Ancient architecture of Cyprus (traveling to Salamis) ⋆ KiprGuru

A stunning aerial view of a vibrant city skyline at sunset with buildings and skyscrapers lit up against the colorful sky.

Мраморные колонны Саламиса (Кипр) 324 0 05.02.2024

There are very few places left in the world that can tell us vividly and informatively about the ancient past of mankind. These monuments of ancient life not only store information about events. They are valuable because they help us understand ourselves through understanding the motives and prerequisites of the deeds of our ancestors. They can also teach a modern person and even give him creative inspiration (it is enough to recall how the arts evolved after moving from the Dark Ages through the renaissance to the era of the New World).

wink The article is quite large. If that stops you from reading it, you can just watch the video. It’s the same thing:

Лекскурсии по Кипру: Саламин: особенности античной архитектурыLectures on Cyprus: Salamis: features of ancient architecture

Salamis is a mighty polis of the ancient period

Salamis is the largest and fortified city of Cyprus of the Hellenistic period. For 1.5 thousand years, Salamis was the center of the political and economic life of the island, at the beginning of our era, the population of the polis reached 200 thousand people. Currently, it is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the world, discovered during the work of archaeologists and reconstructors in 1952-1974. It is located 6 km from Famagusta, on the territory of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

1. The History of Salamis

In a way, all the existing city-states (polis) of ancient Cyprus are surrounded by an ancient metaphor. They seem to exist in the modern consciousness of the inhabitants of the island somewhere on the border of historical facts and myths, fictions. According to the myths of the Hellenic era, the polis of Salamis (on the island of Cyprus) was founded after the end of the Trojan War by one of the Greek heroes, the archer Teucer, the son of the king of the Greek island of Salamis.

An alternative version of these events is the near—scientific hypothesis that the legend is related to the settlement of Cyprus by the “peoples of the sea”, including representatives of the Achaean tribes. Researchers claim that during the Trojan War, there was a trading port of the Achaean Greeks on the coast of Famagusta, and in 1100 BC a massive Achaean invasion of Cyprus began. At this moment, perhaps, the foundation of the Salamis polis by the Achaeans took place.

Старинная карта Кипра с указанием земель Саламина

The history of Salamis is eventful, given that this policy has always been dominant among the rest and determined the internal and foreign policy of the island. His army participated in the Ionian uprisings (the confrontation between the Hellenistic tribes and the Persian Empire). The polis passed into the zone of influence of Egypt, and then Rome. Salamis was actively developed by the Jewish community from Palestine, which then practically destroyed the city. Salamis became the center of the formation of Christianity in Cyprus, and then, like the whole island, came under the rule of Eastern Rome (Byzantium). You can learn more about the history of Salamis in the article about the Archaeological Park of Salamis.

Today we will talk with you about history, a little about architecture and a little about the cultural phenomena of the early and middle Antique period. To be more precise, we will travel studying architecture on a scale of history from early Hellenism from about the 10th century BC to the middle of the Byzantine period until about the 8th-10th century AD (this is already the era of the early Middle Ages).

In the archaeopark of Salamis, perhaps, like nowhere else in Cyprus, you can deeply penetrate into this historical section. In some places, you can even feel the atmosphere of that time. This is probably because Salamis, in its restored state, has indeed preserved the shape of the city. And this city was magnificent in its time.

2. Archaeological Museum of Salamis

Archaeological work in Salamis began in the 19th century, and the main archaeological sites were discovered in 1952-1974. Large-scale work was stopped after the events of 1974. It can be assumed that the lands of Salamis conceal many more secrets. Today, ancient Salamis is the most impressive open–air archaeological museum in Cyprus. The territory of the archeopark is huge, and the entrance to it is located in the area of the reconstructed part of the city, where the concentration of urban facilities is high. Therefore, a rare visitor will go to the far side of the park. It takes me about 4 hours to walk around the entire park (it’s about 4.5 kilometers).

You can immediately clarify this point. The archeopark is primarily a museum, which consists of exhibits from different eras with varying degrees of restoration. You will not be able to form an understanding of what the city looked like in the Hellenistic or Roman period. It is impossible to accurately date buildings, because sometimes the duration of existence (with alterations) of a single building can be several centuries, and new architectural styles and technologies replacing the old ones usually coexist with the old ones for a long time or are generally built on the foundations of old buildings. And, of course, make allowances for the anthropogenic factor (destruction during wars, redevelopment and rebuilding, vandalism, etc.) and for the natural factor (erosion, seismic activity, etc.).

Вид на гимнасиум Саламина

Salamis Archaeological Park (Cyprus). @KiprGuru

In Salamis you have the opportunity to see different architectural eras:

Firstly, the architecture of the beam-rack. It belongs to the Hellenistic period. And, in principle, the way the ancient Greeks built was no different from how megaliths were built on the territory of Europe thousands of years before. The construction technologies are the same, but the decoration was carried out on a completely different level. What the Greeks brought to architecture are its 2 qualities: tectonics and anthropomorphism. Tectonics sets the rules for the construction of multi—level buildings (massive and more durable — at the base, and lighter – at a higher level), and Anthropomorphism is the transfer of the proportions of the human body into architectural elements (for example, look at the structure of columns). These two principles define the property of our modern architecture. The Greeks have always built strictly according to a system, a kind of building standard. Such a standard is called an “order”. There were 3 types of orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.

Each order represents a harmony of supports (columns) with an entablature (structures resting on columns). As I have already written, Anthropomorphism is expressed in the transfer to architecture of the natural proportions of a person and his anatomical features (for example, the similarity of the structure of the column with the structure of the human body). Tectonics, on the other hand, represents a harmonious pattern of the arrangement of parts of buildings. These principles will also be transferred to Roman architecture.

Виды греческих архитектурных ордеров

Image source:

Реконструированные колонны Саламина

Preserved order structures in Salamis. @KiprGuru

Secondly, since Salamis is a city of developed Roman architecture, we will see many vaulted buildings here. Before mankind began to actively use self-supporting structures, the Romans invented concrete (the Roman concrete revolution), and they began to actively use arched structures in construction. Arches existed much earlier, but it was the Romans who created the technological opportunity to actively build arched structures. The reason for this is the developed composition of the binder mixtures. It was possible to build quickly and a lot thanks to simple technology: thin formwork was erected, the space inside of which was filled with stones and filled with mortar.

If the Greeks were forced to observe high precision in the manufacture and positioning of structures for the construction of beam-rack structures, then according to Roman technology only an initial accurate engineering calculation was required, and all subsequent work could be performed by low-skilled workers, for example, prisoners of war or soldiers. There were plenty of both in the Roman Empire, so the Romans built a lot and very quickly: kilometers of roads and aqueducts, thermal baths, theaters, stadiums, etc. In Salamis, even today, you can explore the objects of arched architecture: arched vaults and chapels of the baths, arched archbuttons.

Элементы арочной архитектуры

Image source:

Аркбутаны терм Саламина

Preserved arched structures in Salamis. @KiprGuru

3. Architectural objects of Salamis

Gymnasium and Baths of Salamis

The columns of the gymnasium (gymnasium) are the first thing you notice when approaching Salamis. The first gymnasium building, built in the Hellenistic period, was destroyed. In fact, the ginasium was a place where people learned physical culture (an ancient analogue of modern sports complexes).

In the 1st century, under Emperor Augustus, a new building was built on the site of the gymnasium with a large portico, a colonnade and a palaestra (gymnasium) surrounded by stone columns. The functionality of this building has changed, a thermal complex has been added to the gymnasium. A small copy of them was created in the image of the huge Roman thermal baths in Salamis. The thermae complex borrowed the facilities of the ginasium, since the large Roman thermae also had spacious palaestras and open areas (including for physical activities).

Obviously, there was a statue of Emperor Augustus in the center of the palaestra – today it is reminiscent of a stepped podium made of gray marble. During the reconstruction of the city after the earthquake, stone columns were replaced with marble ones. The marble colonnade of the former gymnasium is today one of the “postcard” photographs of Cyprus. The baths are a grandiose structure, taking into account the date of their construction and the size of the city. In addition to the palaestra, the remains of two porticos are visible: the southern and the eastern.

Мраморные колонны в древнем Саламисе (Кипр)

Thermal baths in Salamis (Cyprus). @KiprGuru

If you are going to visit the archaeological park of Salamis, try to compare the size of the huge complex of thermae of the main policy by the standards of Cyprus with the Roman standard in force at that time. It is not easy to do this if you have not been to the Roman baths of Caracalla or Maxentius. But try to at least imagine this difference in scale. The illustration below shows the complex of the baths of Caracalla. This is a truly large-scale collaboration, a city within a city. The culture of the baths was transferred by the Roman administration to Cyprus, but the scale here is not Roman at all. Nevertheless, it was probably the largest complex of thermal baths in Cyprus.

Иллюстрация терм Диоклетиана

Baths of Diocletian in Rome (reconstruction). Source:

In Salamis, the building of the thermal baths is divided into Caldarium (hot wet steam room with bessein), Tepidarium (warm steam room with a swimming pool), Sudatorium (dry warm steam room), Frigidarium (steam room without heated water), Natatio (unheated swimming pools, there are two). Thanks to the collapsed floor coverings, today we can see in the section the device of floors working on hot air. The baths were decorated with marble statues of gods and heroes – reconstructive archaeologists put copies of them on pedestals for review.

Схема терм Каракаллы

Baths of Caracalla in Rome (scheme of the device). A source:

The water was supplied to the baths by an aqueduct about 60 km long. Minor remains of the aqueduct have been preserved outside the archaeological park, north of the Monastery of St. Barnabas. In general, of course, not only the baths were supplied with water. Water supply is an integral element of the city. Residential areas, thermal baths, and urban fountains were fed with water supplied by the aqueduct.

Устройство римского акведука

The construction of the Roman aqueduct. Source:

Salamis Theatre

The Ancient Theater, also built under Emperor Augustus, was once the largest theater in the eastern Mediterranean: it could accommodate up to 15,000 spectators and had 50 spectator rows.

Today, the theater is the only recreated building of Salamis, it was restored in the 1950s by the forces of the Swedish expedition (not completely recreated). The diameter of the orchestra (the “arena” where musicians, speakers and singers performed) was 27 meters, on one side of the orchestra stood a statue of Emperor Commodus, on the other – emperors Constantine and Maxentius (pedestals with inscriptions survived). In the center of the arena (the “stage” where the actors performed) was the altar of the god Dionysus. It towered 2 meters above the orchestra, reached 40 meters in length, and was richly decorated with columns and statues. In the IV century, the theater was abandoned and closed, some columns and statues were used in the reconstruction of the gymnasium. The theater (audience rows) has not been completely restored.

Without a global restructuring of this structure, its complete restoration was impossible. Thus, we can only use our imagination to mentally complete it to its original dimensions. Judging by the remains of the external supports, it should be about 2.5 times wider and higher. Judging by its supposed capacity, it was not inferior in size to the largest of the ancient theaters now known.

Античный театр Саламина (Кипр)

Salamis Theatre (Cyprus). @KiprGuru

Without a global restructuring of this structure, its complete restoration was impossible. Thus, we can only use our imagination to mentally complete it to its original dimensions. Judging by the remains of the external supports, it should be about 2.5 times wider and higher. Judging by its estimated capacity, it was not inferior in size to the largest of the currently known theaters. Here, too, it will be interesting to compare the size of the Salamis Theater with the famous largest surviving ancient theaters. In order to imagine the size of the complete Sadaminsky theater, you can take a look at several fairly well-preserved theaters of world renown:

Театр в Сиде

Side Theatre (capacity about 17,000 people) in Turkey. A source:

Театр в Эпидавре

The theater in Epidaurus (with a capacity of about 15,000 people) in Greece. Source:

The theater building is very close to a large residential area. Fragments of several streets and alleys are well preserved here.
We will need a main street leading to the central square, and then dividing into several important directions for the city. We will go towards the port of Salamis.

Campanopetra Basilica

Campanopetra is a basilica of the IV century, a three–nave building built almost on the very shore. This building has only been partially restored. A few hundred meters from the basilica, the ruins of an ancient port and an almost completely blurred mall are visible.

Базилика Кампанопетра

Campanopetra Basilica (Cyprus). @KiprGuru

In general, it is necessary to devote a separate article to basilicas. The remains of these buildings are quite common, but this ancient term has already been greatly modernized. Pay attention to this: nowadays the term basilica is used in the meaning of a building of religious purpose. There are Catholic and Orthodox basilicas, these are temples. But initially basilicas were not temples. Before the legalization and strengthening of the Christian Church in Rome, basilicas were structures that have no analogues in the modern world. The basilica was at the same time an indoor market, a place for administrative events, an arbitration court building, and a place for business meetings. Basilicas were built on the largest squares of the city. Subsequently, basilicas become the closest ancestor of modern churches. Since the beginning of the IV century AD. These structures begin to be transferred to the use and disposal of the Christian Church, which in fact becomes a powerful institution under the Roman administration.

We continue to compare the architectural heritage of Salamis with famous world-class finds. Below I present a photo of the great Basilica of Septimus Severus, located in Libya:

Базилика Септимия Севера

Basilica of Septimius Severus (Libya). Source: . Author: SaschaCoachman. CC Attribution-ShareAlike

Temple of Zeus

The Temple of Zeus is the oldest religious building in the archeopark. It consisted of a rectangular interior and a large portico. Not only was the service held here. This method also fulfilled a mundane applied function. For example, in the temple, merchants sacrificed animals or took oaths in the presence of witnesses. All that reminds of the temple today is the foundation of the naos with steps and many large fragments. During the excavations, an inscription was found in honor of the wife of Emperor Augustus, which allows us to date one of the epochs in a series of rebuilding of the temple.

There is an assumption that the temple of Zeus was rebuilt several times, and its first building dates back to the 8th century BC. The 8th century BC is the beginning of stone Greek temples, before that we simply will not see them, because before that period the Greeks built temples from raw bricks and encircled them with wooden columns. The oldest of the temples, whose ruins have survived to the present day, with stone columns can be seen in Greece. This is the temple of Hera in Olympia:

Храм Зевса в Саламине (Кипр)

The Temple of Zeus in Salamis (Cyprus). @KiprGuru

There is an assumption that the temple of Zeus was rebuilt several times, and its first building dates back to the 8th century BC. The 8th century BC is the beginning of stone Greek temples, before that we simply will not see them, because before that period the Greeks built temples from raw bricks and encircled them with wooden columns. The oldest of the temples, whose ruins have survived to the present day, with stone columns can be seen in Greece. This is the temple of Hera in Olympia:

Храм Геры в Олимпии

The Temple of Hera in Olympia. Source:

The temple of Zeus was apparently a peripheral in its architectural structure: the temple building (naos) was surrounded by 1 row of columns, overlapped from above. What is a peripter?

Since my story is educational in nature, it makes sense to tell about the common types of layout of ancient temples of the order device. The following types of Greek temples are known:

Планы греческих храмов

Plans of ancient Greek temples. Source:


The Agora is a long covered market of ancient Salamis. On a fairly large territory of the archeopark, you can see the fragments of the temple complex laid out by the reenactors: you can see the drums of the columns (the height of the columns was about 9 meters) and the remains of the capitals. There were shops behind the colonnade. In addition to the usual market trade, there was a large wholesale trade, orders from the city administration were announced, usury flourished, and even the slave trade. The Agora was one of the most beautiful places in the city – it was a grandiose complex with marble columns, statues of gods and heroes, arcades and porticos. The main entrance to the agora was formed by 5 arches, later these arches reinforced the wall of a huge cistern for storing water. The water was supplied to the cistern via an aqueduct. Unfortunately, serious reconstruction work has not yet been carried out in this place, but since this place has great potential, it is possible that this part of the archeopark will be at least partially reconstructed in the future.

Агора в Саламине (Кипр)

Agora in Salamis (Cyprus). @KiprGuru

St. Epiphanius Church

The Church of St. Epiphanius was built in the IV century, between the forum and the Agora. There is an empty tomb near the southern apse, presumably St. Epiphanius was buried here. As a result of Arab raids, the church was destroyed, and later a smaller church was built in its place.

Храм Св. Епифания в Саламине (Кипр)

St. Epiphanius Church in Salamis (Cyprus). @KiprGuru


Necropolis – royal tombs of the VII-VI centuries BC and more than a hundred graves of the nobility of the VII-IV centuries, were located outside the city.

Here is the prison of St. Catherine, a tomb of the VIII century BC, used as a dungeon during the persecution of the first Christians. In memory of the holy martyr Catherine, imprisoned in this dungeon and then executed for her devotion to Christ, a chapel was built here in the 7th century.

Some of the graves have names, and some are numbered. For example, burials 47 and 49 are interesting because the skeletons of immured horses are visible here, apparently buried with the owner. During the excavations, jewelry, horse harnesses, rich clothes, dishes, even fragments of chariots were found – many exhibits are on display at the National Museum of Cyprus in Nicosia.

Currently, there is a small museum on the territory of the necropolis.

Гробница в некрополе Саламина (Кипр)

The tomb of the necropolis in Salamis (Cyprus). @KiprGuru

This article does not cover all the objects of the Salamis Archaeological Park. I just wanted to briefly introduce you to its objects, and, most importantly, make it clearer for you to visit these places and show how deeply reading the ancient architectural heritage can be. In the following articles I will show you the architecture of no less interesting ancient cities of Cyprus. A series of articles on the ancient history and the Middle Ages of Cyprus is also planned.

If you ever find yourself in Cyprus, do not miss the opportunity to visit the ancient city of Salamis!
By the way, you can visit here on excellent excursions: Famagusta and Salamis and Northern Cyprus. Part 2. If you like travel and popular science topics, subscribe to my Youtube channel.


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