During the times of the Roman Empire, a lot of forts and castles were built in Cyprus with just one aim: to protect the island from invaders. Many of these castles were modified or rebuilt later, when crusaders, Venetians, or Turks were in charge. Some fortifications were completely destroyed by powerful earthquakes; others were taken down by the Venetians and built all over again by Turks. If you are planning to visit Cyprus, you can attend the remaining castles (or at least some of them), learn more about their history, hear legends telling about them, and visit museums that they house today.
Colossi Castle was built in southern Cyprus, not far from modern Limassol, in the beginning of the 13th century by Guy de Lusignan, the king of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, who surrounded the castles with vineyards and sugar-cane farms. Knights Hospitaller, who took over the castle in 1210, kept growing grapes and sugar-cane here. It is believed, that a famous Cypriot wine Commandaria acquired its name from the knights.
The modern appearance of the castle (a square three-story building made from yellowish limestone; the main tower is 22 meters high, the width of the walls is 2,5 meters) can be traced back to the year 1454 when some important modifications were made by the knight commander Louis de Magnac. It can be distinguished from the original castle by the absence of round defensive towers on the outer corners. The new fortress turned out strong enough to withstand some of the earthquakes that were truly disastrous for Limassol.
The basement of the castle was used as a storeroom, the second story housed a kitchen and a chapel, where visitors still can see original frescoes. The third floor was designed as the knight commander’s apartments: two huge rooms with chimneys and 8 windows.
The eastern side of the castle is decorated with a marble panel shaped as a cross, on which one can see several coats of arms: a united emblem of Cypriot Lusignans, emblems that belonged to two Grand Masters of the knightly order, and the emblem of Louis de Magnac.
There is an observation deck on the roof of Colossi Castle, which is a perfect spot for those who want to observe the city and the surroundings. Ruins of the sugar-cane processing factory and remains of an old aqueduct still can be found next to the castle. Individual and group tours around the castle are available for tourists. Admission fee is charged.
Limassol castle, located in the historical district of the city, not far from the harbor, is one of the most important Medieval landmarks on the island. It is believed that Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre in a chapel that was built before the fort, which is the reason why it is sometimes called the Lionheart castle.
The very first mentioning of the castle dates back to 1228. The fortress had survived several strikes and earthquakes, but repair works made it even stronger. In 1538, after the Turkish invasion, it was decided to dismantle the castle not letting the enemy use it for the defense. It was not easy and took a lot of time, but Turks managed to build a new fortress with even thicker walls in a short time.
Today the Limassol castle houses the Medieval Museum which has inherited the collection of the Museum of Nicosia in 1974. It features historical weapons, armor, old coins and tombstones, faience and bronze objects, and other artifacts from Byzantine, Medieval, and Ottoman periods of Cyprus history. Economical, social, and cultural development of the island throughout centuries is reflected in the permanent exhibition of the museum. Admission fee is charged.
Larnaca Medieval castle
Larnaca castle which is located on the southern coast of Cyprus was built in the 14th century by James I of Cyprus and rebuilt by Ottomans in 1625. For many centuries the castle had served the purpose of defending the city and its harbor. After the major reconstruction of 1625, the architecture of the castle received some features of the Turkish style: such as a Turkish semicircular apse. By the beginning of the 18th century, the fort was abandoned and mostly destroyed, and in 1878, when the British took over the island, it was made a prison where criminals were kept and executed. In the middle of the 20th century, the former castle and the former prison became a historical museum.
Today visitors of the castle museum can see historical objects from old Orthodox basilicas dated 4th-6th centuries, photographs of the Byzantine frescoes, Medieval household items, and weapons. The museum is open every day. There are also cannons dated the beginning of the 20th century on the territory of the castle (they were used to salute ships entering the harbor). A spacious castle yard is a perfect place for concert music events and theatre festivals. Admission fee is charged, the opening hours depend on the season.
Paphos Medieval Castle
Paphos Castle has a beautiful location facing the Paphos harbor. Originally it was a Byzantine fort, which was rebuilt in a castle by Lusignans in the 13th century. Its two towers and a connecting wall were made from rough-finished limestone. By the end of the century the fort surrendered to the Genoese, and in the 16th century it was destroyed by the Venetians who did not want Ottomans to benefit from it. Nevertheless, under the Ottoman rule, the castle was reconstructed and strengthened in 1592, as stated by the inscription on the marble wall above the entrance to the castle.
Throughout its history, the fort had been used as a prison and a salt warehouse (salt was brought here by boats from the Larnaca lake during the times of the British occupation).
Nowadays most of what is left from the fort is the central tower, the lower level of which is occupied by a spacious hall with masonry vaults. The upper level was previously used as a garrison mosque. Climb up the spiral stairway to enter the roof and enjoy the all-round view of Paphos and the sea. You can also explore the ruins of the second fortress, which, as historians believe, was created at the same time as the Paphos castle.
Since 1999 opera concerts have been held in the castle. Every September, the Aphrodite festival takes place here bringing such shows as Aida, La Traviata, and others. During concerts, the castle serves as a decoration at the background.
The castle is open for visitors every day; admission fee is charged.
Saranda Colones, Paphos, the Paphos Archaeological Park
Saranda Colones («forty columns») is an ancient Byzantine fortress which in the 13th century was replaced by the Paphos Castle. Its name refers to numerous fragments of granite columns that were a part of the original fortress. The fortress was built in the 12th century BC to protect the Paphos harbor, destroyed during one of the invasions and eventually reconstructed by crusaders. For a short period of time, the fort had been in charge of Richard the Lionheart, and in the 12th century AD it was damaged by an earthquake.
Paphos Archaeological Park (where the ruins of Saranda Colones are located) is an open-air museum that features archeological artifacts from the times of the Roman Empire. Here you can see such monuments as the house of Dionysos, the house of Aion, the house of Orpheus, and the house of Theseus (the 2nd century AD), the unique mosaic floors of which are decorated with hunting and mythological scenes, an ancient marketplace Agora, the Odeon theatre, and other buildings. In the southern part of the park, you can find the ruins of the Basilica of Panagia Limeniotissa that was despoiled by Arabs in 653. Monuments of the later epochs are also located at the park: for example, a British lighthouse.
Paphos Archaeological Park is included in the UNESCO world heritage list; archaeological excavations here still take place nowadays. Guided tours for tourists are offered every day — book them to learn more legends and myths about gods and heroes. Admission fee is charged.
Nicosia is the capital of Cyprus and the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey — the last divided capital in the world with 270 thousand Greek citizens and about 85 thousand of people living on the northern side.
5 kilometers of defensive walls with 11 bastions were built around Nicosia by an Italian military engineer Julio Savorgnano during the times of the Venetian rule on the island. Walls and bastions were built in accordance with the latest technologies of the time, but, nevertheless, in 1570 they were conquered by the Turks. The walls were left untouched until the times of British occupation.
As of today, 5 bastions are located in the Turkish part of the city, 5 more — in the Greek part, and 1 bastion is under the United Nations control.
The Musalla (Barbaro) Bastion houses the National Struggle Museum, in the Podocatro Bastion you can find the Monument of Freedom, and the Constanza Bastion is where the Bayraktar Mosque is located.
The Greek municipality occupies the D’Avila Bastion; the Tripoli Bastion functions as a parking and a bus stop. The castle of the President of the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey is located inside the Cephane (Quirni) Bastion, and the Roccas Bastion (also in Turkish sector) was turned into a park.
Among three historical gates, the Famagusta gate is preserved best. There is a cultural center and a venue for exhibitions there.
Buffavento Castle in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey
Buffavento Castle is located on the territory of the the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey. It might be useful to know, that tourists do not have to get a visa to go to the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey — the entry visa is provided upon arrival on an insert card.
The airport of the Republic is not listed by IATA, which means going there by plane is only possible through Turkey: flights are available from Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, Izmir, and Adana. You can also reach your destination by car, but in this case, you will have to provide a Cyprus visa. If you are interested in taking a ferry, there are some options from Alania and Tasucu.
Buffavento Castle is located in Kyrenia mountains, 950 meters above the sea level. Its name is translated from Italian as «the defense from the wind». The foundation date is unknown but it is believed that the castle was built during the Byzantine period. In the 14th century, the castle was reinforced by the Lusignans who used it, among other things, as a prison for the most dangerous criminals. During the times of the Venetian rule, the fort was abandoned and fell into dismay.
Today one can reach the castle taking a narrow rough track and then a staircase in the mountains. Even though only some ruins are left from the powerful fort, scenic views of the Northern coast are same as ever. Admission is free.
Kantara Castle in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey
Another castle located in Kyrenia mountains in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey is called Kantara (this name originates from Arabic word «arch» — which is what a mountain shape here resembles). The castle is 630 meters above the sea level. Strategically its location was great to control Karpaz peninsula and the Mesaoria plain.
As other castles of the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey, the Kantara Castle was created by Byzantines to protect the island from Arabs in the 10th century. There used to be a Christian Monastery here, that is still reminded of by a small chapel. In 1191, when the island was conquered by Richard the Lionheart, Isaac I Komnenos, a Byzantine Emperor, was hiding in the castle. After a siege that happened in the 12th century the castle started losing its strategic significance turning into a temporary shelter for hunters from nobility.
The rectangular defensive walls are pretty much untouched at the eastern side of the castle, where the main entrance used to be. The inside of the towers is partially preserved. In the western side of the castle, you can find an old staircase which, as the legend has it, were leading to the secret exit from the castle.
Admission fee is charged.
Kyrenia Castle in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey
Kyrenia Castle is located at the east end of the old Kyrenia harbor. The original fortress was built here at the times of the Roman Empire: it was created by the Byzantines in the 7th century to protect the harbor from Arabs. The Lusignans renovated the castle: they added new corner towers, a royal residence, and an official entrance. Venetians reinforced the towers and prepared the walls for the most modern cannons that existed back then. Nevertheless, the fortress surrendered to Turks in 1570. Until the end of the 19th century, the castle was used by Ottomans as a military base. After 1858, it was turned into a British police station. During the Turkish-Greek conflict, the Cypriot National Guard was based in the castle. And finally, in 1974, the historical museum has moved into the castle.
Today museum visitors can have a look at of the famous Kyrenia ship rescued from the bottom of the sea, where it had been for centuries, in 1965, as well as unique archaeological artifacts, and old icons, confiscated from local churches. A torture museum is also located here.
A fragment of the ancient Byzantine church is hidden inside the castle, as well as a monastery canteen where a scene from the past is recreated for visitors.
The upper part of the castle features old Gothic window patterns. From the walls, you can observe an old harbor with its fishermen boats and yachts.
Admission fee is charged.
Saint Hilarion Castle in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey
The Saint Hilarion Castle is located on Kyrenia mountains, 732 meters above the sea level. To get there, you can take a highway that lies between Nicosia and Kyrenia. For the last 6 kilometers, you will follow a curvy mountain road going by a Turkish military base.
The history of the castle goes back to the 6th century, when Hilarion, a monk, founded a small hermitage, which turned into a monastery, which, in its turn, was reconstructed by the Byzantines and became a castle. The Lusignans reinforced the fortifications, and moved a summer royal residence into the castle; in Middle Ages, knightly tournaments used to take place here. This golden age was over when the Venetians came to rule the island. They did not pay attention to mountain castles, trying to focus on protecting the coast. Since then, the castle started falling into ruins: occasionally hunters would stop there to spend the night, leaving it abandoned most of the time. In 1960 the castle was occupied by Turks who used it to take control over the road.
The castle used to have three divisions: the lower was a military station and stables, the middle one housed a Byzantine Saint Christopher church, and a four-level royal castle. The residence itself occupied the upper level: even today visitors can see elements of the dome and Gothic windows here. There is an observation deck overviewing the plain and the Kyrenia Castle at the top level of the fort.
There are many legends that tell about the castle. One of them is the story of John the regent, a brother to an underage king of Cyprus, Peter II, who was hiding in one of the towers. As the legend has it, Eleanor of Naples convinced the regent that the guards are planning a plot against the the king. Furious, John threw all of them out the window in his tower. When the guards were dead, Eleanor’s people came for John himself.
Admission fee is charged, opening hours depend on the season.
Othello castle in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey
Famagusta castle, also known as Othello castle is located in the northwest part of Famagusta in the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey.
Construction had begun in the 8th century, during the reign of the Lusignans. After the Venetians took over the island, the castle was rebuilt in the style of Renaissance. The marble top depicting the Lion of Saint Mark, the symbol of the city of Venice, was installed above the main entrance.
Four towers were connected by corridors, that were used to transfer soldiers from one tower to another as fast as possible. This structures stood the test of time. The height of the walls is up to 15 meters, and they are 5-6 meters in thickness. In the yard of the castle, tourists can find old cannons.
It is believed, that Othello castle is the one described by Shakespeare as the place where the moor killed Desdemona (Shakespeare made it clear that the action took place in one Cyprus harbors, but historians know that Venetian governors used to live in the Famagusta castle).
Admission fee is charged.