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SALAMIS ANCIENT CITY

 

Excavations have shown that the history of Salamis goes back to the 11th century BC. Archaeologists tend to believe that the first inhabitants of the town came here from Enkomi after the earthquake of 1075 BC. Traces of a necropolis and a harbour of this early period have been located. When the 'Dark Ages' of  the Mediterranean world came to an end in about the 8th century BC, Salamis appeared on the historical scene as an important trading centre. The necropolis which yielded the Royal Tombs belongs to this period and gives an idea about the richness of the city during the era. The first coins were minted in the 6th century BC. Also, in the inscriptions dating from this period the name of Salamis is encountered for the first time. In this century, together  with Syria and Anatolia, the island went under the rule of the Achamenid Persian  Empire  which  lasted  until  the march of Alexander the Great into Asia Minor. Following the unexpected death of Alexander the Great near Babylon in 323 BC, his generals divided the lands of the Hellenistic Empire and Cyprus fell to the share of Ptolemy who established his kingdom in Egypt. During the Hellenistic and the Roman era Salamis, together with Alexandria, Antioch-on-the-Orontes, Ephesus, Pergamum and Athens, received its share of the wealth of the period and once again became an important trading centre between the worlds surrounding the Mediterranean. This prosperous period continued into the Roman era. Most of the ruins unearthed in excavations date from this recent history of the city. The development of Salamis was often interrupted by earthquakes, especially in the 1st and 4th centuries AD.   Following the earthquakes, the Byzantine emperor Constantius II (337-361 AD) rebuilt the city and renamed it Constantia. However, by this time the harbour was already silted up and more natural catastrophes and the raids of the Arab pirates brought its end. In 648 after another raid the last inhabitants moved to Arsinoe which was later to become Famagusta. from this recent history of the city. The development of Salamis was often interrupted by earthquakes, especially in the 1st and 4th centuries AD.  F o l l o w i n g    t h e earthquakes, the Byzantine emperor Constantius II (337-361 AD) rebuilt the city and renamed it Constantia. However, by this time the harbour was already silted up and more natural catastrophes and the raids of the Arab pirates brought its end. In 648 after another raid the last inhabitants moved to Arsinoe which was later to become Famagusta. 

 

GYMNASIUM AND BATHS

This large complex began with a court (1) surrounded with columned arcades on its four sides. It served as an exercising ground. During the reign of Augustus (31 BC - 14 AD) a stone basin with the statue of the emperor occupied its centre. Some of its columns, capitals and bases originally belonged to the theatre and were brought here after the earthquakes of the 4th century. In one corner there were latrines (3) for 44 people. Another set of latrines (11) existed on the north side of the baths. Two swimming pools (5) occupied the two ends of the eastern colonnade (4). These were decorated with marble statues. The first part of the baths consisted of two octagonal cold rooms (6), between which was the central sweating room (7). On the south wall of the latter a fresco piece  surviving from the 3rd century AD shows Hylas - the boy friend of Heracles who gets lost in Mysia on the way to Colchis to bring the Golden Fleece - as he refuses the water nymphs. The hot water baths (8) were flanked by two more sweat rooms (9). In the southern  one there are mosaic fragments; one originally represented Leto's children Apollo and Artemis killing Niobe's children with arrows. The latter who has fourteen children belittles Leto for having only two. The second mosaic shows Leda, the future mother of Helen, and Zeus, disguised as a swan with the river god Eurotas. Two more mosaic fragments which do not feature figures have survived in the north wall of the hot room and in the northern sweat room. The stoking room (10) was situated to the north of the complex. 

 

THEATRE

The present day ruins of the theatre date from the time of Augustus. Its auditorium originally consisted of 50 rows of seats and held over 15,000 spectators. Its orchestra bore an altar dedicated to Dionysus and two bases dedicated to Marcus Aurelius Commodus, and Caesar Constantius and Caesar Maximianus. The performances took place on the raised stage whose background was decorated with statues. After it was destroyed by earthquakes in the 4th century the theatre was never rebuilt and served as a source of building material for other constructions.

 

ROMAN VILLA

His two-storey villa was made of an apsidal reception hall and a central inner courtyard with a columned portico. The living quarters were grouped in the inner courtyard. After the city was abandoned this building was used as an oil mill. The large stone which  was used to cruch olives (in the reception hall), mill stones and the straining device have survived.

 

KAMPANOPETRA BASILICA

His basilica was built in the 4th century and consisted of a courtyard surrounded with columns which contained a well for ablution, and a nave with aisles. It ended with a triple apse. The throne of the bishop and the seats of the clergy were situated in the central apse. At the back of the apse there was another group of buildings with a courtyard. These seem to have included bathing  facilities, and  a  sweating room. One of the rooms has revealed a beautiful opus sectile mosaic floor.

 

AYIOS EPIPHANIOS BASILICA

This was the largest basilica in Cyprus And was built as the metropolitan church of Salamis during the office of Bishop Epiphanios (386-403 AD) whose tomb still lies encased in marble in front of the southern apse. The edifice consisted of a nave separated from its aisles by two rows of 14 columns with Corinthian capitals. It ended with a triple-arched semi-circular apse where there were seats for the bishop and clergy. The rooms on each side of the apse were used for dressing and storing liturgical apparatus. Hypocaust remains in the baptistery show that the initiates received their baptism in winter months with warm water. The church was destroyed in the 7th century during the Arab raids. The ruins at the back of the southern apse belong to a smaller church built after the original one was destroyed.

 

AGORA (STONE FORUM)

This was the meeting place and market of Salamis. Its origins go back to the Hellenistic period. On two sides it was lined with columned arcades which protected the shoppers from heat in summer and rain in winter. Only one of the columns has survived to the present day. Its courtyard contained temples dedicated to gods related to commerce and was decorated with statues and fountains.

 

TEMPLE OF ZEUS

The present day ruins belong to the Roman period temple which was built on an earlier Hellenistic one. The shrine had the right to grant asylum and this fact was confirmed by Augustus in 22 BC. During excavations inscriptions in honor of Livia, Augustus' consort, and the Olympian Zeus were discovered.

 

WATER RESERVOIR "VOUTA”

A system of earthen pipes and conduits on a 50 kilometer aqueduct brought water to the city from Kyhrea. This Roman period water system continued to function till the 7th century. The walls and the remains of 36 square pillars of the largest of the cisterns where this water was collected have survived. In addition to the pillars its ceiling was supported by massive corbels projecting from its longer walls. Excavations at floor level have brought to light an exit conduit.

 

Northern Cyprus Department of Antiquities and Museums Directorate