- Medieval and Renaissance Famagusta: Studies in Architecture, Art and History ed. by Michael J. K. Walsh, Peter W. Erdbury, and Nicholas S. H. Coureas
To the student of Mediterranean history, Cyprus stands as an important signpost in the chronological movement of people and cultures throughout multiple historical epochs from the ancient to the modern: thus it is difficult to accurately discuss the history of the region and bypass such a critical island. On the island sits the city of Famagusta, which rose to prominence after the fall of Acre in 1291, and was an important cultural city for the Byzantines, the Venetians, and the Ottomans. Yet an architectural and artistic survey of the buildings within the city shows an even more unique and culturally diffused society. The vibrancy that the city displayed included Armenian, Syrian, Venetian, Latin, Gothic, Byzantine, and Frankish influences, which brings art historians, archaeologists, medievalists, and early modernists all to the city to study. [End Page 305]
Medieval and Renaissance Famagusta: Studies in Architecture, Art and History introduces the city as a living museum, and one that is in critical need of conservation. The editors, Nicholas S. H. Coureas of the Cyprus Research Center, Michael J. K. Walsh of Nanyang Technological University, and Peter W. Erdbury of Cardiff University collaborate with multiple art historians, conservationists, and archaeologists to present the city of Famagusta to twenty-first century academia as a subject of utmost importance. Such collaboration indicates the exhaustive nature with which the subject is treated in this monograph—and it is a monograph that solely focuses on Famagusta. The care with which the editors took into presenting a clear study can be seen in the physical nature of the book: at 329 pages (including appendices and bibliography) the subject is thoroughly introduced and discussed.
The purpose of such a study manifests itself from the outset, in which the editors are keen to point out the need to spread the message of Famagusta and the problems it currently faces: the deterioration from both natural and human forces of the many historical buildings that dot the skyline. While certainly a lofty goal, the passion of the editors for the deteriorating city of Famagusta is made obvious to the reader, and understandably so. Split into three parts, Medieval and Renaissance Famagusta has a mission to both inform and spur the reader. The first part is dedicated to the history and historiography of the town. The economic importance of the town is what is primarily highlighted in the first section of the work: camlet (a piece of cloth) manufacturing, taverns, and Templars are all discussed, as well as specific writing of history in the Renaissance. It is here that the reader will notice my first criticism of the book: the book’s topics tend to lack a specific flow. Each chapter is separate and distinct, written by someone different. The choppy and at times confusing flow of a somewhat exotic subject can create confusion, especially if one is not ready for it.
The second section is an enjoyable read for its treatment of concrete subjects, mostly the art and architectural history of various churches, and the cultural influences which manifest themselves throughout the multilayered city. By analyzing the structural and artistic elements of such structures as the cathedral of St. Nicholas, the image of a complex tapestry of cultural interactions is presented to the reader. Such cultural interactions are a poignant reminder of the potential study that Famagusta can provide to archaeologists and historians alike: there are not many places that display Armenian, Gothic, Latin, Byzantine, and Venetian artistic influences in the Mediterranean. Thus the middle section of the book provides a framework meant to incite the reader to take action, but what action should the academic as well as the layman take? The answer to this question is the mission of the editors in the third section.
The third and final section of Medieval and Renaissance Famagusta is arguably the most polemic part of the work, and...