Attractions of St. Hilarion Castle North Cyprus
North Cyprus is a traveler’s dream if they want to venture off the main path. North Cyprus also has some of the best beaches and untamed scenery in the Mediterranean. It is wild and unspoiled. Many travelers visit this side of Cyprus island because it has some spectacular scenery. There are towering mountains crowned by crumbling Crusader castles, an entire peninsular overrun by wild donkeys, and, of course, a few war-torn and abandoned vacation spots. This is where Turkish and Greek cultures interconnect, and it is a country where you can truly travel off the main path and explore a lesser-known corner of the globe! Here are some interesting facts about visiting North Cyprus.
North Cyprus St Hilarion is the most accessible, popular, and complete of the three great castles in the Kyrenia highlands. It certainly sparks the imagination – in the words of writer Dame Rose Macaulay, it is a “picture-book castle for elf monarchs” – and served as the model for both King Ludwig’s fairy-tale castles in Bavaria and Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Visit in the spring, when the surrounding environment is serene with wildflowers. The view from the snack bar is breathtaking. St. Hilarion castle is one of the best places you should visit in North Cyprus.
To get to the castle from Girne, take the Lefkoşa freeway south as it climbs into the mountains, and just before it reaches the top of the pass and begins its descent to the Mesaoria plain, turn right at the yellow marker. A 3km side road winds its way up through a military installation, past a colossal statue of a soldier in battledress guarding the gate. (The medieval tournaments were held in the firing range on the left.) You arrive at a little car lot outside the castle gate after climbing a steep hill. The journey from Girne takes approximately twenty minutes.
Keep in mind that you are driving through a restricted military area and are not permitted to halt, let alone snap photographs. This is unfortunate because the best view is found as you approach the castle.
A brief history St. Hilarion castle in North Cyprus
St Hilarion was once a monastery dedicated to an unknown Syrian hermit who resided in a cave on Mount Didymus (“Twin Peaks”) in the fourth century. Hilarion was an extreme ascetic who supposedly never showered and gained a following by casting forth demons and performed miracles. The Byzantines recognized the monastery’s strategic location, controlling the pass through the Kyrenia mountains and overlooking the northern coastal plain. In the seventh century AD, they converted it into a castle in response to recurrent Arab attacks.
In the thirteenth century, the Lusignans rebuilt and expanded it – much of what you see today was erected by John d’Ibelin in 1228 – and it became not only a military fortress but also a palace for Lusignan monarchs, nicknamed “Dieu d’Amour,” or Cupid’s Castle. During the reign of King Peter I and Queen Eleanor of Aragon, the castle was at its peak, with tournaments, knights, and courtly intrigue.
During the late Lusignan period, St Hilarion remained an important stronghold, but when the Venetians seized possession in 1489, it fell into disrepair and became the ruin it is today, only seeing action during the mid-twentieth-century upheavals when the Turkish TMT occupied it.
You will enter the enormous outer bailey originally erected by the Byzantines after passing through the castle entrance, which contains a barbican. Continue climbing along the “Main Road” after passing through the first of many beautiful views.
You will notice a watchtower and, to your left, the spectacular curtain wall that rises sharply to the higher parts of the castle as you walk the well-made route with occasional stairs. When the castle was under siege, villagers and animals could be withdrawn to this outer bailey.
The castle stables have been converted into a modest visitor center with several sketches and information about the Lusignans. The path rises steeply upwards beyond the stables to the tunnel-like gate of the “second part,” maybe the Lower Ward. It is a maze of alleyways, structures, and apartments that branch out from a central tunnel, some of which were once part of a tenth-century monastery.
The monastery church is the first edifice on the right, now open to the elements but with a well-preserved apse. The Great Hall, to the north, now houses the Café Lusignan. A wooden balcony runs along one side of the hall, with a breathtaking view of the coast below on a clear day you can see Turkey, some 100km away.
Beyond the hall are a set of rooms that served it – the kitchen, buttery, and privies – as well as a belvedere, a shaded vaulted terrace with picnic tables and arches, which offers even more spectacular views. More workaday rooms and the castellan’s lodgings are to the left (west) of the hall, featuring exhibitions with mannequins showing medieval life.
Continuing along the route that tunnels through the lower ward rooms, you emerge into the sunlight to signs suggesting one way (to the right) to the barracks and Royal Apartments, and the other way, forward and upward, to the third section.
The path then ascends via steps and rock-strewn paths, passing a massive cistern that appears to have been built rather than hewn out of the rock (it has stone buttresses). A branch along the path leads to the solitary Prince John’s Tower, where some of John’s Bulgarian mercenaries were slaughtered, just before you reach the summit.
Instead of following the road to Prince John’s Tower, turn right to reach the Upper Ward’s main gate. After passing past the gate, there is a Byzantine tower, a kitchen, a cistern, and a set of secondary structures in order. Additional sets of Royal Apartments can be found beyond them, as well as the famous Queen’s Window, where Queen Eleanor is supposed to have sat.
Beautiful views to the west open up from here, with the settlement of Karmi in the foreground. All that is left is the Western Tower and the mountain’s Zirve (summit), which is marked with a sign reading “732m – Congratulations!” You’ve reached the pinnacle.”
St Hilarion’s heinous acts
Peter I, King of Cyprus, was stabbed to death while sleeping in his palace in Nicosia on January 17, 1369, allegedly by three of his own knights. His son, Peter II, succeeded him. Queen Eleanor, now the Queen Mother, became persuaded that Peter’s brother Prince John had ordered her husband’s death. In the king’s absence, she pledged to avenge his murder, despite rumors of her immorality.
While Peter’s other brother James occupied Kyrenia, John had taken up residence in St Hilarion Castle, which he held with a garrison of Bulgarian mercenaries. In 1374, a Genoese assault, allegedly at Eleanor’s request, led to the capitulation of Kyrenia, and James became a prisoner.
Eleanor now shifted her focus to John. She alerted the prince that his Bulgarian forces were going to topple him after persuading him that everything was forgiven. John retaliated by tossing several of them off Prince John’s Tower to their deaths. Eleanor’s claims were almost definitely false, part of a Machiavellian scheme to lure him closer while also weakening him.
Eleanor invited John to dine with her and the young king in Nicosia, bringing the drama to a close. They ate in the same room where Peter I was slain, and she flung back the cloth to display her deceased husband’s blood-stained clothing when the final dish arrived. This signaled the arrival of retainers, who stabbed Prince John to death in turn.