Salamis

Once the most important city in Cyprus, the ruins of Salamis are still impressive today. Set across a site of 1km fringed by a golden sandy beach, there is much to explore and inspire in these great Roman ruins – a definite must-see for anyone visiting North Cyprus.  

Salamis Harabeleri, Gazimagusa, Kuzey Kibris

Excavations have shown that Salamis was founded as early as the 11th century BC, with the first inhabitants settling here from Enkomi after the earthquake of 1075 BC. Remains of a necropolis, harbour, as well as coins minted in “Salamis” (as early as 6th century BC) have been discovered, as the city had developed into a major trading port. Together with Syria and Anatolia, Cyprus was ruled by the Achamenid Persian Empire during this period, which lasted until the march of Alexander the Great into Asia Minor. Following the unexpected death of Alexander the Great near Babylon in 323 BC, his generals divided the lands of the Hellenistic Empire and Cyprus fell to the Egyptian king of Ptolemy.

The remains we can see at Salamis today date back to the Roman era, during which the city once again became the main trading centre of Cyprus. This prosperous period continued into the Roman era, but the development of Salamis was often interrupted by earthquakes and tidal waves, especially during the 1st and 4th centuries AD. The Byzantine emperor Constantius II (337-361 AD) did try to rebuild the newly-appointed capital city, renaming it Constantia – but, by this time the harbour was already silted up and more natural catastrophes combined with raids by Arab pirates during the 7th century led to Salamis’ decline, with inhabitants moving to Arsinoe, which was later to become Famagusta. However, you can see how significant Salamis was during its heyday, as the Royal Tombs, the Bronze Age village of Enkomi and St. Barnabas Monastery are all situated very near by.

Gymnasium and Roman Baths

This large complex served as an exercising ground and school and is surrounded by columns on all four sides. During the reign of Augustus (31 BC - 14 AD) a stone basin with the statue of the emperor occupied its centre. Some of its columns, capitals and bases originally belonged to the theatre and were brought here by the Byzantines after the earthquakes of the 4th century. In one corner there were latrines (3) for 44 people. Another set of latrines (11) existed on the north side of the baths. Two swimming pools (5) occupied the two ends of the eastern colonnade (4). These were decorated with marble statues. The first part of the baths consisted of two octagonal plunge pools or cold rooms (6), between which was the central sweating room (7).

 

On the south wall of the baths you can see a fresco piece surviving from the 3rd century AD illustrating Hylas - the lover of Heracles who refuses the water nymphs. In the southern hall you can see some of the site’s finest mosaics, including one representing Leto's children Apollo and Artemis killing Niobe's children with arrows. The second mosaic features the legend of Leda and the swan, whilst more mosaic fragments with floral and geometric designs have survived in the north wall of the hot room and in the northern sweat room.

Amphitheatre

Dating back from the time of Augustus, this impressive auditorium originally consisted of 50 rows of seats (now there are 18 rows) and held over 15,000 spectators. Its orchestra bore an altar dedicated to Dionysus and two bases dedicated to Marcus Aurelius Commodus, and Caesar Constantius and Caesar Maximianus. The performances would take place on the raised stage whose background was decorated with statues. After it was destroyed by earthquakes, the theatre was never rebuilt to its former glory – but concerts still take place there today.

Roman Villa

This two-storey villa consists of an apsidal reception hall and a central inner courtyard with a columned portico. The living quarters were grouped in the inner courtyard but after the city was abandoned, this building was used as an oil mill. The large stone was used to crush olives; the mill stones and the straining device have survived.

The Salamis Basilicas

As you walk along the main path of Salamis towards the centre, you will encounter the Kambanopetra (Campana Petra) basilica, which was originally home to the sarcophagi of important church dignitaries. The basilica consists of a column-fringed courtyard, a well for ablution, a nave with aisles and a triple apse where the throne of the bishop and the seats of the clergy were situated. Beyond the basilica there was another group of buildings with a courtyard, bathing facilities, a sweating room and one of the most beautiful mosaics in Salamis consisting of a circular floor of black and white triangles, or an opus sectile.

If you carry on walking to the far end of the site by the sea, you will reach the Ayios Epiphanios basilica, built in the 4th century. This was once the largest and most significant basilicas in Cyprus and was built as the metropolitan church of Salamis during the office of Bishop Epiphanios (386-403 AD) whose tomb still lies encased in marble in front of the southern apse. The edifice consisted of a nave separated from its aisles by two rows of 14 columns with Corinthian capitals and ended with a triple-arched semi-circular apse where there were seats for the bishop and clergy. The rooms on each side of the apse were used for dressing and storing liturgical apparatus. Hypocaust remains in the baptistery show that the initiates received their baptism in winter months with warm water. The church was destroyed in the 7th century during the Arab raids. The ruins at the back of the southern apse belong to a smaller church built after the original one was destroyed.

The Agora (Stone Forum)

Once the meeting place and market of Salamis, the Forum’s origins date back to the Hellenistic period during which time it was lined with columned arcades which protected the customers from heat in the summer and rain in winter – but only one of the columns has survived to the present day. Its courtyard contained temples dedicated to gods related to commerce and was decorated with statues and fountains.

Water Reservoir

Situated beside the forum was a vast Byzantine cistern which could hold sufficient water for the needs of 120,000 people. A system of earthen pipes and a 56km long aquaduct transported water to the city from Kyhrea. This water system continued to function until the 7th century. The walls and the remains of 36 square pillars of the largest of the cisterns where this water was collected have survived.

Temple of Zeus

Presiding over the Forum is the Temple of Zeus, believed to the largest in the Roman Empire. During excavations inscriptions in honour of Livia, Augustus' consort, and the Olympian Zeus were discovered.