Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque

The Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque originally known as the Saint Nicolas Cathedral and later as the Ayasofya (Saint Sophia) Mosque of Magusa, is the largest medieval building in Famagusta, North Cyprus. Built between 1298 and c.1400 it was consecrated as a Christian cathedral in 1328. The cathedral was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Empire captured Famagusta in 1571 and remains a mosque to this day.

Early history

The French Lusignan dynasty ruled as Kings of Cyprus from 1192 to 1489 and had brought with them the latest French taste in architecture, notably developments in Gothic architecture.

The cathedral was constructed from 1298 to 1312 and was consecrated in 1328. "After an unfortunate episode when the current bishop embezzled the restoration fund", Bishop Guy of Ibelin bequeathed 20,000 bezants for its construction. The Lusignans would be crowned as Kings of Cyprus in the St. Sophia Cathedral (now Selimiye Mosque) in Nicosia and then crowned as Kings of Jerusalem in the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Famagusta.

The building is constructed in Rayonnant Gothic style, quite rare outside France, though "mediated through buildings in the Rhineland". The historic tie between France and Cyprus is evidenced by its parallels to French archetypes such as the Reims Cathedral. Indeed, so strong is the resemblance, that the building has been dubbed "The Reims of Cyprus". The building has three doors, twin towers over the aisles and a flat roof, typical of Crusader architecture.

Ottoman Era

The upper parts of the cathedral's two towers suffered from earthquakes and were badly damaged during the Ottoman bombardments of 1571; they have never been repaired. With the Venetians defeated and Famagusta fallen by August of 1571, Cyprus fell under Ottoman control and the cathedral was converted into a mosque and renamed the "St.Sophia Mosque of Gazimagosa".

Islamic tradition holds that the depiction of humans, animals and other faiths in their religious architecture is sinful and so almost all of the statues, crucifixes, frescoes, paintings, tombs, stained glass windows and the altar were removed or plastered over. The Gothic structure was preserved however and a few tombs can still be identified in the north aisle.

In 1954 its name was changed again to the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque after the commander of the 1570 Ottoman conquest, who is famous for the gruesome torture of Marco Bragadin, the Venetian commander of the city's fortress. Bragadin had surrendered the city following a brutal 10-month siege in which 6,000 Christian defenders held off an army of more than 100,000 Ottoman Turks. A pledge of amnesty was secured from Mustafa Pasha, who then reneged and had Bragadin beaten, and had his ears and nose cut off before being publicly humiliated and flayed alive.

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