The Roman Ruins of Salamis

 

The city of Salamis was the capital of Cyprus as early as 11BC. Today, the site is of incredible archaeological importance and is breath taking, simply as a result of its sheer scale, and it definitely lives up to its reputation. Although much work has been carried out here, much still remains to be discovered under the shifting sands and the forested areas, however, much in the same way that the ash helped to preserve the ruins of Pompeii, the sands have helped keep Salamis safe. Even if your interest is just casual, you will need a few hours to see the best-preserved highlights and more than half a day can easily be spent here, especially if you retire to the wonderful beach that fringes Salamis to the east. The remaining monuments, mostly Roman and Byzantine, are widely scattered, for example it is well over a kilometre from the entrance to the ancient harbour. The earliest archaeology from the site suggests it was first settled in the late bronze age, possibly around the 11th century BC. The city survived occupations by Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, and Romans among others, but it was nature that spelled its eventual destruction and abandonment after a number of earthquakes. The entire site covers at least in excess of a square mile, running inland from the Mediterranean coast. The total scale is still unknown and finds are constantly made some distance from the centre. Many significant items have been found here and coins and articles dating from 411 to 374 BC provided the first indications of the site's importance. Legends suggest that the original city here was founded by Teucer, who was unable to return home after the Trojan war.

 

Salamis ruins, Northern CyprusThe major part of the city was destroyed 76AD by a serious earthquake. Following this, a major reconstruction was started by Trajan and Hadrian, which included building of the gymnasium. This remains probably the most impressive part of the city today. However, the columns on the site are of differing sizes and construction, as another earthquake occurred around 330AD, after which the Christian inhabitants of the city were taken from the Roman amphitheatre. The amphitheatre as it stands in the present day is the most widely known feature of Salamis. It rises to a height of 50 rows of seats and originally accommodated up to 15,000 people. It is truly amazing in its scale and remains of cultural importance as it is frequently used for concerts and open-air plays. When the country embraced Christianity, many of the highly decorative parts of the city were destroyed, together with Roman statues and significant mosaics, as they were considered as pagan symbols that were not tolerated. Before this, the statues and columns were all brightly coloured. The Romans took bathing and hygiene seriously and in the remains of the great hall, there are sites for hot and cold baths and steam baths. In many places, the foundations showing the hypocausts (underfloor heating) are visible around the site. Sometime around 700AD the city was mostly abandoned and the previous inhabitants moved to the south, settling what is modern day Famagusta. Geological changes and weather patterns saw the remains of the city become gradually covered in sand, although coins from later dates have been found, indicating that some people still lived in the area. For centuries after, the site was treated as nothing more than a source of building materials and when the Venetians claimed Cyprus, they took away many columns and relics. The gradual decay of Salamis only really came to a halt when archaeological works started here in the 20th century. This is not only typical for Cyprus, however, as many similar sites around the globe have been treated in this way.

 

Due to its size, the quality of its buildings and their comparative quality, Salamis is one of the most important of Cyprus’ treasures and although much still awaits eventual discovery, what can be seen and explored today is superb. The beach and warm Mediterranean waters are inviting, and snorkelling produces glimpses of more remains. Care is necessary here, however, as the currents can be quite strong. Organised diving trips can be arranged here. People visiting the site should also note that, quite understandably, the removal or disturbance of any items from the site is strictly illegal. Many items of archaeological interest unearthed at Salamis are on display in the museum at St. Barnabas Monastery. Salamis can easily be reached by car in a few minutes from Famagusta, or an hour or so from Kyrenia. The site is open to visitors for a small entrance fee from 9am to 7pm in the summer season, and 9am to 5pm the rest of the year. We also organise regular guided tours of the site. Stout walking shoes are advisable and although there is a small café and restaurant near the entrance, take plenty of drinking water with you, especially in the summer months!