Famagusta today is a somewhat sleepy university town and nothing about it would lead the visitor to believe that this was once one of the most thriving, cosmopolitan and wealthy cities in the whole world. That was way back in its thirteenth century heyday when the Christians of Palestine moved en masse to Cyprus to escape the victorious march of Islam. Famagusta grew in the most spectacular fashion as craftsmen, merchants and the Christian church enriched the city. The threat of Islam to the south and east and the Ottomans to the north encouraged the building of stout defences that could withstand artillery and siege.
The nobles of Cyprus had hitherto resorted to unscalable mountain strongholds for their defence against attack, but the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries witnessed the golden age of European military architecture as first the Lusignans, then the Genoese, and finally the Venetians honed and perfected the art of fortified defensive wall construction.
The fortifications of Famagusta nearly did their job and managed to withstand an eleven month Ottoman siege. The walls stood firm in spite of months of cannon fire and undermining. However, when it was realised that no aid would be forthcoming from Venice and with provisions and ammunition running out, the heroic defenders asked for terms of surrender. These were offered and accepted but the Ottomans reneged on the agreement and the remaining inhabitants of the city were slaughtered, and Bragadin, the Venetian commander was famously and cruelly tortured to death.
The walls today are remarkably intact and in stunningly good repair and still fully enclose the old city. Built in an irregular rectangle, the walls are punctuated by fifteen towers and bastions. They still possess their evocative Venetian names, some of which are the names of the great military commanders who designed them. Many of them have second names describing either their functions or notable features. Only one was given a Turkish name;-the old Arsenale was re-named Canbulat’s Bastion after the valiant Ottoman soldier who attempted to storm it single-handedly. It now contains a museum, as well as being something of a shrine for Turkish women hoping for some of Canbulat’s valour to rub off onto their children!
Othello’s Tower has achieved a fame beyond its actual true merits, mainly because of its association with Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name. It’s an amazing but true fact that many of the cannonballs unleashed on the city almost four hundred and fifty years ago are still dotted around the town some of which have been collected and are on display at Othello’s castle.