Royal Tombs dating from the 8th and 7th century BC can be found in Northern Cyprus. The burial practices offer a good insight into ancient rituals just like Homer described them in the Iliad. However, it is more the knowledge about the Royal Tombs than the visit to the tombs themselves that is interesting.
Homer describes in the Iliad how kings and other noble personages were buried. His words are confirmed by the discoveries at the Royal Tombs in Northern Cyprus, although there are also archaeological theories about Homer being first to tell and invent and then the rituals on Cyprus following his epic narrative.
It is easy to find the Royal Tombs. If you go to the grave or the monastery of Saint Barnabas, north of Gazimagusa / Famagusta, you will see them along the road in the fields. Most objects found are in the Cyprus Museum in the South of the Island; I have not been there yet but it seems interesting as findings include chariots, a throne, incense burners, ivory objects, bronze horse bits and decorated breast plates, pottery and amphorae that contained oil and wine. Kings were buried with lots of grave goods.
On the location of the Royal Tombs however, only the stone buildings of the graves remain as well as the skeletons of horses: try to see one behind the glass on the picture (left). I am not sure if the glass ‘protection’ is helpful; most of them were so humid on the inside that it was impossible to see anything or take pictures. How can a humid glass house be protective for such old remains? My visit was December 2018; maybe it is dryer and more clear in summertime.
Burial in the era of the 8th and 7th century BC did not just come with the above mentioned grave goods but also with sacrifice of horses, donkeys and even humans. Archaeological research only started in the ’60ies here and gave a wealth of information. Whoever thought that Homer just made up his stories in the Iliad, found out that his description of burial practices was very accurate (unless you support the theory that the rituals were only shaped under the influence of Homer’s stories).
Most probably (part of) the Royal Tombs were used during many ages. Saint Catherine’s Tomb, number 50, for example, had a chapel on top that dated from the 4rd century BC. Archaeological research in the ’60ies revealed that the chapel was built on a tomb dating from a thousand years earlier than the 4th century chapel. By the way, the chapel was used for Saint Catherine’s veneration even in 1950 BC! So this location was special to many people during at least 2600 years…
Not everybody could afford a Royal Tomb. Next to the Royal Tombs lies a necropolis of hundreds, or even thousands of graves. Just like the nearby ancient city of Salamis and the nearby Bronze Age city of Enkomi, only a minor part of the fields have been unearthed. What has been excavated, shows us tombs people could go to by steps downstairs that were cut in the rocks. Large stones sealed the entrances of the burial chambers that were used almost continuously from 700 BC until 400 AD.
The picture on the right shows the immense fields with so much left to excavate. Further on you can see the grave and monastery of Saint Barnabas between the trees. Next to the chapel of Saint Barnabas’ grave there are also findings of burial chambers. Maybe that is just ‘the other end’ of the same necropolis….
Like the Royal Tombs, there is not so much ‘to be seen’ here. Nevertheless in the same time it is an exciting experience to stand there and oversee the place and consider that all you see might have been part of an immense necropolis, used during more than 10 centuries by hundreds of thousands of people. Neither in the nearby cities of Salamis (blog will follow) or Enkomi nor at the Royal Tombs or Cellarga necropolis any excavation took place since 1974: the year that Cyprus was split in a Turkish and a Greek side. But nothing stops you from visiting the sites already now: you can feel the vibe of Homer’s Iliad here quite clearly!