Famagusta – the coronation place of the crusader Kings of Jerusalem, mentioned by name in Dante’s Inferno, the scene of one of military history’s most infamous sieges, and the setting of Shakespeare’s Othello, is a rare treasure in the Eastern Mediterranean. A city of some 35,000 inhabitants today, it was founded in 964, acquired by the French in 1192, and became a crucial trading nexus after the fall of Acre in 1291. Its wealth, it was suggested, at one point rivalled both Venice and Constantinople and so 14th century travellers remarked that ‘from the rising of the sun to its setting…the tongues of every nation are heard and read and talked’. Its turbulent story, so dramatically punctuated by the Ottoman siege of 1571 which brought to an end Venetian rule, then took a different turn as it entered centuries of neglect, earthquakes, depopulation and stone removal for building projects as far away as Egypt.
After the British acquired the city in 1878 Sir Robert Biddulph, the island’s second High Commissioner (1879-1886), concluded ‘Never was there such a city of ruins…’. History is still not finished with this delicate and dignified city either as today it stands in the internationally isolated and unrecognized state in the northern region of the island of Cyprus. It is hoped that membership of the European Historic Town Friendship Group will help draw academic and professional expertise back to Famagusta to help safeguard its heritage in the years ahead.