Famagusta is a magnet for history-lovers with a surfeit of ancient sites, imposing churches, and crumbling palaces all over the city. The nearby ruins at Salamis are part of one of the world's most important archaeological sites, with the Roman ruins scattered over a huge area. Unspoilt beaches offer peace and tranqulity while the wild and remote Karpas Peninsula has deserted beaches, traditional fishing villages and important nature reserves.
Ancient Salamis is one of Cyprus's main archaeological sites. It's about 9km north of Famagusta and reasonably well signposted. The site is large, about one square mile so allow at least half a day for a visit, plan your route, wear comfortable shoes and take drinks with you as there are no cafes inside. Once inside the fence you can pretty much wander where you wish.
Ancient Salamis was one of 10 city kingdoms in Cyprus and goes back to the 11th century BC. It rose to prominence in the 6th century BC with a royal court and a mint for its own coins. The Persians destroyed the city in 306BC but it flourished again under the Romans from about 60BC.
Fortunes grew and fell, often in the wake of earthquakes until a series of natural calamities, the harbour silting up and attacks by Arab raiders all helped to finish it off. Around 650, the inhabitants fled to what is now Famagusta.
What remains today is a huge and sprawling site with a fair number of walls and columns to see. Much of the stone was carried away to build Famagusta but the main areas of interest are a gymnasium and baths, a theatre from the time of Augustus, some Roman villas and a couple of basilicas. After trudging round the ruins visitors can enjoy decent beach nearby (see Famagusta beaches) and handy restaurants for lunch.
Salamis gymnasium and baths
The large complex is surrounded with column arcades on all four sides. Some of the columns originally belonged to the theatre and were moved here after earthquakes in the 4th century. Two swimming pools are sited at the two ends of the eastern colonnade. On one of the walls is a surviving 3rd century fresco fragment of Hylas, the boyfriend of Heracles of golden fleece fame. The baths are flanked by sweat rooms where there are some mosaic fragments.
The theatre dates from the time of Augustus and originally consisted of 50 rows of seats for more than 15,000 spectators. Performances took place on the raised stage decorated with statues. After it was destroyed by earthquakes in the 4th century it was demolished and building materials used on other parts of the site. Today it has been restored as far as it can be and is used for occasional events
Salamis Roman villas
This two-storey villa has a reception hall with an inner courtyard with a columned portico. The living quarters were grouped around the courtyard. After the city was abandoned it was used as an oil mill. A large millstone in the reception hall was used to press the olives.
Salamis Kampanopetra Basilica
This was once the largest basilica in Cyprus and the principal church of Salamis from 386-403. The bishop's tomb still lies encased in marble. A nave was separated from the aisles by two rows of 14 columns. Rooms on each side of the apse were used for dressing and storage. The church was destroyed in the 7th century during the Arab raids. The ruins at the back of the southern apse belong to a smaller church built after the original was destroyed.
This was the meeting place and market of Salamis. Two sides were lined with columned arcades to provide shade in summer and shelter in winter. Only one of the columns has survived. The courtyard has temples dedicated to gods of commerce and was once decorated with statues and fountains.
Temple Of Zeus
The present day ruins is from the Roman period and built on an earlier Hellenic one. The shrine had the right to grant asylum. During excavations inscriptions of Livia, Augustus' consort, and the god Zeus were discovered.
Salamis water reservoir
A Roman system of earthen pipes and conduits on a 50 km aqueduct brought water to the city from neighbouring Kyhrea. This water system continued to function until the 7th century. The walls and the remains of 36 square pillars for the water cisterns have survived. As well as pillars holding the cisterns, the ceiling was supported by massive corbels.
Open Daily: Jun-Sep 8am — 6pm, Sep-May 9am — 1pm, 2pm — 4.45pm
Kantara Castle may be one of the least elevated of Cyprus castles but it is certainly one of the most impressive and the best preserved. It dates back at least to Richard Lionheart who seized it in 1191.
Though never more than a minor garrison, its position alone — perched on top a mighty bluff of rock — makes it well worth a visit. Its importance faded in the 16th century and it became little more than a beacon lookout post to warn the garrison at Bufavento Castle of any approaching enemy troops.
The castle has a well preserved northern section with impressive towers and walls. The outer entrance leads to the barbican with a couple of squat towers guarding the entrance proper. At the highest point, naturally, is the lookout tower which gives views to the sea on both sides of the peninsular and on a clear day a glimpse of Turkey. The view from the roof of the northern tower is best but not for the foolhardy. It is a sheer drop from the narrow, unfenced area.
You get a good map and potted history with your entrance ticket but families should keep children on a tight reign as there are some seriously dangerous unfenced areas and uncapped holes to fall into. Kantara is most easily reached from Bogaz on the east coast — a 50 minute drive. From Kyrenia allow about 90 minutes by car. There is no public transport to the castle. Open Daily: 9am — 7pm
The long peninsula of the Karpas or Kirpasa is little visited despite having some of the best beaches on Cyprus. There are plans to turn much of it into a nature reserve in order to protect both the landscape and the wildlife.
Wide expanses of immaculate dunes fringe both sides of the peninsular or panhandle (it being similar to the handle of a frying pan). You have to be a little adventurous to go there; there are few asphalt roads and a reliable, off-road vehicle is essential.
One of the best beach is at Nagomi. The sight of the beach is worth all the effort it takes to get there. This is the most magnificent beach in the whole Cyprus, a huge, great crescent of golden sand backed by sweeping dunes and broken into two unequal parts by a distinctive promontory.