Brief History of Famagusta


Famagusta: The history of the city

Engomi (16th- 12th century BC)
At the beginning of the 16th century B.C. at the mouth of Pedieos River in Eastern Cyprus, a township was established to serve the needs of the nearby port which exported copper. A small town is created there with coppersmiths’ workshops, the fame and life of which is attested by archaeological excavations and historical sources. Engomi is gradually abandoned at the end of the 12th century BC.

Archaeological finds prove that Alasia is Cyprus. In tablets in cuneiform writing of the 18th and the 17th century BC found in Mari Mesopotamia reference is made to an island with the name of Alasia in connection with the production and export of copper.

Salamis (11th – 3rd century BC)
Salamis, the city of Teucer, son of Telamon and Hesione, is the most glorious of Cypriot cities. It constitutes proof of the existence and settlement of Achaean Greeks in Cyprus and the period of three centuries when the first Cypriot city-kingdoms were established.

Evagoras I (435-374 BC)
One of the most important personalities in Cyprus in antiquity was Evagoras I, King of Salamis who, according to Isocrates “was worthy of governing not only Salamis, but the whole of Asia”.

He revolted against the Persians and restored Greek authority in Salamis in 411 BC, while at the same time he made great efforts to unite all the city kingdoms of Cyprus. He followed a policy of Hellenization of the island and introduced in Cyprus the Greek alphabet. Evagoras was murdered in 374 BC and was succeeded to the throne by his son Nicocles (373-361BC). The Kingdom of Salamis lasted from the 11th century BC to the 3rd century BC, when Ptolemy Soter annexed Cyprus to the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt.

In 294 BC Ptolemy I recaptured Cyprus. Ptolemy II Philadelphus established three cities in Cyprus bearing the name of his sister Arsinoe, who was deified after her death. One was in the area of Marion, the other near the village of Yeroskipos and the third further down Salamis. As Strabo says: “and after that Salamis … and further down Arsinoe, town and port”. Arsinoe and its port must have been established after 274BC by Ptolemy, as Salamis had been destroyed by earthquakes.

The complete destruction of Salamis occurred in 332 AD and in 342 AD. Constantius, one of the three sons of Constantine the Great, restored the city once again and renamed it into Constantia.  

Constantia destroyed by the Arab raids
The middle of the 7th century AD marks the start of the Arab raids in Cyprus which bring about the complete destruction of Constantia. The city was abandoned by all its inhabitants who moved to Arsinoe further south. The Arab raids lasted until 965 AD, when Nicephorus Phokas rid Cyprus of the Arab presence. Salamis-Constantia had been completely abandoned and the seat of the Archbishop moved to its new successor – city that of Famagusta.


We know very little about the establishment of the city. From the 3rd century AD till approximately 1200 AD there is a gap in historical knowledge about the establishment of Famagusta. We also know nothing about Famagusta in the Byzantine period.

Frankish Famagusta (1191-1489 AD)
During this period, Famagusta becomes the basis of the economy of the Lusignan Kingdom and the main hub for Europe’s trade with the East and the main port.

The Genoese domination (1374-1464 AD)
In 1374 Genoa sent its fleet to Famagusta which destroyed and ransacked the city. Famagusta remained under Genoese domination for 90 years.

The Venetian rule (1489-1571AD)
The Venetians took over the governance of the island, under the threats of the Turks. As the main naval force in the Mediterranean, Venice had undertaken the task of halting the Turkish onslaught. Famagusta was a shattered city as a result of the battle between the Lusignans and the Genoese. The Venetians brought engineers from Venice to undertake the reconstruction of the walls. The plans of the new walls of Famagusta are the work of a young engineer named Girolamo Sanmichele, who got sick and died in the course of his mission.

The Ottoman rule

A. The Ottoman siege (1570-1571)

The siege of Famagusta lasted for a whole year. The military commander of Famagusta, the brave Markantonio Bragadino, after repelling six consecutive enemy attacks, negotiated with Mustafa Pasha an agreement for the honourable surrender of the city. The treaty which envisaged that European soldiers be transported to Crete and that Greek Christians may remain in the city under Ottoman rule was signed by Mustafa Pasha. In reality, what happened was quite different. The Ottomans slaughtered the population of the city, looted, burned and destroyed everything in their path. They tortured Bragadino and the brave defenders of the city. Only a few people managed to escape and leave for Venice, while the Christians left their town and settled further to the north, whether their fields were located, in the present day city of Famagusta. 

B. The Ottoman rule (1571-1878)

The gradual desolation of Famagusta started in 1571 with the beginning of the Ottoman rule. A traveler called Mariti says inter alia: “Near the orchards is the village of Varosha where there are Greek Orthodox churches. Driven out of the prohibited city, the Greeks started a new life outside the walls in the southern outskirts of the city.”

The British rule

British rule (1878-1960)
The British, who took possession of an Anatolian city in a very bad condition, very soon realized the importance of the port of Famagusta. When the British arrived in Famagusta, Varosha had a population of only 2000 people. At the beginning of 1904 some improvement works were carried out in the port, while a train linked Famagusta with Nicosia. This gives some hopes and some momentum to commerce in the city.

Famagusta’s Development (1910-1974)

Population: In 1910 Famagusta was a small city of 5.000 people. Since then it evolved into a dynamic district centre with about 45.000 people. The biggest population increase occurred after 1930 and followed the construction of the port. Thus in 1960 it increased to 35.000 people and in 1973 to 39.000 people. Famagusta was the third largest city in Cyprus.

Agriculture: Famagusta was famous for its citrus orchards which were interspersed all over the city up to the coastal area. Citrus was until 1974 one of the main export products of Cyprus.

Industry: The city of Famagusta produced 8, 5% of the island’s total economic output. In 1972, some 2.932 persons were employed in manufacturing and constituted 9, 2% of the total number of people employed in the industrial sector throughout the island.

Business activity: In 1972 about 19,5% of business units in the island was based in Famagusta, employing 21,3% of the total number of persons engaged in commerce in all the cities of the island.

Employment: In 1972 a total of 16.215 employment units operated in Famagusta. The biggest number (4.427) was in the services sector, followed by 3.830 in commerce, 3.178 in industry, 3.097 in construction and 1.513 in transport.

The port: Until 1974, the port of Famagusta was the main port of the island both in capacity and in the volume of good and passengers transported. Following its expansion in 1965, the port doubled its capacity and could receive 16-18 ships at the same time. Exports in 1973 amounted to 491.512 tons. In the same year, 48, 6% of the island’s import trade, including oil products, was made through the Famagusta port. Exports from the port, including mineral products, represented 42, 7% of the total.

Tourism: Undoubtedly, the sector in which Famagusta had made giant progress was tourism, with the result that before 1974 it was the most important tourist centre in Cyprus. In 1973, some 33 hotels with a total of 4.859 beds operated in Famagusta, while throughout Cyprus in the same period there were 105 hotels, with 10,796 beds. Noteworthy is the fact that 31, 5% of all the hotels in operation in Cyprus was in Famagusta, with bed capacity amounting to 45% of the total. The total of overnight stays in the city in 1972 was 49, 5% of the total and increased even more in 1973 reaching 53, 5% of the total. In 1974 in Famagusta there were 39 hotels with a star, having 6.164 bed capacity, 7 hotels without a star with 148 beds, pensions with 90 beds and 33 apartment units with 2.722 beds.

Culture: Progress made in all the above fields unavoidably helped Famagusta become a centre for cultural development. Painting, poetry, music and theatre flourished in the city and a host of cultural activities took place every year.

Famagusta… a ghost city
Famagusta, after its occupation by Turkish troops on 16 August 1974 and after having been looted, was sealed off and since no one is allowed to enter the town. The term “ghost town” was coined by Swedish journalist Jan-Olof Bengtsson, who visited the Swedish UN battalion in the Famagusta port and gazing at the sealed off town, wrote in Kvallsposten (24.9.1977): “ The asphalt on the roads has cracked in the warm sun and along the sidewalks bushes are growing. Today-September 1977- the breakfast tables are still set, the laundry still hanging and the lamps still burning. Varosha is a ghost town.”

The return of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants has been the object of negotiations between the two sides. In 1978 the American-British-Canadian plan contained a clear provision for the resettlement of Famagusta inhabitants in their town under the auspices of the United Nations with the simultaneous resumption of negotiations for a comprehensive Cyprus settlement.

The High Level Agreement between President Spyros Kyprianou and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash achieved on 19 May 1979, under the auspices of the UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, gives priority to the return of Famagusta, without awaiting the outcome of the negotiations. More specifically it says: “Priority will be given to reaching agreement on the resettlement of Varosha under UN auspices simultaneously with the beginning of the consideration by interlocutors of the constitutional and territorial aspects of a comprehensive settlement. After agreement on Varosha has been reached it will be implemented without awaiting the outcome of the discussion on other aspects of the Cyprus problem.” The Turkish Cypriot side not only went back on the agreement, but also took action aiming at the colonization of Famagusta.

The Cyprus Government had recourse to the Security Council in 1984 denouncing Turkish provocative acts. The Security Council adopted on11 May 1984 resolution 550, which in paragraph 5 says: “Considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the United Nations.” The return of Famagusta to the United Nations as a buffer zone for resettlement is also requested by Security Council resolution 789 of 1992. At the same time the return of Famagusta which is the largest refugee town in Europe is an obligation of Turkey under the Kyprianou-Denktash High Level Agreement of 1979 and is also an obligation under the recent resolution of the European Parliament, which was approved on 10 February 2010. Unfortunately, Turkey, instead of being held responsible for the violation of these resolutions, this very moment is a member of the UN Security Council and is presiding over the Council of Europe.

Today 41 years after the invasion, the city is empty, weeds, bushes and trees are growing in its streets, everywhere there are gaping houses and rats, snakes and birds of prey are inhabiting its abandoned houses, instead of its lawful residents.

(source: Famagusta Municipality)