Yesterday I caught the 10am dolmuș to Gazimaǧusa (formerly Famagusta, and no doubt still Famagusta to Greek speakers). I got a sense of achievement just from that, as I’d managed to find where those dolmuș leave from at the first attempt (I had 3 choices) and figured out that the one with “Maǧusa” on the front was what I wanted. Nothing about that in the guide book…
It’s just over an hour away from Girne across the Kyrenia Mountains and at the other side of the Mesarya Plain. The plain is like semi-desert at this time of year.
I’m definitely glad I went. Gazimaǧusa’s character is quite different to Girne and Lefkoșa. I had 3 hours there – enough time to explore the centre and have a good lunch.
Lala Mustafa Pașa Mosque was one of the places I spent time on. It was built between 1298 and about 1400 and was St Nicholas Cathedral until 1571, when the Ottomans captured the city. It’s named in honour of Lala Mustafa Pasha, the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire (from Bosnia) who led the Ottoman forces against the Venetians in Cyprus.
It is a fascinating to be in a building so obviously intended as a Christian church, but which is a functioning mosque. I’ve visited Aya Sofya in Istanbul and it has a similar history, but the architecture is totally different and it is now a museum.
The fig tree in front of the mosque is supposed to have been planted about 1250… still fruiting.
My other stop was Othello’s Tower – part of the Venetian walled fortification surrounding the old town. The EU has funded a lot of preservation work around on the Tower and the walls nearby. It’s all looking very good. The theory is it’s the unnamed castle referred to in Shakespeare’s play.
I would have liked to visit Salamis as well – the ruins of the island’s first city during classical Greek times. It’s 6km north of the town, but it was really too hot to take that on as well as the town itself. My guide book reckons on 2-3 hours minimum.
I thought about having a look at Varosha. It’s the southern suburb of Gazimaǧusa, and has been abandoned since the 1974 coup d’état and invasion. It isn’t part of the Green Line, but has been occupied and fenced off by the Turkish military. I didn’t really have time, nor did I have the morbid interest.
Between that, the Green Line and the two enclaves which Britain retained after independence – for military bases (Akrotiri and Dhekelia covering 98 square miles (254 km sq) between them – this island doesn’t have its troubles to seek.
The dolmuș service I used to get to and from Gazimaǧusa was excellent. 12TL each way, and on the return journey the (modern) bus even had airconditioning! That company – Göcmen – produces a timetable and has a Facebook page!
The road to Gazimaǧusa is dual carriageway on the plain. On the way back our bus driver had a race with another from the same company – one in each lane and neck and neck for a few kilometres. It kept the passengers interested. Well, me I suppose. The locals hardly noticed.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2017