The Ancient Kingdom of Salamis
The ancient kingdom of Salamis was a formidable city that marked the newly found wealth and increasing prosperity of the first Greek settlers in Cyprus and to this day even the ruins of Salamis boast a wealth of archeological treasures and legendary tales.
According to Greek mythology the kingdom of Salamis was founded by Teucer, son of King Telamon of Salamis Island, the largest Greek island in the gulf of Aegina. It is said that Teucer fought heroically alongside his half-brother, Ajax, in the Trojan war but after failing to avenge the death of Ajax, Teucer was disowned by his father and banished from the island. With nowhere else to go, a desperate Teucer fought fiercely in battle for the island of Cyprus, and on which he is said to have founded the city of Salamis in honour of his homeland.
Legend aside, Salamis was undisputedly one of the most important kingdoms on the island and for many centuries it was hailed the capital of Cyprus. Although Salamis was replaced by Paphos as the island’s ancient capital from around 300BC, its wealth and importance did not diminish. The city was especially favoured by the Roman emperor Hadrian who restored and established its public buildings with much grandeur.
Unfortunately, the demise of Salamis ultimately lay in the hands of mother nature. Blighted by several natural disasters including earthquakes and tidal waves this led to the destruction of much of the city. Whilst Salamis was rebuilt on a smaller scale, the silting of the harbour led to its gradual decline when it was finally abandoned during the Arab invasions in around the 7th century AD. Ironically, however, it is thanks to mother nature that the spectacular ruins of Salamis still remain to this day.
After two decades of painstaking digging during the 1950’s and 60’s, these ancient ruins are undoubtedly one of the island’s best-preserved archeological sites having been buried in sand for over a thousand years. Spread across an entire square mile of sandy coastline, the impressive excavations at Salamis include two basilicas, a temple, public baths, a market place, an amphitheatre and a colonnaded gymnasium.
That said, the many marble statues on display in the central court of the gymnasium are all, without exception, headless. Contrary to popular belief that ancient statues were deliberately crafted this way, the missing heads are in fact evidence of historical vandalism against Roman paganism after Christianity became the state religion. Not surprising given that the Romans had long persecuted Christians in Cyprus, most notably Catherine, who was martyred on a wheel strung between two columns, hence the macabre name for the Catherine Wheel firework. You can find the vaulted tomb of Saint Catherine, aka St Catherine’s prison, located in the vast burial grounds adjacent to the ruins.
Whilst much of what can be seen today is of Roman origin, the earliest archeological finds date back to the eleventh century BC. Arguably however, the importance and wealth of Salamis is most spectacularly evidenced by the sumptuous artefacts and burial customs observed in the royal tombs, pre-dating Roman rule by several centuries. These fascinating historical finds can now be seen in the on-site museum and represent the rich archeological heritage of this once magnificent ancient kingdom.
A visit to this long lost city will truly transport you back in time, through the ages, and allow you to discover the rich history of Cyprus for yourself, and the fact that the site remains only partially excavated leaves open a wealth of possibilities of what treasures still lie beneath.