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. The northwest section of wall and the Martinengo Bastion, with a group of places of worship, were until recently a restricted area because of the presence of an army camp, but this has now been abandoned, and the whole area, and indeed the walls as a whole, are again open to visitors – British officers in the 1930s even played golf along the top of the walls.
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, after the Ravelin Bastion, the next major bastion – the Canbulat Bastion – is in the southeast corner. It is named after one of the Turkish heroes of the 1571 siege of Venetian Famagusta by the Ottomans, Canbulat (pronounced “Djambulat”), 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 displaying artefacts associated with the siege, ranging from costume and artillery to ship models and weapons. Look out particularly for the “memorial” tomb of Canbulat, and the reconstruction of a sixteenth-century Ottoman tent. The collection is well displayed, and a steep flight of stone steps gives access to further exhibits and views of the walls from the roof of the bastion. Just beyond the entrance to the museum, through an archway, the entrance to the port which stretches along the eastern wall of the city is marked by a large ceramic mural of the Ottoman conquest of Famagusta.
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, a local myth says that the Venetian lion opens its mouth once a year, giving bystanders the chance to plunge their hands down its throat to 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. The views from the battlements are as good as those from the Sea Gate, and offer prospects of the citadel itself, as well as of the port, snuggled up to the eastern wall of the city. Othello’s Tower has been renovated in a combined Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot initiative, driven by the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage. The fabric of the building is now in good order and is open to the public, but much remains to be done – in particular, the almost liquid sand underfoot in the Great Hall can be treacherous. As you explore the tunnels and passages of the Tower, look out 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.