Enkomi (Alasia) in Famagusta, North Cyprus.
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Enkomi (Alasia)

Enkomi Ruins
Enkomi Ruins
photo by: TAK News Agency
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Alasia (Enkomi) North Cyprus: Bronze Age capital of Cyprus

The site of the Bronze Age capital of Cyprus, Enkomi, or Alasia as it was then known, may not be much to look at today, but in the sixth century BC, this was a bustling town with a thriving copper export trade. Copper ingots were traded with the great powers of the age, such as the pharaohs in Egypt and the Hittites in Asia Minor. I

However, in around 1200BC, the town was attacked by the "Sea People", and after the harbour at the end of the Pedios River began to silt up, Alasia fell into decline. The occupants probably moved a little further down the coast to the area around Salamis.

Alasia, North Cyprus: graveyard or town?

The site of Alasia was first excavated by the British in 1896, who found some treasure and pottery, and promptly took it all back to the British Museum! The main excavations were undertaken by various European who explored the site from the 1930s through to 1974. At first, it was thought that Alasia was just a burial site because so many bodies were unearthed, but it emerged that the people of the town buried their dead beneath their houses.

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The Bronze Age town at Enkomi, North Cyprus today

Today, the large site at Enkomi is a tricky to understand, although a few replica statues have been placed around the site to make it more easy to navigate. (The originals have long since been removed to museums.) The modern fence follows the outline of the old city walls of Alasia, and the streets form a grid pattern much as the cities of today. Off the main street are the remains of the homes of the wealthy, built from large blocks that can be seen today. The House of the Pillar at Enkomi is typical of the houses here, with a huge front door frame, an impressive three metres wide, and may have actually been a public building of some sort.

All over the site are the remains of everyday life too; millstones, wells, water cisterns and tombs. Tomb 18, just off the main street, yielded many important finds when it was excavated by a Swedish team in 1930. Be very careful when walking the site, especially off the main tracks, as there are many wells and tombs hidden in the undergrowth.

Sanctuary of the Horned God at Enkomi, North Cyprus

The major find at Enkomi was the Sanctuary of the Horned God, marked today by the large stone block forming a pair of bull's horns. A small statue of a horned god in bronze was discovered in the corner of this building, and a replica marks the spot where it was found. (The original is in the Cyprus Museum.) The area around the Sanctuary of the Horned God at Enkomi was littered with the skulls of animals, possibly worn by members of the god's cult. Objects found under the floor of the Sanctuary of the Horned God shrine in Northern Cyprus date from the sixteenth century BC, so the god’s followers were practicing their worship fro the very early days of the city.

Other important finds at Enkomi, North Cyprus

In 1934, more bronzes were also found in the House of the Bronzes, another fine house just off the main street. However, the most precious object found at Enkomi was a silver bowl engraved with an ox-head design, similar to the Minoan symbols found in the city of Knossos in Crete. Another discovery of a tablet written in Cypro-Minoen script gives further evidence to link Enkomi in North Cyprus to the famous labyrinth at the palace of Knossos, home to the legendary Minotaur.