Dressing the Port, Re-Dressing the Square: Signs and Signifiers in the Urban Landscape of Famagusta, Cyprus, 1291-1571

Panos Leventis

Abstract


This article discusses and interprets the development, urban topography and main signifiers of the port city of Famagusta, Cyprus between the 14th and 16th centuries. It traces the city’s three distinct patterns of development, directly paralleling the three administrations in the years constituting the late Lusignan, Genoese and Venetian periods:

In the late Lusignan period (1291-1373), the city’s initially unfortified waterfront becomes a col- lection of socio-urban clusters of merchants and others that echoes their mother cities’ socio-cultural and visual heritage. Simultaneously, at the urban core, in the area surrounding the central square, the rising Cathedral of Saint Nicholas (c.1300-c.1340) and the expanding Palace of the Lusignan become physical and symbolic bookends for the city’s most important civic space.

In the late 1360s, on the eve of the Genoese occupation, and due to the construction of the city’s fortifications, the merchant administration centers relocate to the area surrounding the main square, superimposing their loggias onto the urban core. Nearby, the impressive Church of Saints Peter and Paul, constructed with eastern merchant funding, reiterates the balance of power at this time and completes the area’s urban identity. Throughout the years of Genoese administration (1373-1464), financial and political difficulties deny the city of further development, resulting in a humbler, if not outright neglected, urban fabric. Nevertheless, a surviving building in the square, possibly the Catalan loggia, can attest to continuous construction during this time.

During the Venetian Period (1473-1571) this situation is partially reversed when a series of defensive and civic renovation works are undertaken. In the prevailing spirit of the Renaissance, Venetian authorities redress a number of structures such as the Castle and Sea Gate by the port (1490s-1520s), and the Palace in the main square (1540s-1550s), appropriating spolia from the island’s ancient past within a uniquely Venetian cultural and urban narrative. 


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