Located along the busy shipping lanes of the eastern Mediterranean, Famagusta rose to prominence after a large number of Christians resettled in the city following the fall of the Levantine city of Acre to Saladin’s Muslim armies in 1291 during the Third Crusade. A port that once rivaled Constantinople and Venice, Famagusta was ruled by a succession of conquerors over several centuries, and the visible remains of these powers still dot the city. The Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Famagusta’s main square became the coronation site of the kings of Crusader Jerusalem. The remains of a Venetian palace stand across the square from St. Nicholas. The Ottoman siege of 1571 was followed by more than three centuries of neglect, compounded by earthquakes and floods, which left the large sections of the city in ruins by the time the British arrived in 1878. Today the city is much reduced from its former glory. A lack of resources in recent decades has contributed to the deterioration of the French, Greek, Genoese, Venetian, Ottoman, and British heritage found within the walls of this famed city. In addition, expansion of modern Famagusta has put in danger some of the historic sites in the old city. Despite continued political (and physical) divisions within the city between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, a movement has arisen to document and preserve the cultural treasures of the city. In 2008, structural engineers from the Department of Engineering of the University of Minho, Portugal, carried out a preliminary condition survey of historic structures within the walled city to determine an appropriate approach to a larger conservation plan. Similarly, the SAVE program of USAID completed a variety of projects at Famagusta to strengthen local capacity to care for these monuments and to advance better understanding and interpretation for visitors and residents. USAID conserved several structures as well. The efforts of these groups galvanized interest in seeing more of Famagusta protected and enjoyed by the public.
2008 and 2010 World Monuments Watch
In 2008 and 2010, the historic walled city of Famagusta was placed on the World Monuments Watch to draw attention to the extraordinary architecture spanning centuries and representing a fascinating narrative of economic, social, and maritime history of a Mediterranean city that figures prominently in the history of the region, unfortunately forgotten by much of the world today. WMF sponsored two technical missions to Famagusta to review the conditions of several structures and assess the condition of wall paintings in key monuments identified by local authorities as possible project sites for further work. Conservation is underway at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul where wall paintings conservators are working to stabilize, clean, and restore two wall painting fragments. This summer WMF is also supporting a group of students and professors from the University of Pennsylvania, İstanbul Kültür and Eastern Mediterranean Universities to conduct a study of the urban landscape of the walled city and the potential for urban conservation and regeneration of Famagusta.
Famagusta is remarkable for the layers of history visible in the remains of buildings built by successive waves of invaders and settlers. Conservation work on the important historic structures and a successful stewardship plan would allow for residents and visitors alike to enjoy this fascinating place. Despite 20th century political tensions that led to the isolation of Famagusta due to the divide between Greek and Turkish Cypriot rule on the island, much progress has been made in recent years to conserve some of the important architecture. Famagusta maintains a dual mayoral office that dates back a century and has encouraged support for improvements of the historic walled city. As more conservation projects are completed, they will be a powerful reminder of Famagusta’s legacy and inspiration for more protective measures to be taken.