North Cyprus  

Salamis - Ancient Roman City
The ancient city of Salamis became the capital of Cyprus as far back as 1100 BC. The city shared the destiny of the rest of the island during the successive occupations by the various dominant powers of the Near East, viz. the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, and Romans. The ancient site covers an area of one square mile extending along the sea shore. There is still a large area awaiting excavation and this is forested with mimosa, pine and eucalyptus trees.

The finding of some gold coins bearing the name of Evagoras, 411 to 374 BC, is the first genuine evidence of the city's importance. A severe earthquake destroyed the city in 76 AD after which the Gymnasium with its colonnaded Palaestra was built by Trajan and Hadrian. This is the most monumental part of the site but columns differ in size because after the second great earthquake of 331 AD, the Christians set up new columns which they dragged from the Roman theatre. 

The theatre with 50 rows of seats and a seating capacity of 15,000 is the second most spectacular sight. All around the buildings that have been excavated are many niches which contained marble statues, and those that can be seen are headless. When Christianity was adopted as a state religion, all these nude statues were to them an abhorence, and were thrown into drains or were broken up. In fact, any indications of Roman pagan religion such as mosaic pictures were effaced or destroyed.

  Ruins of the agora The Romans had an obsession about baths, and in the Great Hall buildings one can make out the Sudatorium (hot baths), the Caldarium (steam bath) and Frigidarium (cold baths). Before the Christian period, ie. before 400 AD, it was quite a colourful city; the marble columns were covered with coloured stucco, coloured statues, and numerous polychrome mosaics of which only a few are left. It was during the Christian period that walls with rectangular towers at regular intervals were built, but all that one can see of these today are mounds of sand dunes. 

The late Roman period after 400 AD up to about 1100 AD is known as the Byzantine epoch, when the first great Christian churches, called basilicas, were built. The visitors should see the St Epiphanos and Campanopetra, for they are the largest churches in Cyprus. 


About 674 AD, Arab invasion brought about the destruction of the entire city and the inhabitants fled south to build the medieval town of Famagusta (Magusa). There must have been a great change in the climate as the city was overwhelmed with sand, and only the tops of the columns peeped above. Coins of the Middle Ages, Lusignan period, were found around the basilicas, from which one can conclude that squatters lived in the ruins perhaps up to about 1300 AD.

For the next six hundred years the ancient site was looted and regarded as a quarry for building. During the Venetian occupation of Famagusta, many columns and pieces of sculpture were dragged from the site. The constant looting was not halted until 1952 AD when organised excavations by the Department of Antiquities began. 

  Kings' tombs at Salamis The archeological site is the most spectacular in the island because the ruins are very extensive and are in a wonderful state of preservation. For more than a thousand years, the Roman city of Salamis lay buried in sands which saved the site from wanton destruction in the Middle Ages. It must be remembered that all the ancient ruins in Europe were -free for all- quarries for the builders of the medieval castles. It was not until the late 19th century that various governments formed departments of antiquities which began keeping a watchful eye on ruins. In a similar way, Pompeii lay buried in volcanic ash, and was also saved from vandalism. As Pompeii is to Italy, so is Salamis to Cyprus. 
  • Dreghorn, W., (1985), `Famagusta and Salamis Guide Book', Rustem & Bro., London.