Cyprus is a destination which has been touched by Assyrians, Romans, and Persians to Egyptians to even the British colonial empire.
Masses of visitors have disembarked on its lands for centuries – each leaving their own individual mark. This travel blog post has been put together by Direct Traveller to give you a little history lesson on Cyprus and its crusader castles.
Each one being impressive in its own way and each perfect to visit when on holiday in North Cyprus.
The impressive fortress of Kyrenia Castle guards the front of the iconic harbour as it has done since Byzantine times. Its large walls border is mixed with different building styles spanning from centuries, as far as the Roman times. The Byzantine structure of four towers linked by walls was later constructed and reinforced by the Lusignans and later the Venetians.
Visitors today enter through the fortified entrance and up a sloping ramp leading to the parade ground at the centre. Around the parade ground are guardrooms, stables and the living quarters and more ramps that lead to the upper defences. There are some steps up to the royal apartments used by the Lusignans and a tiny chapel. Once you have explored the upper walls why not head below ground to see the dungeons, storage rooms and see where gunpowder was kept clean and dry ready to use against any invaders.
One of the three magical castles is the Buffavento Castle. Built high up in the mountains of Kyrenia. Like St.Hilarion and Kantara, Buffavento and is located on a rocky outcrop 950 metres above sea level. The translation of its name literally means ‘Gusty winds’ and this is a highly appropriate name for it. During the crusades it is believed that this castle was a Byzantine watch-tower, protecting people from the Arabs. When Richard the Lionheart invaded in 1191 the Byzantine king fled. Later during the Lusignan period Buffavento was used to in prison people with the name ‘Chateau du Lion’. Through the Venetian period the castle then fell into disuse and today although it is not as well preserved as St.Hilarion and Kantara it a rugged and mysterious atmosphere to it. As with its sister castles the view from the top provides magnificent views Kyrenia, Nicosia, Famagusta in the north and on the clearest days even the Troodos Mountains in the south. There are plenty of steps to climb and you will need to be steady on your feet to reach the top, but for those who can the effort will be rewarded with spectacular views.
The town of Kyrenia is surrounded with history and if you look up to the mountains from the town you can see the St. Hilarion Castle clinging to the rock cliffs above you. It is rumoured that this location is the original inspiration for Walt Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’, the St Hilarion in North Cyprus is one of the most visited sites in Kyrenia. This 8th century castle built by the Byzantines perches precariously on the rocks 660m above the sea and though the climb is steep and uneven your efforts will be rewarded by the breath-taking views of the island’s northern coastline from the top. St. Hilarion is named after a monk who escaped persecution in Palestine and lived as a hermit here during the 7th century AD, walking the mountain as he resisted the voices of demons he sensed around him.
A Byzantine chapel and monastery were added to the site of the saint’s tomb by the 10th century followed by a fort during the 12th. During the Third Crusade Richard the Lionheart captured the castle. It is an adventurous journey to reach St.Hilarion following a windy road which twists and turns between rocky crags and past an army base. Be sure to avoid visiting during the midday heat in the summer months and plan your excursion for either early or late in the day.
Kantara is the easiest to reach of the three Crusader castles as it is the lowest. Rather than being set high up in the mountains Kantara Castle is to be found on a range of hills at the beginning of the Karpas Peninsula. It is believed to be the site of the King Komnenos’ surrender to Richard the Lionheart in 1191. During the 13th century the castle was badly damaged by bombardments and had to be almost completely rebuilt and the ruined towers and walls remain to this day. The castle is spread over a very rocky site so you will need strong footwear and be reasonably fit. Be sure to go to the northeast tower from where you can gain breath-taking, panoramic views of both sides of North Cyprus at the same time.
How many of these crusader castles in Cyprus have you been to? Would recommend to others? Do you have any images you would like to share? If so please comment below.