Famagusta (Αμμόχωστος, Ammóchōstos; Gazimağusa or Mağusa) is a city on the east coast of Cyprus and is capital of the Famagusta District. It is located in a bay between Capes Greco and Eloea, east of Nicosia, and possesses the deepest harbour in the island. Since the 1974 Turkish invasion the city has resided in the de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (recognised only by Turkey). The old tourist quarter of Varosha is abandoned pending a settlement of the Cyprus dispute.
The turning point for Famagusta was 1192 with the onset of Lusignan rule. It was during this period that Famagusta developed as a fully-fledged town. It increased in importance to the Eastern Mediterranean due to its natural harbour and the walls that protected its inner town. Its population began to increase. This development accelerated in the 13th century as the town became a centre of commerce for both the East and West. An influx of Christian refugees fleeing the downfall of Acre (1291) in Palestine transformed it from a tiny village into one of the richest cities in Christendom. In 1372 the port was seized by Genoa and in 1489 by Venice. This commercial activity turned Famagusta into a place where merchants and ship owners led lives of luxury. The belief that people's wealth could be measured by the churches they built inspired these merchants to have churches built in varying styles. These churches, which still exist, were the reason Famagusta came to be known as "the district of churches". The development of the town focused on the social lives of the wealthy people and was centred upon the Lusignan palace, the Cathedral, the Square and the harbour.
He describes the situation of the island after fall/conquest of Famagusta as follows:
At last, after the great calamity which had reduced the island to misery, somehow or other the poverty-stricken inhabitants began little by little to address themselves again to the culture of the soil, to some small commerce with strangers, and to those few arts which still survived in the he towns. At the very beginning the dues and outgoings did not press so very had on the rajah, because the Porte knew how the country had been impoverished by the war: and the Pashas sent to govern it were to some extent controlled by the Porte, lest their harshness should drive the rajah to leave the island, or at least to revolt, for which his degraded condition would be an excuse. So that after fifteen or twenty years the Christians redeemed nearly all the monasteries from those who had seized them, and much of the church lands as well. Churchmen of position left money for masses for the repose of their souls, or bestowed it by way of gifts.
Changes in social and cultural life had a major effect on the architectural and physical environment. In order to adjust to the socio- economic and cultural traditions of the new inhabitants, some changes were made to existing buildings. Only the main cathedral was turned into a mosque (Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque), and the bazaar and market place were developed. Meanwhile a theological school, baths and fountains were built to fulfill basic daily needs. With the importation of dead end streets from Ottoman culture, the existing organic town structure was enriched and a communal spirit began to assert itself. The few two-storey houses inhabited by the limited number of wealthy people balanced harmoniously with the more common one-storey houses.
In this period, the town underwent a change reflecting the then current colonial practices. The influence of British architecture was particularly apparent in the form, the details and the materials used. The British, who believed in getting close to communities under their rule by using local materials and details, employed the same practice in Famagusta. The Cyprus Government Railway, with the head offices located in Famagusta, is said to have transformed Famagusta from an old Turkish town into a modern harbour city of the Levant.
The city was also the site for one of the two British internment camps for nearly 50.000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust trying to emigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine. The other camp was located at Xylophaghou (see Jews in British camps on Cyprus).
The contribution of Famagusta to the country’s economic activity by 1974 far exceeded its proportional dimensions within the country. Apart from possessing over 50% of the total accommodation of Cyprus it also offered the most substantial deep-water port handling (1973) 83% of the total general cargo and 49% of the total passenger traffic to and from the island. Whilst its population was only about 7% of the total of the country, Famagusta by 1974 accounted for over 10% of the total industrial employment and production of Cyprus, concentrating mainly on light industry compatible with its activity as a tourist resort and turning out high quality products ranging from food, beverages and tobacco to clothing, footwear, plastics, small machinery and transport equipment.
As capital of the largest administrative district of the country, the town was the administrative, commercial, service and cultural centre of that district. The district of Famagusta before the 1974 invasion was characterized by a strong and balanced agricultural economy based on citrus fruits, potatoes, tobacco and wheat. Its agricultural success and the good communications between the town and the district ensured a balanced population spread and economic activity, which could be considered as a model for other developing areas.
It was inevitable that the material progress described above would spawn and sustain the most fertile kind of cultural activity in the area, with Famagusta as its hub and centre. Painting, poetry, music and drama were finding expression in innumerable exhibitions, folk art festivals and plays enacted in the nearby-reconstructed ruins of the ancient Greek theatre of Salamis.
There has not been an official census since 1960 but the population of the town in 1974 was estimated to be around 60,000 not counting about 12-15,000 persons commuting daily from the surrounding villages and suburbs to work in Famagusta. This population would swell during the peak summer tourist period to about 90-100,000 with the influx of tourists from numerous European countries, mainly Britain, France, Germany and Scandinavia.
Unlike other parts of Turkish-controlled Cyprus, the Varosha section of Famagusta was sealed off by the Turkish army immediately after being captured and remains in that state today. The Greek Cypriots who had fled from Varosha were not allowed to return, and journalists are banned. It has been frozen in time with department stores still full of clothes, now many years out of fashion, and hotels empty but still fully equipped. Swedish journalist Jan-Olof Bengtsson, who visited the Swedish UN battalion in Famagusta port and saw the sealed-off part of the town from the battalion’s observation post, called the area a 'ghost town'. He wrote in Kvällsposten on September 24, 1977),
Turkish Cypriots continue to live north of Varosha, especially in the walled city. These sections of Famagusta remain vibrant with many fascinating buildings. The city is also home to the Eastern Mediterranean University.
The current mayor-in-exile of Famagusta is Alexis Galanos. Oktay Kayalp heads the Turkish-controlled municipal administration. There have been suggestions from the Cypriot Government to transfer Varosha to UN administration, allow the return of the refugees, and open the harbour for use by both communities. However, the Turkish Cypriot side and Turkey rejected them. Varosha would have returned to Greek Cypriot control as part of the Annan Plan for Cyprus had the plan not been rejected by Greek Cypriot voters.
The population of the city before 1974 was 39,000. Of this number, 26,500 were Greek Cypriots, 8,500 Turkish Cypriots and 4,000 from other ethnic groups. After the invasion, in 1975, the population was 8,500, all of them Turks. Today the population that lives in the town is 39,000. The number does not include the Greek Cypriot legal inhabitants but the Turkish Cypriots and settlers who live there.
The town also played host to the football clubs Anorthosis, which has many trophies in Cyprus, and Nea Salamina Famagusta. Both teams used until 1974 the stadium of the town, the GSE Stadium (Gymnastic Club Evagoras Stadium) but after the abandonment of the city the teams moved to the town of Larnaca. Both teams have also volleyball sections. Anorthosis has the most trophies in volleyball. Salamina also was until 2003 the concecutive champion of Cyprus for more than 5 years.
Dr. Derviş Eroğlu, a Turkish Cypriot politician and George Vasiliou, former President of Cyprus are from Famagusta. Derviş Zaim, a Cypriot filmmaker, whose first novel won the prestigious "Yunus Nadi" literary prize in Turkey, is also from the Famagusta. Chris Achilleos, a famous British Cypriot painter and illustrator was born there as was Turkish Cypriot-American actor Hal Ozsan (Dawson's Creek , Kyle XY (b. 1976.)
Due to its relative isolation and neglect over the past 30 years despite being such a historically and culturally significant city, Famagusta was listed on the World Monuments Fund's 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world.
The Venetian Palace was used, after its destruction in 1571, during the Ottoman Empire as a prison, and among the prisoners was Namik Kemal, the National poet of the Ottoman Empire, who was held there between 1873 and 1876, after having been exiled to Cyprus by the Sultan.