Famagusta's former Latin cathedral of St Nicholas is widely agreed to be one of the most splendid and beautiful of the Frankish buildings that survive in the Levant. Its lengthy construction began around 1300 (at the site of its predecessor of the same name) effectively marking the beginning of the town's spectacular, though brief, period of wealth and development. It was here, between the years 1291 and 1373, and after having first been crowned as kings of Cyprus in the capital, that the coronation of the Lusignan rulers as kings of Jerusalem took place. And it was here that the island's last monarch, Queen Caterina Cornaro, yielded to the monopolizing powers of the Venetian Republic and abdicated peacefully in 1489.
Heavily bombarded by Ottoman cannon on the exterior, the cathedral was stripped of its internal decorations and embellishments before being converted to a mosque in 1571; its wall paintings were white washed, its stained glass replaced with a type of glass and gypsum window-work characteristic Islamic decoration and design.
Yet, despite these alterations, the building retains much of its original style and elegance. The west façade – opposite the ruins of the royal palace – is arguably the cathedral's most impressive feature. Three elaborately carved portals with tracery-filled, openwork gables face the town's main square. Inside, two rows of six massive columns divide the nave into seven straight bays with superb vaulting. At the east end are three parallel apses, to the west, a great circular window above the central west door. The original large traceried windows along the aisles are still intact; the surviving decorative stonework is fine and elegant.
A few medieval tombs remain, located in the north aisle. Outside, to the left of the façade, are a small Ottoman tomb dating to 1700 and a small shrine. The old Venetian loggia, which faces the ancient fig tree, is now used by the faithful for ritual ablutions.
The mosque is commonly called Agia Sophia, like the great Semeliye mosque of Nicosia (formerly the Latin Cathedral of St Sophia), having received the dedication to Lala Mustafa Pasha, in modern times.