Riviera Beach Bungalows, Studios & Superior Hotel Rooms, Kyrenia, North Cyprus

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THROUGH CYPRUS
WITH THE CAMERA,
IN THE AUTUMN OF 1878.
By
JOHN THOMSON F.R.G.S.

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[Kyrenia] [Famagusta] [Nicosia] [Lefke] [Limassol] [Paphos] [Larnaca]

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FAMAGOSTA / FAMAGUSTA / GAZI MAGOSA

Famagosta (Famagusta / Magosa / Gazi Mağusa) lies in the bight of a great bay, on the south-east of the island, and not far from the ruins of ancient Salamis, a place which, according to Cesnola, was used by the Christians as a quarry when they built Famagosta, about eight hundred years ago. But Famagosta boasts a history much more ancient even than this; for it stands on the site of “Arsinoe,” and was renamed by Augustus Fama Augusti (Ammnochostos). The city was overthrown by the Turks in 1571, and was so left by the invaders that its siege appears to have been an event of yesterday. It is a place of ruins, a city of the dead, in which the traveller is surprised to encounter a living tenant. It, however, affords shelter to some six hundred Turks, whose wretched abodes are found scattered among the ruins of old Gothic churches and chapels.

In the foreground of the picture we see a number of fields whose fitful tillage affords scant sustenance to the Moslem families dispersed over the town. Towering in the centre of the picture is the old Cathedral of St. Sophia, which was destroyed by an earthquake towards the middle of the eighteenth century. Before its fall, St. Sophia was the principal mosque of the settlement, but this honour was afterwards transferred to the church now surmounted by a pointed minaret, and formerly dedicated to St. Katherine.

Famagosta is considered the most unhealthy place in Cyprus, and it was here that I fell a victim to malarious fever, as I was on the point of quitting the island. The attack was a sharp one, and lasted for about a week, but it yielded in the end to the prompt and friendly treatment of Dr. Craig of the 71st Regiment. Its effects were prostrating, but not long continued. There can be no doubt that this malady prevails chiefly during the summer months, and in the neighbourhood of marshes such as are to be found not far from Famagosta.

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FAMAGOSTA HARBOUR

The work of fortifying this stronghold has been carried out with a thoroughness which has defied the inroads of time, so that while the whole town has been laid waste, its outer wall still remains intact. Here and there a thistle or clump of grass has found roothold in some fissure in the massive battlements, but the finely—finished masonry presents few crevices in which even a breeze-blown seed may lodge. The once famous harbour, however, has been allowed to silt up, and now only affords anchorage for the class of vessels seen in the photograph. Beyond the port on the right there was once an ancient breakwater joined to a reef of rocks, so situated as probably to prove of great value in the construction of a commodious haven for men-of-war. These partly-submerged rocks are continued northwards by a spit of land about one mile in length, and covered by from two to four fathoms of water; but between the rocks and the land is a channel from a quarter to half a mile wide, and about seven fathoms deep. The bottom of the old basin is composed of sand and clay, the alluvial deposit brought down by the river Pedus, which, like the Nile, overflows its banks during the rainy season and fertilizes the plain. How far it may be possible to dredge out this harbour, and what depth of water may be obtained before reaching a solid substratum of rock, can only be determined by actual experiment.

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RUINS AT FAMAGOSTA

This view was taken at Famagosta from the inner side of the moat and opposite the gateway at the north-eastern angle of the wall. The prominent ruin here depicted was singled out as a good example of the present condition of a multitude of churches that were all gradually overthrown. On the inner walls of these shattered edifices one may still discover traces of faded and disfigured frescoes, and of elaborately-carved work in stone. The process of undermining these noble walls appears to have been carried out regardless of danger, and for no other purpose than to obtain blocks of stone ready trimmed to make rubblework fences for wretched fields or gardens. Many of the owners of these preserves reside in partly mud-built hovels, although at but a very trifling expenditure of labour they might have constructed themselves substantial stone houses out of the remains of Christian churches and palaces.

The ground hereabouts is encumbered with hewn stones piled up in huge cairns, which may yet be used in the erection of a new city. For three hundred years no attempt has been made at restoration; on the contrary, the town has been left to fall gradually into decay, even though it was the seat of a Turkish governor, and was garrisoned by Moslem troops. A woeful example this of what a place may eventually become when maintained as a purely Turkish settlement, from which the Christians are strictly excluded; an example, too, which presents a striking contrast to the two neighbouring villages of Varosia (Marash), where the Christians first encamped when expelled from their homes in Famagosta. Indeed, these villages are now encompassed by rich orchards, and show refreshing tokens of vitality in their famous potteries, and in the diverse manufactures which their Greek inhabitants carry on.

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THE FRONT OF ST. KATHERINE'S CHURCH

The fine proportions of this noble specimen of Gothic architecture are still preserved, and if the masonry has been sadly mutilated and has now lost much of its ornament, enough yet remains to show what the edifice must have been during the period of the Lusignans and Venetians. The central window with its richly-sculptured divisions is in good preservation, although many of the spaces have been blocked up and coated over with whitewash.

The tower on the left is Turkish, and tells us at once that the splendid old cathedral pile has been transformed into a mosque (named as Lala Mustapha Pasha mosque, Lala Mustafa Paşa Camii); a motley range of modern hovels have also grown up under the shadow of the church. On the left, for example, stands one of the most imposing specimens of the present architecture of the place. It is a café, propped upon an old Gothic porch and adorned with a flagstaff. Here worshippers at the shrine of the Prophet meet and sit for hours, smoking their hookahs, and drinking their coffee in silence; for they have long ago exhausted all the subjects of conversation that so lonely a spot can supply. One forlorn individual informed me that he had made arrangements for his funeral many years since, and that his chief wish was to mingle with the surrounding dust as speedily as possible. He was a Turk.

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ENTRANCE TO THE CATHEDRAL

This approach appears to have been once paved with marble in a manner worthy of the beautiful triple entrance to the ancient church. The lofty interior, like that of St. Sophia at Nicosia, has had to undergo much spurious alteration and spoliation ere Moslem tastes fitted it for the purposes of a Mosque. Pieces of rugs and matting now bestrew the floor, and Mussulmans worship above tombs where Knights, Crusaders, and Venetian nobles rested. On one of the marble slabs, bearing the date MDXXX., I observed a shield with a rampant lion, and an inscription beneath which might still be made out. There are many other mortuary slabs engraved with the names of Venetian nobles, “whose bones”, says Cesnola, “were exhumed and thrown into the sea by order of the fanatical and ferocious Mustapha Pasha, the day after he captured the city”. The same authority invests one of the towers, Torre del Moro, on the battlements overlooking the sea, with special interest by recalling the tradition which points out this tower as at one time the head-quarters of Christofero Moro, Lord-Lieutenant of Cyprus in the time of the Venetians, and the Othello of Shakespere. This incident happened during the years 1506 and 1508, so that the noble whose tomb carries the date 1530 would probably be alive when the Moor of Venice was ruler of the island.

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A ROCK-CUT TOMB, FAMAGOSTA

The rock-cut tombs of Famagosta so closely resemble those at Paphos, already described, as to leave little doubt that they belong to the same period. The sepulchre here shown is now half-filled up with rubbish, and the entrance to it is through a porch supported by two pillars cut out of the solid rock. The interior is nearly square, and in the sides and back wall are recesses designed for the stowage of bodies; while above these again are sundry small shallow niches. The walls appear to have been at one time plastered over with some sort of durable cement. An adjoining tomb, which seems to have been opened at a much later date, is in excellent preservation. In this, besides recesses in the walls before referred to, the apartment contains a sarcophagus, and, altogether, has been so carefully finished as to suggest the interior of a small chapel with a sacred font rather than a mortuary.

These tombs probably mark the site of the burial-ground of a settlement even more ancient than Arsinoë, and carry us back to a time when Cyprus was under Phœnician rule.

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GROUP AT AVGORU

Avgoru is a small village half-way between Larnaca and Famagosta, and about five miles inland. It is built on stony ground, and the people there support themselves by cultivating small patches of the alluvial soil found in the hollows of the rocks. The place stands on the outer edge of the plain of Mesorea, and is set down by Gaudry as barren land. Grain and cotton, however, as well as fruits, are grown there in sufficient quantities to supply the small community with the necessaries of existence; their cotton being spun, dyed, and woven by the villagers themselves into strong fabrics for domestic use. Many of the articles so produced are as remarkable for the tasteful patterns they display as for their weight and durability. Among them we find closely-woven table-covers, towels, and bed-sheetings, as well as snow-white coverlets, fringed and wrought in open work of most elegant design. The interiors of the dwellings at Avgoru are poor, and their earthen floors are partly taken up in the storage of produce; nevertheless, their occupants are respectably clothed, and seem to turn their labour to good account, for there is an absence of that squalor and misery which we meet with among the poor in more highly-civilized communities.

Fever of a mild type had invaded the little hamlet, but at the time of my visit the health of the people generally was exceedingly good, and they were busy gathering in the cotton crop. In some respects, Avgoru seems to be a model settlement; the natives are singularly graceful in manner, and courteous to strangers, and each individual earns a livelihood by his own labour.

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MULES AND DONKEYS

Cyprian donkeys and mules are most leisurely in their habits, and have a wonderful aptitude for patiently awaiting their masters. They will stand for hours at a time without stirring from the same yard or two of shade, their heads turned toward the sun, so that with the least possible exertion of their nether quarters they keep constantly in shadow as the sun goes round.

One of the first principles of science teaches us “that objects at rest are inclined to remain at rest”; and the law is one which holds good in this instance, for a long time invariably elapses before the animal at length gets up the force to carry it forward on its journey.

Mules for a photographer possess a most peculiar charm, arising from the perfect immobility of their repose when once they have come to a halting-place. The mule is invaluable in a country such as Cyprus, more especially among the mountain districts where there are no roads. But they are timid creatures, and therefore easily take fright. Once within my own experience, when I was being carried round the edge of a precipice, the sudden tinkle of a goat’s-bell led to a fall which might have been a fatal one, but for the timely help of a tree which grew over the rocks.

The owner of the donkeys here represented had brought a load of brushwood to town one evening, and, after disposing of it for fuel, was making his way homeward when the camera was brought to bear upon him. Just at the moment when the picture was being taken, the tail of the donkey moved, possibly in token of approval, and hence was lost to posterity. The owner of the troop carries the usual stick, armed at one end with a short iron spike. Generally, the mere shadow of this weapon, brandished across the path, has a marvellous effect in quickening the pace of the quadruped. But on a long journey the driver has to practise a sort of “Fine Art”, in so tickling the ears and tender parts of the spine, as to produce involuntary and perpetual motion in the limbs of his jaded beast.

[Kyrenia] [Famagusta] [Nicosia] [Lefke] [Limassol] [Paphos] [Larnaca]

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