Roman Theatre of Salamis, Cyprus

Roman Theatre of Salamis, Cyprus

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Roman Theatre, Salamis, North Cyprus By Peter Thompson

Roman theatre Salamis North Cyprus Archaeologists have found remains at Salamis dating back to the th century BC Evidence of Phoenician and Assyrian settlement has been found and it later became the capital of a Greek citystate In Roman times Salamis was an important city and most of the ruins that can be seen today date from the Roman period including the theatre that could seat people The city was badly damaged by earthquakes in the th century and was eventually abandoned after it was sacked in the during the Arab invasion of Cyprus

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The Epic Salamis Ruins In Famagusta

Just 6km north of Famagusta, the ancient ruins at Salamis conjure up scenes akin to The Odyssey, and perhaps even Homer had this site in mind when he penned his epic adventure. The earliest archaeological finds in this area reach back in time to the late Bronze Age, roughly BC 1000.
Successive occupations of the island have left beautiful scars on Salamis – the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians and Romans have all left their mark on the landscape. The main site at Salamis spans one square mile by the shoreline. Although many treasures have been found there, more excavations are sure to uncover lost secrets from ancient Cyprus.

The founder of Salamis is reputed to have been Teucer, the son of Telamon. Following the Trojan War, Teucer was unable to return home to the Greek island of Salamis because he was ashamed at not avenging the death of his brother, Ajax. However, this story is unfounded and falls into the narrow crevice where ancient history meets myth. It is more likely that settlers came to Salamis long before this.

Salamis has left a unique legacy of its many ancient inhabitants, even though the area suffered a series of natural disasters that all but destroyed the town. Ironically, nature has helped preserve the site – it lay undiscovered under layers of sand for hundreds of years. For this reason, it is often compared to Pompeii.

Earthquakes in 76 -77 AD, the Jewish uprising in 116 AD, more earthquakes in 332 and 342 AD followed by a series of tidal waves left the area in a disarray. Emperor Constantius II created a newer and smaller city, which became the capital of Cyprus from 368 – 403AD. However, natural forces prevented the city from prospering. By 647AD, the city was abandoned as a result of even more earthquakes as well as Arab raids. The inhabitants of Constantia moved to Famagusta (Magusa).

The Gymnasium

The Gymnasium is the most impressive ruin at Salamis. Trajan and Hadrian built it following the great earthquake of 76 AD. However, the next wave of earthquakes in 331 AD knocked part of this structure. The remaining parts of the building still visible today show two different sized columns and it is thought that Christians dragged a second set of columns from the Roman Theatre.

The Roman Theatre

The theatre is another impressive ruin at the ancient site with eight rows of original seats remaining. Probably built under the reign of Augustus during the first years of the Roman Empire and finished during the second century AD, there are many beautiful artefacts in its vicinity. Headless marble statues were found on the outskirts of the theatre which date to Roman times. In fact, many of these statues may have been defaced by Christians who renounced all aspects of the Roman pagan tradition.

Other Significant

Finds To the west of the car park lies the Roman baths, which although have not been fully excavated still display many Roman artefacts. For example, in the Great Hall buildings one can make out the Sudatorium (hot baths), the Caldarium (steam bath) and Frigidarium (cold baths). The Roman villa to the south of the theatre, although excavated in 1882, is again under the earth. The Byzantine water cistern, just south of the villa is an impressive piece of antiquity. Comprised of three sections that open into each other, murals and writing dating back to 6th AD have been discovered on one of the murals. The main panel of the cistern depicts a water scene of fish and plants, while above it is an image of Jesus. The necropolis of Salamis to the west of the town, houses some of Salamis’s finds and is well worth visiting for an excellent overview of the site.


Walking from the bath house complex down a paved columned street, there is a partially excavated area on the right. This is the site of the amphitheatre where excavations where abandoned in 1974.

The outer walls of the theatre are clearly visible and only half of the original structure has been rebuilt. The solid structure of today would have been supplemented by more tiered seating with an auditorium of between forty and fifty rows. The foundations of the buttresses that supported the additional seating are to be seen at the rear of the theatre. There are now nineteen tiers divided by eight rows of steps with a central section that has a larger seating area and was most likely for use by the city dignitaries. The stage area is impressively large measuring 120ft (37m) wide, with an area of dressing rooms at the back now sadly overgrown by mimosa bushes. The orchestra measures 85ft (26m) in diameter and would have had a floor of opus sectile paving.

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Remains of the historical Salamis City…

The impressive Roman city of Salamis was one of the original kingdoms of Cyprus. The founding of Salamis dates right back to 1100 BC and the city prospered during the Roman period, until it was struck by a number of earthquakes followed by the silting up of the harbour. Salamis was eventually abandoned after the Arab raids of the 7th century AD.

Marble columns and coloured statues, Salamis Ruins

A visit to the Salamis Ruins is sure to be a highlight of any North Cyprus holiday. The ruined city is relatively well-preserved and includes a grand gymnasium and theatre which seated some 15,000 spectators. The remains of Salamis also include an extensive bath complex. What is left of the ancient harbour of Salamis can now be seen under the clear waters of the Mediterranean.

The Salamis ruins are set to the north of Famagusta, extending over an area of approximately one square mile, flanked by a stretch of golden sandy beach. Whether you stay in Kyrenia or Famagusta, you should definitely include a visit to the Salamis ruins during your North Cyprus holiday.

Ancient theatres in Cyprus

Archaeological excavations in various parts of the island showed that ancient Cypriots were great fans of theatres. For example, the ruins of Salamis, an ancient Greek city-state, that were discovered by archaeologists in 1952 – 1974, for a big part consist of a huge ancient theatre that could accommodate up to 15 000 visitors and is believed to have been built in the 1st century AD.

Another ancient city, Soli, is located not far from Nicosia. There is a theatre remaining from the Roman times here. It was considerably restored and, unfortunately, had lost its original atmosphere.

An ancient theatre in Kourion (Episkopi village not far from Limassol) is one of the main touristic sites on the territory of the Kourion Archaeological Area. It was built by Greeks in the II century BC and at some point rebuilt by Romans. Such classics as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Euripides, and others were staged here.

After the damaging earthquake that took place in year 77 the theatre was restored and expanded. In the III century AD, it was used as a gladiator arena, in the V century — as a stone mine. Eventually, the amphitheatre was abandoned and fell into disrepair. In 1961 the theatre was repaired to such an extent that nowadays it holds theatre shows and modern interpretations of classical Greek tragedies.

Thus, the history of theatre in Cyprus goes back to the ancient times, when thousands of people would gather to watch comedies and tragedies based on myths and historical events. All the actors were men, while women if allowed to enter a theatre, had to sit separately.

When the Roman Empire took over, a popular and even prestigious profession of an actor became shameful. Nevertheless, the theatre culture was developing rapidly: a lot of new genres (such as short and politics centred atellans) appeared over the years, and mimes became a common street phenomenon.

Even when the first Greek and Roman theatres fell into disrepair, talented people kept telling stories using international language of comedy and drama.

History of the Roman City of Soli on Cyprus

From Kormacit we had left to the ruins of the ancient Roman City of Soli, a city whose traces can be followed back to the 11th century BC.

From inscriptions we know that the name being influenced by Assyrians was once written like Si-il-lu. With increasing Greek influence, probably due to the well-known philosopher Solon, the name was then converted into Solos. Another story talks about the Aepeanian King Philicypros who wanted to move his capital town to another location, then by recommendation of the philosopher Solon, Soli was built in the wonderfully fertile region near the sea, with offered a sheltered harbor too.

During the Ionian revolt against the Persians in 498 BC, Solis citizens revolted too against Persian domination, but the Persians could conquer Soli again. During the early years of Christianity Soli became a major center of Orthodox Christians. Soli had become so important that it was represented at the Congress of Nicaea (Iznik) by 3 bishops in 325 AD at the Congress of Sardis even by 12 bishops.

A part of Soli´s prosperity origin due to the copper mines in the region and in the resulting trade. These mines were exhausted, however, at the end of the 4th century, after which they were closed and the port was filled to prevent the entry of ships. Increasingly, the city lost importance and was destroyed during the Arab invasions in the 7th century.

During the excavations, a theater, several temples, palace ruins, a large agora, a church and a large necropolis were discovered in Soli that assign structurally different eras. A Swedish excavation team had carried out appropriate investigations 1930's. During the excavations at the theater, they found a temple dedicated to Isis, another one to Aphrodite and Temple of Serapis. The Aphrodite Temple is located on a hill to the west of the theater, but not excavated so far. The sculptures found in the temple of Aphrodite date from the first century AD and can be admired in the Museum of Cyprus today.

The palace ruins from the Hellenistic period have also been found on the hill, the investigations in Soli continued with Canadian archaeologists in the 60s of the last century. An excavation team of Laval University Quebec unearthened the ruins of an early Christian church in 1967. Also a large number of graves in the necropolis were discovered, they origin from the geometric period (1050 - 750 BC) until the Roman time (58/50 BC - 395 AD).

The Canadians also found the urban Agora with the remains of a fountain made of marble, as well as shops, which are clearly attributable to the early Roman period and ruins and finds from the Hellenistic period. More excavations by the Department of Archaeology Northern Cyprus in 2005 brought further tombs to daylight as well as numerous other discoveries. One of the grave sites contained a golden crown, a tiara and other gold ornaments, so that it is believed to have discovered the grave of a former ruler. These finds are displayed in the Museum of Archaeology and Nature in Güzelyurt today.

As already mentioned, one of the first Christian churches of Cyprus have been in Soli, a five-nave cathedral. A coin found in the cathedral origins from the 4th century. A later restoration resulted in a spatial separation of the naves by 12 giant pillars, some of which still stand today. After removal of the sediments some perfectly preserved mosaics were found that assign to different times too. The design Tesserea, which has evolved from the usage of very small stones, dating back to the 4th century AD. These mosaics show geometric figures as well as portraits of animals such as birds and bulls. Between the animal pictures vines are designed, as well as the symbolic image of swans.

In the apse in addition to the mosaics there are slogans saying: "Jesus, protect those who have created this mosaic"! The narthex and the northern part of the floor is decorated in art opus sectile mosaic, a type using geometrically tailored stones which originate from the 6th century.

Following the Christian tradition, it is believed that the Holy St. Mark was baptized by the Holy Soli St. Auxibus, a Roman Christian who came to Soli in the first century and later became the first bishop of the church of Soli.

The Roman Theatre was built on top of the ruins of a Greek predecessor building. It origins from the 2nd century and looks, beautifully situated, to the ocean, as almost common in theaters in coastal areas! The seats have been sculpted as a plated semicircle into the rocks. The grandstands are separated by a limestone in the middle wall from the Orchestra. A large part of the missing stone material (now replaced by replicas) of the theater had been used in the 19th century to build the harbor of Port Said. The theater today has a capacity of 4,000 spectators after the reconstructions, making it half the size of the original. The stage has two floors and was once covered with marble and decorated with sculptures.

Mosaics and the ruins of the cathedral are now protected by a canopy, so that this is a real treat for warm daytime temperatures during a visit. For us Soli was a real surprise, never before have we had heard about the excavations there, in conjunction with Cyprus always Salamis occurs. A big mistake, as we realized after visiting. You can also visit the Museum in Güzelyurt which exhibits the finds of Soli particularly interesting are the filigree golden grave goods.

Cyprus: The magnificent Greek-Roman theatre of Kourion.

This image is part of a series of large format photographs depicting main cultural heritage sites and monuments in Cyprus, including Kiti, Kolossi, Kourion, Kyrenia, Larnaka, Nicosia, Paphos, Salamis and Soli.

Kourion was one of the most important ancient city-states on the south-western coast of Cyprus. The majority of Kourion’s archaeological remains date from the Roman and Late Roman/Early Byzantine periods. The theatre - the site’s centrepiece - was built in the 2nd century BCE and was enlarged under Trajan in the 2nd century CE.

This series of photographs were brought to ICCROM from a mission to Cyprus undertaken by Gérard Bolla, Director of the Cultural Heritage Department at UNESCO, and Giorgio Torraca, Deputy Director of ICCROM, in October 1974. The aim of the mission was to study the state of conservation of the cultural heritage of Cyprus after the 1974 military conflict, as well as to advise on preventing illicit traffic, particularly pottery from the archaeological sites. Modalities for technical advice, provision of equipment and training to local technicians were also discussed.

Watch the video: Roman Odeon Theatre, Paphos, Cyprus