27 February 2012

Ancient Salamis

Here we are in Cyprus, the back of our necks sunburnt from an afternoon at Salamis. It's our first, true "ancient ruins" experience aside from the Coliseum in Rome. Unlike that famous site, Salamis doesn't strike you so much as a piece of something that used to be whole. You are struck much more by what has survived than has vanished. A big reason for this is that the archeological findings span more than one era and because the ancient city itself remained wildly important through different historical periods. So, there isn't just one picture of Salamis to recreate but an entire, super long history to collect glimpses of.
The columns alone are a collage of eras. The Byzantines rebuilt the city using pieces that were already there, placing Greek and Roman pillars next to each other without much of an eye for detail. Most of the more 'complete' excavations comes from the Roman era. So, you've got your baths and 44-person latrine, with flushing pipes and arm rests. There's the aqueduct and gymnasium and, of course, the enormous theater that used to seat 15, 000 people. During this time, at around the 1st century BC, Salamis is said to have had a population of a quarter of a million people. Even still, it was hardly its heyday.
It's believed that Salamis was founded by Trojan War hero Teucer and was an important point in the trade route between Greece and Asia by the 12th century BC. Shortly thereafter, the Myceneans introduced the concepts of kingship and city-states to Cyprus and Salamis become one of the first seven city-kingdoms. The Dark Ages in surrounding Greece, Turkey and Egypt led to a sort of black-out for Cyprus. The island had little to no contact with the rest of the world for two centuries and its inhabitants gathered together in the city-kingdoms, especially Salamis.
During the Archaic era, Salamis was large and thriving. They minted their own currency (the first place to do so in Cyprus) and maintained diplomatic relations with the ruling Persians. That is until they became oppressive and Onesilos of Salamis staged a large, unsuccessful revolt - the first in Cyprus' history. The battle took place on both land and sea. The first successful fight for independence in Cyprus also took place in Salamis, led by the city's most famous son, Evagoras I. He's widely recognized as "the patriot king," (even though, ironically, he introduced the Greek alphabet, which wound up replacing the native Cypriot language).
Then came the Hellenic Era, just the very beginning of what we usually think of as "ancient" history. Salamis served as Alexander the Great's ruling outpost in Cyprus and, as a lot of the rest of the island struggled, the city was well taken care of. Large structures were funded and Salamis became the unofficial capital of Hellenistic Cyprus. During the Roman era, Paphos was declared the official capital, but Salamis remained the commercial center.
Salamis' second most famous son is the apostle Barnabas who, along with Peter, introduced Christianity to the island. The Byzantines named the city an archbishopric (as well as handing it back the title of capital and renaming it Constantia). The largest basilica in Cyprus was built there, of which there are some remains. However, nature took its course and pummeled the city with a left right blow of earthquakes and tidal waves. The port became silted up and everything of worth moved one door over, so to speak, to Famagusta.
Excavations of the site began in the 1950s, but ended abruptly with the Turkish invasion of 1974. Most people believe that there is still so much left to be unearthed, uncovered in the dunes. For now, it's like a jigsaw puzzle without the box. Not sure of the picture you're aiming for or how many pieces there are in total, it's just a few finished corners and clumps of detail.
Local children climb around, posing with the decapitated statues that line the courtyard of the Gymnasium. A trio of German tourists who were a lot more informed than we were at the time, searched out specific sites (the fish market, the Roman villa) that weren't much more than a few stones. Lizards, as ancient as anything else there, darted around our feet as we walked around the large, grassy area. The Temple of Zeus, the best preserved mosaic on the site, the colonnaded avenue, marble slabs with beautiful designs still intact - we saw it all. As we searched out a particular mosaic, a couple of men poked at high grass looking for mushrooms.

2 comments:

  1. Cool. Such places are seldom mentioned... Great place, Great introduction n Great captures!

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