As a homeland of many different cultures, the Walled City of Famagusta, just like the island of Cyprus, is one of the best examples of medieval cities, not only around the Mediterranean region but within Europe, with its multi-cultural identity, exhibiting a variety of cultures through Roman, Byzantine, Lusignan, Venetian, Ottoman and the British.
The traditional urban pattern in the Walled City of Famagusta has a medieval character with its overall organic urban pattern, well-scaled narrow streets and cul-de-sacs, a number of public buildings and irregularly shaped public spaces at the intersection of streets and/or in front of public buildings. This urban pattern, and thus the organic fabric and dynamic silhouette, which give today's Walled City its image are the products of history. In terms of organization of city life, density, population size, occupational differentiation, spatial distribution of urban activities, land-use and the street pattern, the Walled City of Famagusta developed its formal qualities in various periods throughout history, under several social, cultural, economical and political influences.
The Lusignan Period
The Lusignan period was accepted as the climax of the Island of Cyprus in terms of socio-economic welfare and the level of civilization. During this period, the Walled City of Famagusta was an important settlement on account of its natural harbor; a citadel and a fortress (whose actual structure and form is not accurately known) were built to protect the city. The city has been known as a quite alive port of trade with an active social life, while construction of more than three hundred churches – only some of which still survive today - were present, and the city was a cosmopolitan place which contained colonies of every race of the Near East (Luke, 1965). There was a palace of the Lusignan kings in the center of the city, opposite to the St. Nicholas cathedral which dominates what was once the largest and richest square / piazza in Europe. Although the palace, the cathedral, some other churches and other buildings seem to be the morphological elements of the Lusignan period, they do not provide sufficient data to demonstrate the overall urban pattern, solid-void relationship and block typology of the period.
The Venetian Period
During Venetian Era, the administration of the island seems to be highly militaristic (Gunnis, 1973), thus the physical appearance and the layout of the settlements had been formed accordingly. The old city of Famagusta had been surrounded by fortifications all around consisting a dozen bastions, a citadel (Castella) and two gates - one as Land Gate (Ravelin), and the other as Sea Gate (Porta del Mare, Figure 4.4) – both still standing (Gunnis, 1973). The ramparts, which were nearly perfect, were surrounded by a ditch of considerable depth and cut in the rock. The link in between the two gates was forming the main axis, and the city was reflecting an organic tissue, which was made up of mainly terrace houses and shops. Just at the center of the city, lying on the Lusignan inheritance, the central piazza, which seems to be the focal point since Lusignan period, was located. The palace of Preveditore (the governor) as the administrative unit was framing the piazza on the opposite edge, facing the significant St. Nicholas cathedral. The central piazza, besides being the center of administrative and religious activities, was also the center in social terms.
Apart from the main axis in the south-east/north-west direction, there is evidence to believe that there was another axis, which was crossing the main one, while linking the northern part of the Walled City to the south. On this axis, it is still possible to perceive the original tissue of the era and some remarkable architectural remains from that age.
Accordingly, the organic street pattern formed large blocks in which the voids were dominant on the northern part, and to a lesser extend towards south, whereas the along the main axis, the solids dominated the urban pattern.
The Ottoman Period
The city was conquered by the Ottomans in 1571. During this period, the Walled City has been utilized primarily as a kind of station for privileged political exiles and a militaristic base. The attitude of the Ottomans with respect to the Walled City affected the social and economic life as well as the consequent physical and spatial form, which resulted in somewhat continuity in urban pattern of the Venetian period. While constructing new structures, the Ottomans also preferred to keep the existing buildings and structures and make use of them with necessary modifications and transformations through addition of second floors in order to fit the socio-economic and cultural life of the new inhabitants. They had preserved the main axis linking the two gates as it was during Venetian era. The main piazza kept its role during this period, however, the Venetian Palace was destroyed during the Ottoman attacks in 1571; only the grand facade has been left (Dreghorn). The significant Cathedral was converted into a mosque (Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque) through an addition of a minaret; a bedesten (typical Ottoman shopping center), arasta (shopping street), additional shops along the main axis and a khan (inn) were developed to fulfill the requirements of merchandise activities; a medrese (school), baths, and fountains were built to complete up the physical infrastructure in order to meet the basic daily needs. (Cobham, C. D., 1969; Onal, et. al., 1999; Numan, et.al. 2000)
Concentration of population and accordingly the buildings were mainly on the southern half of the Walled City, and the organic urban pattern was enriched through the introduction of cul-de-sacs, which fitted well the Islamic culture and life style. Besides, a special house form so-called ‘kemeraltı’ house, which allowed both pedestrian and vehicular flow, had been developed.
In general, the buildings of the Ottoman period expose a traditional and local quality, through the usage of local construction materials and building techniques, which to a large extent are not exhibiting any outstanding architectural and artistic characteristics. However, when considering their proportions and scale, they fit quite well with the existing tissue in good communion. Exception to this general trend and appearance, are a few large houses, which might have been dwellings of the ruling staff (Cobham, C. D., 1969; Numan, et. al., 2000).
When considering the Walled City towards the end of the Ottoman Period, according to Luke, the city was extremely low densely populated, with empty spaces and a few kitchen gardens, date palms and fig trees. The central piazza in the middle of the city was surrounded by Turkish Coffee shops, and appropriately designed new market and a small covered bazaar (Cobham, C. D., 1969; Numan,et. al., 2000)
The British Period
In 1878, the Ottomans hired the Island to the British and in 1910 the Island became a true colony of the British Empire. Expansion of the city outside the Walls towards the south - which already started during the Ottoman period, was accelerated then. However, the Walled City still kept its significance as a traditional core as well as a residential quarter. Additionally, due to the increasing use of the harbor, a number of storage buildings, which strongly contributes to the morphology of the Walled City, were constructed The main difference occurred in the British Period is the neglect of existing building stock and construction of new buildings in accordance with the requirements on empty land or in place of demolished old buildings without considering the traditional pattern and characteristics (Luke, 1965).
This approach of the new administration resulted in differences in the development pattern of the historical area in such a way that new roads were constructed which were in contrast to the traditional tissue and row houses which formed the traditional urban pattern were interrupted by detached houses. (Figure 2b) It is worth mentioning that 52.5% of the buildings existing in the Walled City today date back to the British period. Besides, later additions to the monumental buildings from Lusignan and Venetian periods were demolished (Doratli, et.al., 2001).
After 1946, a new legislation ‘Streets and Buildings Regulation - Cap 96’ for organizing the new developments was introduced, the amount of contrasting new developments in the Walled City was increased considerably. However, height restriction was introduced through an additional regulation in 1960s, which kept the building line constant at 27 feet along the streets.
Republic of Cyprus Period
Between the years 1960 - 74, when the British has left the ruling of the Island to the Republic of Cyprus, the administration of the overall city was separated into two municipalities, the Turkish one dominantly in the Walled City and the Greek one in all other districts out of the Walls. During this period, the Walled City was neglected and substantial development did not take place, which resulted in a static state in terms of the urban pattern.
The Contemporary Period
1974 is one of the important turning-points for the city of Famagusta, just as for all Cypriot settlements. Following the war in 1974, after the separation of the Island into two regions (Turkish in the north, Greek in the south), the overall city has turned out to be one of the rear examples of war-torn cities. Although the overall city has been faced with multi-dimensional urban development problems, the Walled City has kept its historic urban character and identity with its monumental structures and with its organic urban pattern (Onal, et.al. 1999).
The urban morphological character of the Walled City today can be described as in the following (Figures 3a):
- Cobham, C. D., (1969), Excerpta Cypria: Materials for a History of Cyprus, Nicosia.
- Doratli, N., Onal, S., Dagli, U. (2001), "Revitalizing the Historic Walled City of Gazimagusa (Famagusta)", Open House International, Vol 26, No 1, 06/2001, pp. 42-59
- Dreghorn, W., “Famagusta & Salamis: A Guide Book”, http://www.stwing.upenn.edu/~durduran/drfm.html.
- Gunnis, R. (1973), Historic Cyprus, Rustem Brothers, Nicosia.
- Luke, S. H. (1965), Cyprus: A Portrait and an Appreciation, Rustem Brothers, Nicosia.
- Numan, I., Doratli, N., Yildiran, N. (1999), “Transformation of the Walled City of Famagusta During the Ottoman Period (1571-1878)“ (unpublished paper)
- Onal, S., Dagli, U., Doratli, N. (1999), "The Urban Problems of Gazimagusa (Famagusta) and Proposals for the Future", Cities, Vol 16, No 5, 1999 Fall, pp. 333-351