic arches and buttresses. The Ottomans added a minaret. It was later a grain store, hence the local name of Bugday Cami. It's no longer a mosque but used as a cultural centre.
- Ganchvor Church is in the northwest corner of the citadel near Martinengo Tower on the walls. It was part of an Armenian monastery founded in 1346, abandoned after the violence of the 1960s and now derelict.
- 4 Varosha is the ghost-town southern district - Varoş means suburb. It was farmland until developed as a beach resort in the 1970s, then came the Turkish invasion. The Greek population fled, and lying close to the ceasefire line it became a closed military zone, its streets lined by hollow or burnt-out buildings. Since 2017 the beachfront has re-opened piecemeal, to international protests as the previous property owners are unable to return. You can get in on foot, by bike or dolmuş or organised tour, but be out before the 20:00 curfew. Don't cross the cordons or fences into prohibited areas, you'll either be taken for a looter or have an unsafe building crash down about your ears.
- 5 Enkomi, Tuzla. Closed. This was a port and metal-bashing town from 16th to 12th century BC. The chief industry was copper, which when smelted with 12% of tin makes bronze, just what you need in the Bronze Age. The town was wrecked by warfare several times and abandoned after an earthquake of 1050 BC, with industry moving to Salamis. A small Hellenistic village grew up on the site but it was unimportant and the sea inlet silted up. The ruins were undisturbed until a 19th century spate of robbery of tomb goods sparked research and protection. The site is now overgrown with little to see, while its remarkable artefacts are in museums.
- 6 St Barnabas Monastery, Tuzla. Daily 08:00-18:00. Former monastery, now a museum. There's been a shrine here since circa 477 AD dedicated to Barnabas, who worked with St Paul and in hagiography was martyred at nearby Salamis. The complex also housed pilgrims passing to and from Jerusalem. What you see now is mostly from the rebuilding of 1756, with fragments of the 5th century original. The monastery was abandoned in the 1970s after the Turkish invasion and now houses an archaeology museum plus display of icons in the church. The saint's burial crypt is just across the lane. Adult 20 TL.
- Royal tombs are 500 m east of the monastery. Not much to see.
- 7 Salamis. This was a Bronze Age port along with Enkomi, and became the main city after Enkomi was abandoned in 1050 BC. It was favoured by the Romans, leading to the classical ruins now visible, notably the gymnasium and amphitheatre. But it too suffered from silting, and came under Arab attack in the 7th century AD, and the population abandoned it for Arsinoë the present-day Famagusta.
- Beaches: closest is Palm Beach in the ghost town of Varosha, which is why that area was developed. Glapsides or Silver Beach is 5 km north.
- Football: - sorry. Soccer club Anorthosis Famagusta was based in Varosha, and Nea Salamis Famagusta was based at GSE Stadium in city centre. They left after the 1974 invasion and both now play in Larnaca.
- Supermarkets are a few km out on the three main roads leaving town. Old Town only has overpriced souvenir shops.
- Old town eating places are along Namık Kemal Sk near the mosque. They include Castello, Monk's Inn, Aspava (below), Hasbihâl Lounge, Historia, Venice House, Pine Bar and Ginkgo.
- Aspava, Liman Yolu Sk (opposite mosque), ☏ . M-Sa 12:00-00:00. Great reviews for the food, they serve a set mezze.
- Modern town restaurants are along the Salamis road north. The Lefkosa road northwest just has fast food outlets.
- Old town drinking places are along the same strip as the restaurants. They include Monk's Inn, Hamam Inn and De Molay Bar.
- Palm Beach or Quayside has Atis and Number Eight Lounge.
- Salamis Road in the modern town is near the university and gets busy with students.
- 1 La Terrazza, Gülümser Sk 1, ☏ . New and still squeaky-clean, this is a good modern hotel with a popular rooftop restaurant. B&B double 1500 TL.
- 2 Port View Hotel, Eşref Bitlis Cd, ☏ . Boxy place north of centre, clean and spacious. B&B double 1500 TL.
- 3 Ingate Hotel, İsmet İnönü Blv 80, ☏ . Budget hotel, mixed reviews. B&B double 1500 TL.
- Golden Palms, Murat Bey 5 (south side of Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque), ☏ . Relaxing small guesthouse in town centre. B&B double 2000 TL.
- 4 La Regina Veneziana, Kuru Çeşme Sk 10, ☏ . Charming guesthouse, a historic building within the former castle complex but with all mod cons. B&B double 2000 TL.
- 5 Arkin Palm Beach Hotel, Nadir Sk, ☏ . Smart comfy place on the beach. B&B double 4000 TL.
- 6 Novel Centre Point Hotel, İsmet İnönü Blv, ☏ . Boxy modern hotel 3 km north near the university. B&B double 1500 TL.
- 7 Salamis Bay Conti Hotel, Yeni Boğaziçi (10 km north of town), ☏ . Good beachfront hotel with casino. B&B double 2500 TL.
- 8 Arkin Iskele Hotel, Makenzi Cd, Yeni Iskele (20 km north of Famagusta), ☏ . Probably the best in Iskele resort village, clean, comfy and child-friendly. B&B double 5000 TL.
As of Sept 2023, Famagusta has 4G from KKTC Turkcell and KKTC Telsim, but neither publishes a coverage map. 5G has not reached Northern Cyprus.
- Dhekelia is the British military zone that you have to pass through to reach the Republic of Cyprus. For most passport holders this is no trouble, but TRNC rental cars can't cross. Dhekelia itself has a parachute centre and old monastery. You then turn west for Larnaca or east to the party town of Ayia Napa. The beach resorts of Protaras and Pernera are only a few km south of Famagusta but with no crossing point.
- Karpaz is the rugged northeast peninsula of Cyprus, overrun by wild donkeys.
- Nicosia is the fascinating Ottoman capital. There are vehicle and pedestrian crossing points to the south.