Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
Dec 30, 2022
The name might read Famagusta, but cross the border and it becomes Magusa. It was simple enough to get to the bus station, in the northern part of Nicosia. More of a bus stop, the dust-laden little room sat at the corner, well known enough to locals that there was a constant stream of people stopping to drop off packages. The Amazon delivery of this part of the world, the packages vary the gamut between well-wrapped boxes to carry bags of delicate presents minus any wrapping. The business is brisk as parcels of all shapes and sizes are dropped off. The three of us buy our tickets and wait. This is dolmus country – the minivans that go when they are full. I wondered how many packages are equivalent to a person.
But leave we did, around the time we were supposed to and vast stretches of emptiness greeted us. A lone farmhouse surrounded by empty fields. Are they lying fallow? Are they empty all year? These were questions I neither knew the answer to, nor could I ask anyone. I could only remember odd phrases in Turkish, none of them the right ones. There were car dealerships though, lined up cheek by jowl along some stretches. And unsurprisingly, garages and mechanics taking up entire stretches. The hills of the northern edge show up as blurry images but there is hardly any signs of habitation along the road. It reminds me of the vast stretches of empty space going from Batumi on the Georgian border, heading to Ani. But there, there were flocks of sheep but here there is nothing.
Roughly an hour later we reached Magusa and there it stood – the walls of the old Venetian port, fortified against enemy attack. In 1192, with onset of Lusignan rule, this port had been all-important. The natural harbor is one of the deepest in these parts and it was placed at the crossroads between Europe and the one of the western terminus of the Silk Road. Goods coming along the Silk road would stop here before being sent on to other parts west of here. It is little wonder that this was a place fought for over the ages. The Venetian walls built during the reign of Genoa and Venice still stand and have been renovated in parts. The birds’ eye view from the top stretches all the way to the sea, with views of the cathedral and other important buildings.
But Magusa did not remain in Venetian hands for long. The mid sixteenth century saw the Ottoman empire reach to this area. The Cathedral of St. Nicholas was converted to a mosque and sports a minaret to this day. A central bazaar developed as did public baths, fountains and theological schools. Most still exist today albeit morphed into other entities but still recognizable.
But there is more to Magusa than the relics within the walls. This is a city that is affluent. It is evident in the fancy cars whizzing by on the streets, the well-heeled frequenting posh restaurants with arguably garish décor and the general lack of shabbiness. Quaint little streets are framed by blooms and hip cafes serve cocktails. But the smiles and the welcome had all the typical Turkish warmth. We sat ourselves down for lunch. Our three dishes came accompanied with an array of sides. Hog heaven.