St. Nicholas' Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Mosque)

The 14th-century Gothic Cathedral of St. Nicholas, which has since been turned into a mosque named Lala Mustafa Camii, is the most important monument in Famagusta, Northern Cyprus.

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History of St. Nicholas' Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Mosque)

Possibly designed by the Frenchman Jean Langlois, St. Nicholas' Cathedral was begun in 1298 and consecrated in 1326. Until 1372, the Lusingnan kings came here to be crowned King of Jerusalem—a purely ceremonial honor, since the Crusaders lost the Holy Land in 1291.

Several royals were buried here, including James II the Bastard and his infant son James III, the last two Lusignan rulers, in 1473 and 1474. And it was at St. Nicholas' that the widow of James II renounced her royal rights and ceded Cyprus to the Doge of Venice in 1489.

The cathedral was badly damaged during the attacks of 1571 and by an earthquake in 1735. After the Ottoman conquest, the cathedral was transformed into a mosque with the addition of a mihrab and minaret and the complete destruction of all art depicting human figures. The frescoes were whitewashed and the altars were demolished. The twin towers were decapitated, and, as at Nicosia, the floor-tombs were emptied.

Nevertheless, the architecture remained entirely intact and its use as a mosque spared it from the Baroque additions and 19th-century restorations that were inflicted on most European cathedrals. The building is thus a rare example of pure Gothic architecture.

What to See at St. Nicholas' Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Mosque)

The Cathedral of St. Nicholas was inspired by that at Reims in France, particularly the twin towers. Only the lower sections of the towers survive and the north tower has been topped with a slender minaret. As is customary in the Eastern Mediterranean, the roof is flat.

The cathedral's façade, in honey-colored stone, makes for an impressive sight as one emerges from the narrow streets of Famagusta. The west front has three shallow porches, with the center one wider than the others.

Over the center porch is a lovely six light window and above that, a rose window (with glass from the early 20th century). The side doors are topped by tall blind double light windows.

The plaza in front of the cathedral-mosque has been pedestrianized, and the outdoor tables of two cafés provide vantage points from which to admire the façade at leisure.

The parvis, shaded by an ancient Ficus sycomorus tree, was originally much larger. It was here that St. Briget of Sweden is said to have preached against the profligacy of Famagustan society. And after the Ottoman conquest in 1571, Bragadino, the Venetian commander of the garrison, was flayed alive here, between two columns from Salamis. To one side of the courtyard, a small Venetian loggia has been converted to an ablutions fountain.

Inside, the cathedral of Famagusta has a nave with two side aisles, no transepts, and a triple apse. It is 55m long and 23m wide, with six columns on each side supporting splendid vaulting. Two chapels were added on the south side and one on the north.

Quick Facts on St. Nicholas' Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Mosque)

Site Information
Names:St. Nicholas' Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Mosque)
Categories:cathedrals; mosques; change of religion
Styles:Gothic
Dedication: St. Nicholas
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:35.124867° N, 33.942583° E
Address:Famagusta, Cyprus
Lodging:View hotels near St. Nicholas' Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Mosque)
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Bernard McDonagh and Ian Robertson, Blue Guide Cyprus, 4th ed. (1998), 225-26.
  2. Marc Dubin, The Rough Guide to Cyprus, 5th ed. (2005), 389.

More Information

© Nick Leonard
© Berge Gazen

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