Gazimağusa / Famagusta is a city on the east coast of Cyprus. It is located east of Nicosia and possesses the deepest harbour of the island. During the medieval period (especially under the maritime republics of Genoa and Venice), Famagusta was the island’s most important port city and a gateway to trade with the ports of the Levant, from where the Silk Road merchants carried their goods to Western Europe.
The city was founded around 274 BC, after the serious damage to Salamis by an earthquake, by Ptolemy II Philadelphus and named “Arsinoe” after his sister. Arsinoe was described as a “fishing town” by Strabo in his Geographica in the first century BC. It remained a small fishing village for a long time. Later, as a result of the gradual evacuation of Salamis due to the Arab invasion led by Muawiyah I, it developed into a small port.
The turning point for Famagusta was 1192 with the onset of Lusignan rule. It was during this period that Famagusta developed as a fully-fledged town. It increased in importance to the Eastern Mediterranean due to its natural harbour and the walls that protected its inner town. Its population began to increase. This development accelerated in the 13th century as the town became a centre of commerce for both the East and West. 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. This commercial activity turned Famagusta into a place where merchants and ship owners led lives of luxury. The belief that people’s wealth could be measured by the churches they built inspired these merchants to have churches built in varying styles. These churches, which still exist, were the reason Famagusta came to be known as “the district of churches”. The development of the town focused on the social lives of the wealthy people and was centred upon the Lusignan palace, the Cathedral, the Square and the harbour.