When the traveling Russian monk Basil Grigorovich Barskii saw Famagusta in1727 he made an entry in his journal:
In it [Famagusta] there are old buildings and beautiful churches going back to ancient times, some of which are now empty, and others have been converted into Turkish mosques. Who having seen the beauty…will not weep about it, or who having seen the skill and the art with which [they have] been constructed will not be amazed by it?
He concluded however by suggesting a bleak future by saying:
And there is no hope or power, which can restore them or take care of them, and they will forever remain forsaken, deserted and abandoned.
The three centuries which have elapsed since Barskii’s words were written have done little dispel his pessimistic outlook. In fact, despite the claim that Famagusta once had 365 churches at the peak of its wealth and influence, all but a handful of these have now disappeared or are remain only in a ruinous state. Others have become overgrown or have been dismantled down to foundation level through the removal of cut stone for other building projects in the area. The Ottoman bombardment of 1571 de-roofed many, and subsequent earthquakes resulted in the collapse of remaining walls, but four and a half centuries of neglect, and exposure to the elements, combined with the radical depopulation of the city, have been, perhaps, most catastrophic of all. The churches that survived best were those that, having survived the siege, were converted for alternative uses, principally as mosques and accordingly underwent the physical consequences of the doctrinal change to Islam. So if today the Lusignan churches of Famagusta are, as Lili Schultheis described them, ‘gothic skeletons with dead eyes of empty windows from where the spirit went away a long, long time ago’, that does not mean they are without their value. On the contrary, they are precious, and the fading works of art within them the historian’s last opportunity to glimpse at a now forgotten period of wealth and artistic achievement in the history of Famagusta, Cyprus and the E/eastern Mediterranean.
Little has been written on the Lusignan architecture of Famagusta since Camille Enlart’s majestic L’Art Gothique et la Renaissance en Chypre over 100 years ago. This workshop, and the subsequent publication, therefore, aims to re-vitalise scholarship in the field.
Date and location to be confirmed.
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