Divided Cypriots unite to preserve ancient Famagusta
The history of the storied port is reflected in its French Gothic cathedral, Italian Renaissance palace, Byzantine church, and Ottoman madrassah-turned-restaurant.
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The UN and world heritage groups are enthusiastic about preserving Famagusta's history. "It's a very important city to Western European history," says Costa Carras, a vice president of Europa Nostra, a Pan-European heritage foundation. "It will be an absolutely wonderful project for the EU and the EU ideal, because it will show culture can help bring people together."Skip to next paragraph
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Europa Nostra is chairing a conference April 4 in Paris at which Greek and Turkish representatives of Famagusta will address European parliamentarians and UNESCO officials about the need to preserve Famagusta's endangered architectural heritage. "The Stones of Famagusta," Mr. Langdale's film, will be screened. Eighteen international academics will then hold a two-day scientific workshop on the walled city. This event, supported by Mr. Ghalanos and Mr. Kayalp, will have a touch of historical romance thanks to the presence of a French descendant of the dynasty that ruled Cyprus during Famagusta's peak: the resplendently named Prince Philippe Roux de Lusignan.
Famagusta was a minor port until the First Crusade was launched in 1095 to wrest the Holy Land from Muslim control. Just 100 miles from the Syrian coast, it gained strategic importance. Its preeminence was sealed in 1291, when the Crusaders lost Acre, their last Holy Land outpost.
Christian refugees, merchants, and traders from the region flocked to Famagusta, transforming it into a key emporium for trade between Europe and the East.
The island was ruled by the Lusignans, an eccentric dynasty of French Crusader nobles, for three turbulent centuries until the Venetians took control in 1489. In 1571, after a 10-month siege, the 200,000-strong Ottoman Army captured Famagusta, expelling its Greek Cypriot inhabitants, who have never since lived within the old walled city. Ottoman rule ended in the late 19th century when Britain took over.
Langdale says there is no finer Medieval and Renaissance walled city, with the possible exception of Dubrovnik, Croatia. In "Journey Into Cyprus," the celebrated travel writer, Colin Thubron, enthused: "Nothing could be stranger for a lover of architecture than to walk through so many Medieval ages together."
Famagusta's honey-colored Venetian-era stone walls, nearly two miles long, are still intact, ranking among the world's finest examples of Renaissance military architecture. But no serious conservation has been done since independence in 1960. Some of the 150,000 cannonballs fired by the Ottomans at and over the Venetian-era stone ramparts remain visibly embedded in church walls. War was followed by centuries of neglect and weathering. The French Gothic cathedral of St. Nicholas, which Ottomans turned into a mosque, shows signs of erosion.
There is "real structural concern [for many of the city's monuments]," Langdale says. Chunks of floriated stonework, carved in medieval times, lie scattered around churches, while empty cans and pigeon droppings litter once-magnificent buildings.
Langdale points out a fragment of stone tracery that tumbled from a half-ruined 14th-century Carmelite Church since he last visited it only two months ago. "The neglect is amazing," he says.