Beautiful, crumbling, spoiled and maltreated… Medieval Farmagusta is an open sore in the European Eye, maybe next on the UNESCO World Heritage list and the theme for an important conference in Budapest in October
The beautiful city of Famagusta in Cyprus was an ancient gateway to the East. Nowadays parts of the city (Varosha) are blocked by the Turks and there is restricted access to the harbour. Thus the historic town of Famagusta is a focal point of the strained relationship between present-day Turkey and Europe, an emblem of the political skirmishes, which may be the result of Cyprus being in charge of the Presidency of Europe for the next half year. (Read an abstract of a recent debate in the UK House of Parliament about the question of Cyprus here) as well as the theme of an important upcoming conference.
In antiquity Famagusta was known as Arsinoe named a Hellenic Princess from around 300BC. In Greek its name was Ammochostos, which meant “Hidden Sand”. However, it was first at the end of the 12th century, Medieval Famagusta started to flourish as a conveniently placed harbour and trading-hub on the East end of Cyprus. After an influx of refugees from Acre in Palestine in 1291 it turned into one of the richest cities in Christendom. In the later Middle Ages it was successively seized by Genoa (1372) and Venice (1489). Finally in 1571 it was taken over by the Ottomans. Although the main cathedral at that point was turned into a Mosque, many of the other Christian churches were basically left alone. Later, during British Rule from 1878 -1960, Famagusta regained significance. During this period the Turkish population continued to live inside the walled, medieval city, while the more wealthy Greeks moved to Varosha on the outskirts. When the Turkish army invaded Cyprus in 1974 these Greek inhabitants fled to the mountains literally leaving their laundry hanging out to dry. However, unlike other parts of the TRNC-controlled areas of Cyprus, the Turkish army continued to fence off the Varosha section of Famagusta. And never removed the barbed wire. It still remains until this day as documented by photographers who have braved the fences in order to capture this European shame: a fenced-in “Ghost Town”. This is the theme of a small ambulating exhibition, currently showcased in Århus.
Historic Famagusta: A Millennium in Words and Images
This poignant story of the vibrant city of Famagusta is remarkably well documented. In the preamble of the invitation to the conference in Budapest in October, it is claimed that:
“From as early as the tenth century a surprisingly large number of travel accounts, histories, poems, fiction narratives, theatre plays, administrative accounts as well as maps, prints and miniatures about Famagusta have been preserved. These texts and images can be found all over Europe and the Near East from the pens and brushes of Christian, Muslim and Jewish authors and artists.”
The aim of the conference is to create a platform for historians, art historians, and literary critics to share their studies on this massive amount of textual and visual representations of Famagusta between 1000 CE and 1960. By investigating medieval, early modern and modern Famagusta in text and images, the conference will serve as an opportunity for an interdisciplinary dialogue among the participants, with the hope of broadening perspectives on Famagusta’s cultural and material legacy. And maybe –hopefully – lead up to a well-documented application for a nomination to the World Heritage List. Not least because the inner walled Medieval City of Famagusta is under heavy bombardment from developers; as is in fact most of Byzantine, Medieval and Ottoman Cyprus. This project is supported by a contingent of Turkish as well as Greek citizens in and around Famagusta and might hopefully serve to stress the continuos effort amongst the people on the ground to solve the painful issues surrounding the partition of Cyprus, turning Famagusta into a symbol of peaceful coexistence.
Papers of special interest for medievalists will be delivered on:
- Bishop Stephen I of Famagusta and his time (1244-1259).
- Nicosia & Famagusta: Two capitals for one kingdom?
- Refugees from Acre in Famagusta around 1300
- Artisans and craftsmen in Famagusta in the notarial deeds of Lamberto di Sambuceto and Giovanni da Rocha, 1296-1310
- Piety, politics and propaganda: Philippe de Mézières in Cyprus
- Donors and politics after 1291: The development of hybrid ecclesiastical architecture in 14th century Famagusta
- Identity markers in the art of 14th and 15th century Famagusta
- Assimilation in Famagusta: the evidence from the mural decoration at the churches of the Latin regular clergy
- Harmonizing the sources: Textual, pictorial and material evidence of the orthodox churches of Hagios Georgios and Hagios Epiphanios.
- An unknown town gate and a church in Famagusta, Santa Maria de la Cava and Porta di Cava, in the historic texts from the 14th to the 16th centuries
- The lost origins of Famagusta: The churches of the Greek quarter.
- Les Soudoyers de Famagouste Genoise au XVe Siècle
- Famagusta: The two wooden models in the Maritime Museum in the Arsenal of Venice
- Famagusta as a centre of regional trade during the Venetian period
But see the full program here and note the conclusion, where a couple of papers try to argue for instigating the nomination process in order to place Famagusta on the Unesco World Heritage list.This follows upon the October 2010 report titled Saving Оur Vanishing Heritage, in which the Global Heritage Fund named Famagusta оne оf 12 sites mоst “On the Verge” оf irreparable loss аnd destruction, citing insufficient management аnd development pressures.
Participation for the conference is free:
Historic Famagusta: A Millennium in Words and Images
Central European University, Nador u. 9, Faculty Tower, Budapest
A new book is out (August) on:
Medieval and Renaissance Famagusta. Studies in Architecture, Art and History. Edited by Michael J. K. Walsh, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Peter Edbury, University of Cardiff, U.K, and Nicholas Coureas, Cyprus Research Centre, Cyprus. ISBN: 978-1-4094-3557-0. Ashgate 2012
Read also about the ongoing destruction of the churches in Northern Cyprus and the cultural programme of the Cypriotic Presidency 2012