Famagusta is one of the most important, greatly fortified ports in the Mediterranean. To the north lie the ruins of the great city of Salamis, believed to have been founded in the 11th Century B.C. After the influences of the many conquering nations, including the Romans, the city was finally abandoned in 648 A.D. following the combined catastrophes of earthquakes and raids by Arab pirates. The population of Salamis then moved to Famagusta.
The spectacular ruins give a fascinating insight into long-lost civilisations and include a magnificent amphitheatre, Roman baths, a gymnasium and royal tombs. Just inland from Famagusta are the church and monastery dedicated to St. Barnabas, the founder of the apostolic church in Cyprus in 45 A.D. Barnabas, a Cypriot from Salamis visited the island accompanied by St. Paul and St. Mark and was later martyred in Salamis in 52 A.D. The church of St. Barnabas is preserved to this day, and houses a wonderful collection of 18th century icons. The monastery cloisters now house an archaeological museum.
The city lies on the eastern coast in a bay between Capes Greco and Eloea, and possesses the deepest harbour in Cyprus. Famagusta, which means "buried in the sand", is descriptive of the silted mouth of the Pedieos River north of the town. It was founded by the Macedonian Egyptian King Ptolemy II (308-246 B.C.). 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. In 1571, the Ottoman Turks conquered the city.
The Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, previously the St. Nicholas Cathedral stands in Namik Kemal Square within the walls of the city of Famagusta. Built by Lusignans between 1298 and 1312, it is a stunning example of gothic architecture. The crowning of Lusignan Kings of Cyprus took place in this building, testament to its importance. Following the Ottoman conquest, the cathedral was used as a mosque following the addition of a minaret. There were no other major changes to its structure, and many original features remain. The city also houses the Sinan Pasha Mosque, once known as the St. Peter and St. Paul Church. Built between 1358 and 1360, like its larger neighbour it was converted to a mosque once the city was captured by Ottomans.