In Northern Cyprus, the ancient ruins of Salamis, once a thriving port city dating back to 1100 BC, is one of the island’s most impressive archaeological sites. I went to explore.
The beach was golden and the seas were blue as I walked along Northern Cyprus’ Mediterranean coastline. Aside from the few cyclists I’d met who were bathing in the afternoon sun, though, the beach was almost deserted.
The remnants of the odd barbecue and the occasional beer bottle were scattered here and there, but it was almost pristine. The beaches were just one of the reasons that I was enjoying the quieter side of Cyprus, the northern side of Cyprus
At the end of the beach, I was also looking for another of the best reasons to stray over the border to Northern Cyprus. I was here to find the ancient ruins of Salamis, an archeological site dating back to 1100 BC, and I was hoping they would be just as quiet as the beach.
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The ancient ruins of Salamis
The ruins of Salamis date back to antiquity. It’s one of the oldest settlements on Cyprus, and legend has it that the city was founded by Teucer, son of Telamon. Teucer was one of the best archers in the Greek army that besieged Troy in Homer’s Iliad, but after the death of his brother Ajax, his father banished him, never allowing him to return home. So he founded the city of Salamis.
Mythological legends aside, the city has archaeologically been dated back to the 11th Century BC, and in the following centuries it grew into the island’s powerhouse city and primary port. It was even the seat of the governor of the island during the Roman period.
The city covered a large area, at least 1 square mile, and only a small part of that area has been excavated properly. This is partly due to the 1974 Turkish invasion which put archaeological work on hold- only in recent years has the work begun again. War does tend to make you prioritise.
Exploring Salamis’ ruins
At the end of the beach I found what I was looking. I walked up the sand dunes that formed a raised embankment leading from the sea, and I was amongst the ancient ruins of Salamis.
I walked into the ruins, and was confronted by huge marble pillars from the Roman era. The preservations had focused on these Roman elements. The gymnasium, public paths, the odd statue and most impressive of all, the theatre, which in its day could seat 15,000 people.
Salamis was hit by devastating earthquakes in the 4th Century AD, and although the Roman Emperor Constantius II tried to rebuild the city, it was doomed to decline from then on. Salamis was slowly depopulated over the next centuries, and an Arab invasion in 674 AD completely destroyed anything that was left. The population fled to the nearby city of Famagusta, and Salamis fell into ruin.
I could walk in quiet through the extensive city. Being in Northern Cyprus, the ancient ruins of Salamis don’t see that many visitors. It’s an impressive ancient city to explore, and in the politically charged argument between north and south in Cyprus, between Greek and Turk, it’s a reminder that nations, cities and especially empires never last forever, everything can change.
Read more: 12 Things to Do in Northern Cyprus
A history of Salamis
I didn’t find too much information amongst the ruins themselves, so if you love history like I do, it’s best to brush up on the key dates and background before you make the journey here.
Here’s a concise history of Salamis, from its ancient origins to current excavations (or lack thereof), today:
Origins and Foundation
According to Greek mythology, Salamis was founded by Teucer, a hero of the Trojan War and son of King Telamon of the island of Salamis near Athens. Archaeological evidence, however, points to the site’s habitation as early as the 11th century BC.
Phoenician and Assyrian Influence
Initially under the influence of nearby Phoenician centers, Salamis gradually grew in prominence. By the 8th century BC, it had come under the domination of the Assyrian Empire.
In the 6th century BC, Cyprus fell to the Achaemenid Persian Empire. While under Persian rule, the city-states of Cyprus, including Salamis, maintained a degree of autonomy and continued to be heavily influenced by Greek culture. During this period, Salamis became one of the island’s most powerful city-states.
Following Alexander the Great’s conquests, Cyprus was integrated into the Hellenistic world. After Alexander’s death, the island was controlled by the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, and Salamis remained a significant urban and trade center.
In 58 BC, Cyprus was annexed by the Roman Empire. Salamis thrived during Roman rule, especially under Augustus, and became the capital of the island. Notably, the Apostles Paul, Barnabas, and Mark visited Salamis around 46 AD, as described in the New Testament.
Christian Era and Decline
With the spread of Christianity, Salamis became an important early Christian center, with numerous basilicas constructed. However, the city’s decline began in the late Roman period due to recurrent earthquakes and Arab raids. By the 7th century AD, the city was largely in ruins and abandoned in favor of the rising city of Famagusta.
Since the Turkish invasion in 1974, Salamis is located in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus. The site is now a popular tourist attraction, serving as a testament to Cyprus’s rich and varied history.
Read more: The Ledra Street Border Crossing in Cyprus
The best things to see in Salamis
Today, the ruins of Salamis serve as one of the most important archaeological sites in Cyprus.
The ruins reflect a blend of various cultures and epochs that once flourished there. Here are the highlights of Salamis include the following:
1. The Gymnasium
This grand structure, accompanied by Roman baths, is one of the most impressive remnants in Salamis. It consists of a large courtyard flanked by columns. The Roman baths showcase the complexity and sophistication of ancient heating systems, with rooms that once had beautiful marble floors.
Originally constructed in the Greco-Roman style, the theatre at Salamis could accommodate up to 15,000 spectators. It was used for plays, performances and other public events. Although only the lower section of the theatre remains today, it gives a vivid picture of the entertainment culture in ancient Salamis.
3. Basilicas and Churches
The ruins of several early Christian basilicas are found at Salamis. The most notable is the Basilica of St. Epiphanius, built in the 4th century AD. The basilicas feature ornate floor mosaics, marble columns, and remnants of intricate frescoes.
4. Royal Tombs
Located to the north of the city, these tombs provide a peek into burial practices of the ancient elites. The tombs are dug deep into the ground and are surrounded by a series of chambers, which once held grave goods and offerings.
Read more: The Desolation Along the Cyprus Buffer Zone
5. Streets and Colonnades
Parts of the ancient city’s road network, complete with colonnades on either side, are still visible. They give visitors an idea of the layout and design of this once-thriving city.
6. Statues and Sculptures
Throughout the site, visitors will find various statues and sculptures, some in situ and some restored. They depict various figures, both mythical and real, showcasing the artistic prowess of the ancient inhabitants.
7. Public Latrines
This might sound mundane, but the public latrines at Salamis, with their marble seats, are an excellent example of the city’s advanced infrastructure and public amenities.
8. City Walls and Fortifications
While much of it is in ruins, sections of the city’s defensive walls and fortifications still stand, providing insights into the defense mechanisms of Salamis.
Salamis had a harbor that played a crucial role in its prosperity. Though silted up today, remnants of the ancient harbor can still be traced, emphasising the city’s strategic importance.
Where Are The Ancient Ruins Of Salamis in Northern Cyprus?
The ancient ruins of Salamis are located in Northern Cyprus, close to the city of Famagusta. It’s about a 20 minute drive from the city.
Entrance is 9 TL, and the most restored elements are by the ticket office, although the ruins are so sprawling you could easily sneak in from anywhere on the beach or the road which runs adjacent to it.
How to travel to Salamis
Visiting the ruins of Salamis in Northern Cyprus is a relatively straightforward process, but there are some logistical and political considerations to be aware of due to the island’s division. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to visit Salamis:
Getting to Cyprus:
- Fly into either Larnaca or Paphos airports in the Republic of Cyprus, or Ercan airport in Northern Cyprus. Flights to Ercan typically connect through Turkey.
Crossing the Border:
- If you land in the Republic of Cyprus (Larnaca or Paphos), you can cross into Northern Cyprus through one of the designated checkpoints. The most commonly used checkpoint for tourists is at Ledra Street in Nicosia.
- Ensure your passport gets stamped on a separate paper rather than on a page if you’re concerned about future travel to countries that may have restrictions for visitors with evidence of travel to Northern Cyprus.
- Some rental car companies in the Republic of Cyprus allow their vehicles to be driven into the north, but you’ll need to purchase additional insurance at the border. It’s essential to check this in advance with your rental company.
- From Nicosia, head towards Famagusta (Gazimağusa) on the main road. Salamis is just a few kilometers north of Famagusta.
- If you’re not driving, there are regular bus services from Nicosia to Famagusta. From Famagusta, you can take a taxi or a local minibus to the ruins.
Visiting the Site:
- The ruins typically open early in the morning and close in the late afternoon or early evening, but timings can vary based on the season and other factors. It’s wise to check current timings before your visit.
- There’s an entrance fee, which is relatively modest.
- It’s advisable to wear comfortable shoes as there’s a lot of walking involved. Also, carry water, especially in the summer months, as it can get quite hot.
- You might consider hiring a guide or getting a guidebook to understand the historical context and significance of the ruins better.
- Always check for any travel advisories or updates, particularly if there are changes in the political situation or other events that might affect travel to and within Cyprus.
Respect Local Sensitivities:
- The division of Cyprus and the status of Northern Cyprus is a sensitive political issue. It’s respectful to be aware of this context and avoid discussions that could be perceived as taking sides.
- If you entered Cyprus via the Republic of Cyprus and crossed into the north, ensure you also exit through the south to avoid any potential complications or issues with future travels.
Remember, while the political situation is a crucial context for understanding modern Cyprus, the ruins of Salamis stand as a testament to the island’s rich and shared history.
FAQ: The ancient ruins of Salamis
Here’s a quick FAQ on visiting the ancient ruins of Salamis in Northern Cyprus:
Q1: Where is Salamis located?
A: Salamis is located on the eastern coast of Cyprus, specifically in the northern part of the island near the city of Famagusta (Gazimağusa in Turkish).
Q2: Why is Salamis historically significant?
A: Salamis was one of the most prominent city-states on the island of Cyprus in ancient times. It was a key center for various civilizations, including the Assyrians, Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and early Christians.
Q3: Who founded Salamis?
A: According to legend, Salamis was founded by Teucer, a hero of the Trojan War. However, archaeological evidence suggests its origins might predate this legend.
Q4: What are the major attractions in Salamis?
A: Major attractions include the Roman Gymnasium and baths, the Greco-Roman theatre, early Christian basilicas, the royal tombs, and various statues, sculptures, and colonnades.
Q5: What are the opening hours for the Salamis ruins?
A: While timings can vary based on the season and other factors, the ruins typically open early in the morning and close in the late afternoon or early evening. It’s advisable to check the current timings before visiting.
Q6: Is there an entrance fee to visit the ruins?
A: Yes, there is a modest entrance fee to access the ruins. It’s best to carry cash, as card facilities might not always be available.
Q7: How can I get to Salamis from Nicosia?
A: You can drive from Nicosia to Famagusta and then continue a few kilometres north to reach Salamis. Alternatively, there are bus services from Nicosia to Famagusta, from where you can take a local taxi or minibus to the ruins.
Q8: Is it safe to visit Salamis?
A: Generally, yes. Salamis is a popular tourist destination. However, like any travel, it’s essential to stay informed about current conditions and any travel advisories.
Q9: Can I hire a guide at Salamis?
A: Yes, there are usually local guides available for hire at the entrance. They can provide valuable insights into the history and significance of the ruins.
Q10: What should I wear or bring when visiting Salamis?
A: Wear comfortable walking shoes as the site is expansive. In the summer months, it’s advisable to wear a hat, sunscreen, and bring water due to the heat.
Q11: How is Salamis connected to the division of Cyprus?
A: Salamis is located in Northern Cyprus, a region with a complex political status since the 1974 Turkish invasion. While the ruins of Salamis predate these events by millennia, visitors should be aware of the modern political context when traveling in the area.