Originally called Ammochostos (hidden in the sand), the town’s origin dates from about 275BC when it was settled by people from Egypt. The population increased and the port was established as the harbour of Salamis silted up and became unusable. Called Gazimagusa by the Turkish people, the city is still known internationally as Famagusta.
The history of the town is rich and bloody. It has been attacked by many a marauding nation and fought valiantly. The Gazi part of the Turkish name means war veteran and never before nor since did the city fight as hard as it did during the long siege inflicted upon the peoples by the Ottoman Empire. Finally bringing the Venetian Governor to his knees in capitulation after ten months of fighting, the city became Turkish and has remained so to this day.
In recent years much has been done to modernise the city centre and attract more people to see what is in effect an enormous outdoor museum. It is possible to access parts of the city walls and get a panoramic view across the whole town. Dominating the centre is the Gothic Cathedral of St. Nicholas, converted immediately after the Ottoman conquest into a mosque and renamed Lala Mustafa, after the Turkish General who led the expeditionary force in 1570. Guarding the harbour is the defensive bastion that was originally called the harbour citadel. It was remodelled by the Venetians when they took control of the island and named after the Venetian engineer Giovanni San Michele. Indulging in a flight of romantic fancy, someone during British rule renamed it “Othello’s Tower”. In its present form it is an impressive piece of construction and well worth exploring. There are dozens of ruined churches and Turkish baths to search for in the city streets, plus there are gift shops and spice shops, banks and boutiques, restaurants that supply anything from a toasted sandwich to a full a la carte meal. And not to be missed there is Petek’s famous patisserie that serves mouth-watering cakes and pastries.
The modern development of Maras (Varosha) that lies to the south of the walled city is a bone of contention between the Greek and Turkish people. It remains closed and is fenced off entirely, access and photography are strictly forbidden, but behind the rusting barricades of barbed wire and oil drums the crumbling ruins of shops, high-rise hotels, homes etc. can easily be seen.