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This is easily reached from Kyrenia (Girne) by taking the road south towards Lefkosa and, as you climb the flanks of the Kyrenia mountains, taking the signposted road off to the right. The paved road continues to climb higher into the mountain and finally to the entrance car park.
Originally it was the home of a hermit called Hilarion. A chapel was built on the site of the hermitage which eventually developed into a monastery known as St Hilarion. It was first mentioned in records as a castle in 1911 during the island’s conquest by Richard the Lionheart.
The castle presents an impressive sight just on the approach with the walls clinging and climbing up the hillside. The three divisions of the castle can easily be seen. This gives a clue to the climbing necessary to explore the castle fully at these different levels.
Entry is through the barbican and the lower level, enclosed by old Byzantine walls, containing the water cistern and old ruined stables is quickly explored. Stairs lead up to the middle ward and here is the chapel of the former monastery. Stairs on the north side lead down to a cluster of buildings around the dining hall including the kitchen and what were once royal apartments.
Further climbing leads to the upper ward where the upper part the royal dwellings are apparent, especially the western wall with its beautiful, arched, tracery window with stone seats either side. This is known as the Queens window.
It is possible to climb still higher and out onto the mountain top and the reward is spectacular 360 degree views, the best in North Cyprus.
Kayrenia Castle guards the picturesque harbour of Kyrenia. The castle is easy to reach and inside there is the shipwreck museum with the remains of one of the oldest ships.
The present harbour with its long mole and quays was built during the British colonial period. Previous to this and especially in the Middle Ages, the ships were simply drawn up onto the beach. The Venetian castle was built to protect the harbour which, at this time was enclosed by a chain.
Many of the buildings now surrounding the harbour were carob mills at the time when the trade in carobs, or black gold as it was sometimes called, was huge on Cyprus. Many of these warehouses have been converted into restaurants. The harbour now is given over to pleasure and yachts have taken the place of cargo boats. In fact the whole of the harbour front is wall to wall restaurants with tables lining the quay side. The whole sea front here is very attractive in the evening when the traffic is banned and the place is given over entirely to diners.
In a good state of preservation, the castle itself is well worth a visit. Quite near the entrance is a Byzantine chapel of St George which originally lay outside the walls. Later the Venetians incorporated the chapel within the fortress where it formed part of the ascent to the tower.
There is much of interest but it is important to leave a little time to visit the shipwreck museum within the fort. This holds in a state of perpetual preservation one of the earliest shipwrecks every recovered.
Karpas Peninsula is the last unspoilt part of Northern Cyprus. It is home to a national park which offers birth watching, flower walks and beautiful nature, Golden Beach which is the best beach on whole Cyprus Island and Apostolos Andreas Monastery.
Travelling further eastwards, there is an increasing chance of seeing the long-legged wild donkeys which roam the Karpaz, particularly as you reach the monastery of Apostolos Andreas. This particular monastery has its own legend in which St Andrew instructed the captain of the ship to put ashore en route to Jerusalem. The ship was short of water and at that the spot where they put ashore, a spring arose and the water proved to have healing powers.
Apostolos Andreas Monastery has become a place of pilgrimage, especially during the last two hundred years, and is particularly important to the Greeks. The church and monastery are of a modern date and are not especially interesting except perhaps for the votive offerings left by the Greeks.
Salamis rose at one time to become the most important city on the island but its history parallels the turbulent history of Cyprus over the centuries. The city under Roman rule in the first to the 4th centuries AD was constantly devastated by severe earthquakes. The Emperor Constantine rebuilt the city after the last earthquake and named it Constantia.
Under constant threat from Arab raiders, Salamis was finally abandoned in the 7th century when the population moved and resettled at Famagusta, or at Arisinoe as it was known at that time.
Sporadic excavations throughout the 20th century revealed Salamis as it is seen today and most of the structures exposed date back to the Roman era. The three main buildings near the entrance to the site are the gymnasium, the amphitheatre and the theatre. The gymnasium is impressive with standing columns and some partially preserved sculptures in the northern pool room. Roman theatres never fail to impress as this one here at Salamis which opens to the west. It was one of the largest in the whole of the Mediterranean with seats to hold 15,000. Not too much remains of the stage building, there is enough to give an impression of how it was.
Venturing further on it is easy to realise the extent of Salamis. A little more walking leads to a Roman villa and, turning towards the sea, the Basilica Camanopetra is reached. The ancient harbour, to the south of here is now under water.
In the tranquil village of Bellapais, rose the beautiful Bellapais Abbey, one of the most visited sites in Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus. This impressive twelfth-century monastery has drawn visitors to Cyprus since medieval times when the abbey was built. Famous Bellapais Music Festival is held in this monastery. In the village, there are some local restaurants offering delicious food of North Cyprus.
If you have already visited the larger sites, like Salamis, there are a number of smaller sites but important to explore like Soli & Vouni Palace. Both of these are located in the extreme west of North Cyprus, beyond Guzelyurt and just beyond Lefke.