The city of Famagusta, known as Magosa to the Turkish, Gazimağusa to Turkish Cypriots was, and is, one of the finest cities of the eastern Mediterranean and with its wealth of medieval architectural features has been compared favourably to the cities of Carcasonne and Dubrovnik.
During Venetian rule Famagusta became the capital of Cyprus and benefited from investment in the defences of the city. Much of those fortifications still stand magnificently guarding the old city today.
Famagusta expanded rapidly following the inauguration of the Cyprus Government Railway at the start of the 20th century which grew from an extension to the Famagusta harbour line used to move freight around the port. It began with a one mile extension south to Varosha before traversing the eastern half of the island to Nicosia.
The increasing amount of trade passing through the port led to an expansion of industries and services around the city making it a thriving area. During the railway’s operation it transported imported goods to the major towns and cities and brought timber, ore and minerals to Famagusta port for export.
Famagusta after the war was a hive of industry. The port, the deepest in Cyprus, was developed further by the British and kept busy exporting fruit and vegetables grown locally together with the products of textile and other light industries in the area. The inner city became the environment of the Turkish Cypriots where the cathedral had been turned into a mosque and the bazaar and market developed to suit Turkish tastes. Baths and a school were also constructed. The Greek Cypriot community lived outside the walls and the city thus developed into the Varosha area, encouraged by the position of the British administrative buildings.
The city was also the site of internment camps for Jewish refugees from the holocaust wishing to return to Palestine, later to become Israel. At any one time up to 12,000 refugees were interred in poor conditions invoking condemnation from Jewish and American commentators. Many of the detainees had been apprehended trying to illegally enter Palestine by sea. Many spent several years in the camps before being allowed into the new state of Israel after its recognition by the UK government. Prior to this there were concerns that young male Jews would simply join the Israeli forces fighting against the Arabs in the 1948 war.
Famagusta remained calm but tensions increased between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides with the renewed calls for enosis in the mid fifties. From the start of the EOKA campaign, no one knew how things would turn out but there was an increasing fear that the city and the island as a whole was accelerating towards the abyss.