Just 6km north of Famagusta, the ancient ruins at Salamis conjure up scenes akin to The Odyssey, and perhaps even Homer had this site in mind when he penned his epic adventure. The earliest archaeological finds in this area reach back in time to the late Bronze Age, roughly BC 1000.
Successive occupations of the island have left beautiful scars on Salamis – the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians and Romans have all left their mark on the landscape. The main site at Salamis spans one square mile by the shoreline. Although many treasures have been found there, more excavations are sure to uncover lost secrets from ancient Cyprus.
The founder of Salamis is reputed to have been Teucer, the son of Telamon. Following the Trojan War, Teucer was unable to return home to the Greek island of Salamis because he was ashamed at not avenging the death of his brother, Ajax. However, this story is unfounded and falls into the narrow crevice where ancient history meets myth. It is more likely that settlers came to Salamis long before this.
Salamis has left a unique legacy of its many ancient inhabitants, even though the area suffered a series of natural disasters that all but destroyed the town. Ironically, nature has helped preserve the site – it lay undiscovered under layers of sand for hundreds of years. For this reason, it is often compared to Pompeii.
Earthquakes in 76 -77 AD, the Jewish uprising in 116 AD, more earthquakes in 332 and 342 AD followed by a series of tidal waves left the area in a disarray. Emperor Constantius II created a newer and smaller city, which became the capital of Cyprus from 368 – 403AD. However, natural forces prevented the city from prospering. By 647AD, the city was abandoned as a result of even more earthquakes as well as Arab raids. The inhabitants of Constantia moved to Famagusta (Magusa).
The Gymnasium is the most impressive ruin at Salamis. Trajan and Hadrian built it following the great earthquake of 76 AD. However, the next wave of earthquakes in 331 AD knocked part of this structure. The remaining parts of the building still visible today show two different sized columns and it is thought that Christians dragged a second set of columns from the Roman Theatre.
The Roman Theatre
The theatre is another impressive ruin at the ancient site with eight rows of original seats remaining. Probably built under the reign of Augustus during the first years of the Roman Empire and finished during the second century AD, there are many beautiful artefacts in its vicinity. Headless marble statues were found on the outskirts of the theatre which date to Roman times. In fact, many of these statues may have been defaced by Christians who renounced all aspects of the Roman pagan tradition.
Finds To the west of the car park lies the Roman baths, which although have not been fully excavated still display many Roman artefacts. For example, in the Great Hall buildings one can make out the Sudatorium (hot baths), the Caldarium (steam bath) and Frigidarium (cold baths). The Roman villa to the south of the theatre, although excavated in 1882, is again under the earth. The Byzantine water cistern, just south of the villa is an impressive piece of antiquity. Comprised of three sections that open into each other, murals and writing dating back to 6th AD have been discovered on one of the murals. The main panel of the cistern depicts a water scene of fish and plants, while above it is an image of Jesus. The necropolis of Salamis to the west of the town, houses some of Salamis’s finds and is well worth visiting for an excellent overview of the site.