LUSIGNAN PERIOD (1192 - 1489)
Guy de Lusignan, a French noble, established a patronage and a feudal system of rule that recreated the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Guy's successor, his brother Amaury, took the title of King of Cyprus. Under the Lusignan kings Cyprus entered the most amazing period of its history. Palaces, churches and fortifications were built and the rickety Byzantine castles refortified. Nicosia and Famagusta became the chief cities of the island, with magnificent cathedrals built in the French Gothic style that are still around today. After the fall of Acre 1291 AD, the last Christian base in the Holy Land, Famagusta became rather wealthy. In its new position as the easternmost outpost of Christendom, Cyprus became the centre of trade in the eastern Mediterranean, with the port of Famagusta as the meeting place for rich merchants all over the world.
But its inhabitants did not share this wealth. The Greek-Cypriot people were more ostracised by the Lusignan Catholic French-speaking dynasty than ever before. It was not only the serfdom that was imposed on them by the Latin rulers but the discrimination against their Church, which became stronger after the Papal Bull of 1260. Here the Orthodox Church became subject to the Church of Rome and Catholicism the official religion of Cyprus. The Archbishopric, who for over eight centuries had given people their spiritual guidance was suppressed. Rebellion was impossible against the Crusader knights and the Cypriots as so often in their turbulent history were forced to wait until the next phase of change.
The shift of power came from within the country. The merchant princes of Cyprus, the Genoese and the Venetians had long been competitive each wanting control of the island's trade and the port of Famagusta. The conflict came to a head in 1372 at the coronation of a Lusignan king, Peter ll, in Famagusta. There was a dispute as to whether a Genoese or a Venetian should have the privilege of holding the right hand rein of the king's horse as he rode out of the cathedral. This ended in a riot with many Genoese killed.
The Genoese then reacted fiercely. In 1373 a reprisal fleet was sent from Genoa to invade the island. All the major towns were overrun, the king captured and his mother, Eleanor of Aragon, besieged in Kyrenia castle. Helped by the their Bulgarian mercenaries the Franks attacked and for over a year the island was at war, without any clear advantage to either side. In the end a peace settlement was concluded, in which the Lusignan king was restored to his throne and Famagusta given to the Genoese.
Lusignan rule already severely undermined began to suffer larger threats in the 15th c. This time it was the Egyptian Marmelukes, originally a group of Circassian slaves who had seized power in Egypt in 1254 and joined the Turks in their struggle against the Christians. In1424-25 they attacked and plundered Limassol and Larnaca. The following year they launched an attack on Nicosia. The king Janus set out with an army to meet them but he was defeated at Chirokiteia and taken prisoner. The Marmelukes took Nicosia and robbed the city of its treasures, which they carried back with them to Alexandria, along with Janus. Janus was later released with a ransom and the agreement Cyprus should recognise the suzerainty of the Sultan. Once again the Cypriots had to pay tribute to a foreign overlord, Egypt and the power of Lusignan dynasty was eroded forever.
The last Lusignan king, Jacques, had taken Famagusta from the Genoese and married a Venetian bride, Catarina Cornaro. Unfortunately he died in mysterious circumstances leaving Cyprus clear for a Venetian takeover.