Explore the picturesque castles of Northern Cyprus...
Over the centuries, invaders have attacked Cyprus from virtually every direction. Its location in the Mediterranean sea at the cross-roads of three continents has always made it a desirable acquisition. So there are castles, starting from Roman times, but their defensive role is finished. They have a new role now, tourism, so there is no need to breach the walls, the doors are wide open. The picturesque Kyrenia range of mountains hides three of the islands most spectacular castles, St Hilarion, Buffavento and Kantara. All of North Cyprus castles are regarded as Crusader castles but they were all built originally as Byzantine fortresses and later heavily fortified in the time of the Crusades. The first and easiest castle to explore is not one of the Crusader castles but the one in Kyrenia town guarding the harbour, Kyrenia castle.
St Hilarion Castle, spectacularly located on a mountain peak at 732m, is the most impressive of the trio. A paved road from the Girne to Lefkosa highway climbs all the way to the castle entrance and car park. The best view of the castle is at the bottom of the hill on the final approach to the castle. From here the thick, castellate walls punctuated with solid square towers appear to cling to and wind the steep hillside right to the very peak. It is often likened to Walk Disney's fairy tale castle in Snow White and believed it might even be the inspiration.
A small entrance fee allows admission through the thick walls of the gate house and, once inside, prepare for some climbing. The accommodation within the castle is built on three distinct and self-contained levels. The lower level housed the horses, the soldiers and the weapons. A path leads upwards to the middle level where the knights were located and the Great Hall. The hall was badly damaged by fire in 1995 but restored and reopened in 2004. On this level too is a small Byzantine chapel.
Steps lead more steeply upwards to the third and final level for the Royal apartments and St John's tower.
Kyrenia Castle started life under the Romans and was further improved through the ages especially by the Lusignans, but there remains much to see in the castle, and finally by the Venetians. It was the Venetians who built the really heavy defensive walls and the strong towers. Entering the castle, you actually cross the moat, dry now but it was not always so. Inside there is much to admire including the cruciform church of St George. One of the rooms off the courtyard houses the Shipwreck Museum which displays a 4th century BC wreck of a Greek merchant ship with its cargo. Kyrenia castle is a must visit landmark in Cyprus.
Occupying an impregnable position is Buffavento castle. Located east of St Hilarion, it is accessed from the top of the Buffavento Pass. A narrow paved road leads to the entrance. From here it is a 30 -40 minute climb up steps to the peak of the mountain. Only a few rooms remain scattered between peaks but the view from this altitude, 945m, is truly worth the climb.
Kantara castle, further east still, is easily the most accessible. Again a paved road leads to the entrance from Kantara village. This heavily walled castle stands at around 600m. Here the buildings, including a large barracks, store rooms and water cisterns, are more complete and can be explored with barely any climbing.