The Famagusta Gate, part of the fortified medieval town wall of Nicosia, is a historic relic bequeathed to us by the island's turbulent past.
Originally it was called by the Venetians "Porta Guiliana" in honour of the military engineer who designed the wall, Count Savorgnano. In those days, the Gate was also known as "Porta di Sotto" (Lower Gate), because of the difference in level from the outside. The Turks in their turn called it "Taht-el-kaleh".
Once it served no military purpose, Famagusta Gate became just one of the entrances into the city of Nicosia, though clearly a colourful one; an intriguing landmark and market place.
Throughout its long history the Gate witnessed the ups and downs of the city, and the sorrows and happy occasions of its travellers and its people. As late as seventy years ago it was still used as an "entry" to the city. An English traveller who went through it in 1855 describes his vivid impressions "....We had arrived at the Famagusta Gate, the handsomest of the three gates of the town; to all appearances it was a subterranean passage, for no sooner had we passed through its massive portals before we were enveloped in mistry obscurity. As the eye got accustomed to the darkness however, objects worthy of admiration and surprise presented themselves. Suddenly we came upon day-light again and found ourselves riding under a lofty cupola in the center of which was a circular opening which admitted the light. Round this sundry small tradsmen of speculative turn had established small booths where coffee, milk, bread and sherbet, and many other oriental dainties and requisites were temptingly displayed for sale..."
The Gate was later to fall into disuse, its wooden doors were kept closed, and its two guardrooms were used as workshops and stores.
This was the undignified fate for the venerable portal until a few years ago, when Nicosia Municipality decided to restore this particular part of the city's architectural heritage. The Mayor of Nicosia, Mr Lellos Demetriades, supervised a rescue crusade which involved private donations, volunteer work, and the use of underutilized Municipal machinery. A dedicated volunteer working group was established to complete the cleaning, restoration and preservation of the monument.
Restored to its former glory, the Gate with its two halls and the passageway, has become Nicosia's Cultural Center. Ever since, Famagusta Gate has welcomed all cultural activities whether expressions of Cypriot culture and tradition, or foreign.
In practice the Gate has the ability to function either as a whole or as three "separate" centers. While the South hall may have an art exhibition, the passage may house a theatrical performance, and the North hall may hold a lecture. The two halls have a sitting capacity of 200 people while the passageway can hold up to 350. The North hall is mainly used for lectures, conferences, film shows and exhibitions, while the South hall is used as an art or exhibition gallery. The Central passageway is used for concerts, theatrical performances, arts and crafts exhibitions and receptions.
During the hot summer months a theater is set up in the moat against the majestic background of the walls. This theater hosts annually the Nicosia Festival.
Famagusta Gate has been Nicosia's Cultural Center for the past few years, and during this time it has attracted the warm interest of the people of our city.
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