Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Monday, March 26, 2012

Byzantine Fortress - Saint Hilarion Castle

This is the castle of St Hilarion, on its hillock. The name-giver was a saint from Palestine; he fled to Cyprus in the 7th century and seems to have founded a small monastery here. The Byzantines came later and saw that the place could also accommodate a fort, so they built one. This in turn fell in 1191 when Richard the Lionheart had nothing better to do and so snatched the island from Isaac Komnenus, enroute to the Holy Land. 

Saint Hilarion Castle  -  Byzantine fortress on Cyprus

The Saint Hilarion Castle lies on the Kyrenia mountain range, in Northern Cyprus near Kyrenia. This location provided the castle with command of the pass road from Kyrenia to Nicosia
Saint Hilarion was originally a monastery, named after a monk who allegedly chose the site for his hermitage, with a monastery and a church built there in the 10th century. Starting in the 11th century, the Byzantines began fortification. 

Saint Hilarion formed the defense of the island with the castles of Buffavento and Kantara against Arab pirates raiding the coast. 
Some sections were further upgraded under the Lusignan rule, who may have used it as a summer residence. During the rule of Lusignans, the castle was the focus of a four-year struggle between Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and Regent John d' Ibelin for control of Cyprus.

The castle has three divisions or wards. The lower and middle wards served economic purposes, while the upper ward housed the royal family. The lower ward had the stables and the living quarters for the men-at-arms. The Prince John tower sits on a cliff high above the lower castle. 
The church lies on the middle ward. The upper ward was reserved for the Royals and can be entered via a well-preserved archway. Farm buildings are located in the west close to the royal apartments. Along the western wall, there is a breathtaking view of the northern coast of Cyprus, overlooking the city of Girne, from the Queen's Window.
Much of the castle was dismantled by the Venetians in the 15th century to reduce the up-keeping cost of garrisons.

A small Byzantine church inside the castle. The style, especially the alternating bands of stone and brick, is rather typical for Byzantine buildings: we saw similar ruins in Jordan and Syria. 

A view from the middle part of the castle down to the entrance. The Turkish flags on the tower are not visible from southern Cyprus: that probably explains their relative modesty. 

The famous Queen's window, in the upper part of the castle. Nice views but probably rather cold in winter. Most of the buildings up there are destroyed, only a few walls with gaping holes are still standing. This window is almost the only decorative element left. 

The church from the outside. The tower lording it over the church was the scene of a pretty nasty incident: John of Antioch, convinced by his scheming sister-in-law Eleanor of Aragon that his bodyguards were all traitors, had them, one by one, thrown out of this tower; only one survived to tell the tale. (Eleanor was convinced, rightly or wrongly, that John had something to do with her husband's death.) John, now without his guard, was an easy target for her: shortly afterwards she invited him to Nicosia where he was stabbed to death. 

(Saint Hilarion Castle)

(St. Hilarion)

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