Originally built by the Lusignans, Gazimağusa’s city walls owe their present impressive dimensions and design to the Venetians, who spent half a century up to 1540 remodelling them for medieval battle, for example, building ramps up which to haul cannons, and making square towers round, so that they were proof against artillery fire. A dry moat was cut around three of the four sides – the fourth faces the sea. Unfortunately you cannot make a complete circuit of the walls – the northern bastions (Diamante and Martinegro) are restricted areas. This was not the case under the British who played golf along the ramparts in the 1930s.
The Land Gate and Ravelin Bastion
In the southwest corner of the walls is the Land Gate, one of the two original main gates (the other being the Sea Gate) to the old town. As you approach across the bridge, look to the right for a good view of the stretch of wall to the first “Santa Napa” bastion. Once inside you’ll find the tourist office to the left. The Ravelin Bastion (or Rivettina Bastion) in front of the gate was heavily involved in the Siege of Famagusta, and when it finally seemed bound to be taken by the attackers, the Venetians blew it up, killing, it’s said, a thousand Ottoman soldiers and a hundred of their own. This was also where the white flag of surrender was flown, prompting the victors to rename it Akkule, or “White Bastion”. The innards of the bastion, a warren of passages, rooms and flights of steps, are open to the public.
The Canbulat Bastion
As you circle the walls in an anticlockwise direction, the next major bastion – the Canbulat Bastion – is in the southeast corner. It is named after one of the Turkish heroes of the siege of Famagusta, Canbulat, the Bey of Kilis. Faced with a fearsome defensive device consisting of knives attached to a rapidly rotating wheel, Canbulat rode his horse full tilt into it, killing both himself and his steed, but jamming the wheel and making it ineffective. His tomb, which is in the bastion, once had a fig tree growing out of it, whose fruit, if eaten by young women, would not only ensure conception, but also that the resulting children would be as brave as Canbulat. There’s a small museum containing oddments of costume, artillery and Venetian and Ottoman ceramics.
The Sea Gate
After the Canbulat Bastion, the walls swing north, parallel to the sea. Note to the left of the wall, the remains of the Hospital of St Antony, which was built using stone taken from the ruins of Salamis. Beyond them is the Sea Gate, which once provided access from the port. A squat and solid-looking fortification with a signature statue of a Venetian lion at its base, it has massive iron-clad wooden gates, Ottoman in origin, and a heavy Venetian iron portcullis (both shrouded in tarpaulin at the time of writing). The top of the Sea Gate is accessible via a steep flight of steps from inside the town at the end of Liman Yolu; the views across the town one way, and the port the other, are worth the climb. Looking north from the Sea Gate you can see a variety of ships in the harbour, many of them Turkish naval vessels (which is why the northern parts of the walls are off limits). Incidentally, the Venetian lion is said to open its mouth once a year – if you’re nearby when it does so, plunge your hand down its throat and you will retrieve treasure.
Beyond the Sea Gate stands the massive Othello’s Tower. The name is a little fanciful, bestowed by the British on the strength of the locations mentioned in Shakespeare’s play: “A seaport in Cyprus” and “a hall in the castle”. Indeed its alternative name, “The Citadel”, is a better description. Above the entrance in the southwest corner is a large relief of the Lion of St Mark, the Venetian emblem. Despite its Venetian exterior you can still make out the original Lusignan fortress beneath: the large central courtyard on the north side is the Great Hall, still used for concerts and performances. The views from the battlements are as good as those from the Sea Gate. Look out, too, for the ventilation shafts designed to clear smoke from the cannons inside the tower; a few of these were filled in with rubble prompting rumours that the Venetians had buried their gold here rather than see it fall into the hands of the Ottomans.
The Siege of Famagusta
The Siege of Famagusta
Fresh from its victory over Nicosia and the surrender of Kyrenia, the Ottoman army approached Famagusta in confident mood in September 1570. Before them lay a small garrison of Venetians, no match it would seem for thousands of battle-hardened Turkish troops. Having blockaded the port (thus preventing relief from the Venetian navy), the Ottoman commander Mustafa Paşa ordered his artillery to pound the city while his engineers built trenches and a huge earth ramp to scale the walls. The Venetian defenders, hopelessly outnumbered, put up a gutsy resistance under the command of Marcantonio Bragadin and his lieutenant Lorenzo Tiepolo, cunningly moving soldiers about so that the invaders were tricked into thinking them a far more formidable force. The Venetians managed to hold out for ten months before the citadel was breached in July 1571. Bragadin agreed to a negotiated surrender where all civilians could leave the city and his soldiers could sail for Crete.
Things went largely to plan until during the hand-over ceremony when Mustafa Paşa, up until then courteous towards his opponent, suddenly exploded with rage, killing several Venetian officers and cutting off Bragadin’s ears and nose. A massacre of the remaining Christians in the city followed. Bragadin, after several weeks’ imprisonment, was publicly executed, his body quartered, and his skin, stuffed with straw, sent riding on an ox through the town before being sent to the sultan in Constantinople. The treatment of Bragadin so incensed the Venetians that it was said to inspire their forces at the Battle of Lepanto a couple of months later, halting Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean. Bragadin’s flailed skin was rescued from Constantinople in 1596 and returned to Venice, where it still rests in the Basilica di San Zanipolo.