Archaeological excavations at the site began in the late nineteenth century under the auspices of the Cyprus Exploration Fund. Many of these finds are now in the British Museum in London.
Excavations at Salamis started again in 1952 and were in progress until 1974. Before the Turkish intervention, there was much archaeological activity there; one French Mission was excavating at Enkomi, another at Salamis and the Department of Antiquities was busy almost throughout the year with repairs and restorations of monuments and was engaged in excavations at Salamis. After the Turkish intervention, the international embargo has prevented the continuation of the excavations. The site and the museums are maintained by the antiquities service. Important archaeological collections are kept in the St. Barnabas monastery. In the District Archaeological Museum there are marble statues from the gymnasium and the theatre of Salamis, pottery and jewellery from Enkomi and other objects representative of the rich archaeological heritage of the whole district.
Salamis, principal city of ancient Cyprus, is located on the east coast of the island, north of modern Famagusta. Excavations have shown that the history of salamis goes back to the 11th century BC. It is believed that Salamis was inhabited by the people of Famagusta, after an earthquake in 1075 BC devastated their town. Traces of a necropolis (a large, designed cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments) and a harbour have also been unearthed.
Around the 8th century BC, Salamis emerged as an important trading centre in the Mediterranean, opening trading routes between Cilicia (Cilicia was the south coastal region of Asia Minor and existed as a political entity from Hittite times), Egypt, Phoenicia (coastal areas of today’s Lebanon, northern Israel and southern Syria) and Arwad (a Syrian island located 3 kilometres from Tartus)
The first coins were minted in the 6th century BC, and inscriptions found around the ancient city indicate that it was around this time when then name of Salamis is encountered.
Together with Syria and Anatolia, Salamis was ruled by Achamenid under the Persian Empire in 525 BC until the era of Macedonian King, Alexander the Great.
After the death of the Alexander near Babylon in 323 BC, his generals divided the lands gained by the great King and Cyprus fell to Ptolomey of Egypt.
After long periods of uncertainty, Salamis began to flourish under Roman rule and once again, became a central point for trading.
Development was often interrupted by earthquakes, especially between the 1st and 4th century AD. Emperor of the Roman Emperor, Constantinus II rebuilt the city around 352 AD and renamed it ‘Constantina’.
Shortly afterwards, more natural disasters occurred and the raids of Arab pirates left the city ruined and abandoned after 648 AD.
Today, the surviving infrastructure provides an accurate map of what was once a thriving and wealthy city.
The large complex begins with a court surrounded by column arcades. This particular area served as a gymnasium between 31 BC – 14AD during the reign of Augustus, and a stone basin and statue of the Emperor occupied the centre.
Situated on opposite corners of the court were Latrines (toilets), baths and two swimming pools at the two ends of the eastern colonnade which were adorned with marble statues.
The first part of the baths consisted of two octagonal cold rooms, between which was also a sweat room.
On the south wall, the hot water baths were accompanied with two additional sweat rooms. Mosaics depicting various mythological stories decorated the southern floors and walls of the magnificent complex.
A water reservoir system of earthen pipes and conduits on a 50 kilometre aqueduct brought water to the city from Kyhrea and continued to function until the 7th century.
The ruins of the theatre have been dated to the Augustus reign. It’s Auditorium consists of 50 rows of seats and would have held around 15,000 spectators. Performances took place on a raised stage, the background of the stage decorated with statues.
After it was destroyed by earthquakes during the 4th century, it was never to be rebuilt, and the materials reused as a source for other constructions.
Roman villas, living quarters, basilica, courtyards and even the remains of a church have been found at the site.
Steeped in history, it is easy to see why this ancient city leaves tourists in awe. The ingenuity, construction and high living standards created by the masterminds who built the city centuries before modern machinery is fascinating. This precious and educational site is a must see, is open to everybody and is currently 7tl per adult for entry.
By Serpil Kadirlar