Kyrenia Harbour is a pretty but small harbour lined with cobbled streets and featuring old houses,bars and a few restaurants.Frequant ferry services operate trips to 'Alanya and Tasucu' in Southern Turkey.There are also Scuba Diving tours and Paragliding courses offered by many tour companies.The 'Turtle Bay' dive centre is only a few minutes walk from here and is very popular with tourists.
The Eman -English guided excursions have different day trips including visiting the north. A leaflet I have from last year indicates that the trip Kyrenia and Famagusta (including Bellapais Abbey) cost 45 euros last year. I think this will help you and it is indeed a nice trip out there.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org -for a personal question
Tel: +357 23721321/ 23721336.
Notes: Passport or European Union ID Card is needed for trips to Kyrenia and/or Famagusta. Entrance fees for all excursions are included in the prices but not meals.Infants up to 2 years -free
From 2 up to 12 years old the price is half.
Whether you 're an avid sightseer keen to check out the sights of Kyrenia, walking off the effects of lunch at one of the restaurants that line the harbour's landward side or simply joining the locals out to take a pleasant evening stroll, a walk along the harbour's breakwater has to be something you do at least once while you're there.
Only pleasure craft moor within its safety these days, but the mighty fortress standing guard at the entry is a sure indication of the important role the harbour played in the town's history. As it stands today, the external appearance of the castle is down to the 15th century Venetians who captured it in 1489 from the last Lusignan King of Cyprus but they were only extending the castle the Lusignans* built on top of a Byzantine fort that was almost certainly built over a Roman one. And, as if the fortress wasn't enough, a great chain, raised and lowered by winches in towers that stood on either side of the original harbour mouth, provided extra protection. The derelict eastern tower can be seen standing still below the castle walls; the western tower forms part of the Customs House built by the British in 1914.
You can see both buildings in photo 2, the east tower in the foreground, the Customs House is the stone building on the other side of the water. A section of the chain can be seen in the castle museum.
Photo 3 is a panorama of the harbour taken from the castle walls. Nowadays, restaurants occupy most of the buildings that rim the harbour, between the minaret of Cafer Pasa Camii (Kyrenia's oldest mosque) and the white bell tower of the Church of the Arkhangelos Mikhael (now the city's Icon Museum); once they provided the town's traders with warehouses on the ground floor and living quarters upstairs.
*And who were the Lusignans? French Crusader princes who, on the loss of the Holy Land, retreated to Cyprus where they declared themselves Kings of Cyprus and Jerusalem. The dynasty ruled the island from 1194 until they were conquered by the Venetians in 1474.
1:" Tower upon tower ..."
2."..a maze of gatehouses, courts ..."
3. "...arches... and wild aromatic trees..."
4. The Queen's window
5. "... an eyrie that surveys the world."
That's how one of my favourite authors, Rose Macaulay, in her marvellous book, "Pleasure of Ruins" describes St Hilarion castle, sitting atop its impossibly high crag, overlooking Kyrenia. No visit to Northern Cyprus is complete without a visit here, though you need to have your legs in good shape and a head for heights if you're going to tackle the climb to the very top. Dame Rose describes it so well, I hope you'll excuse me quoting her vision of this most magical of castles -
"Twisting up and up into the sky, terrace above terrace, tower over tower, till it ends in an eyrie that surveys the world, it is a dramatic pile of ruin, rocks and wild aromatic trees and shrubs springing out of them. It is... a picture book castle for elf kings, sprawling over two twin crests with its maze of gatehouses, courts, arches, kitchens, cisterns, church, vaulted chambers and halls, terraces and steep flights of grass-grown steps."
Since she wrote that, back in 1950, apart from those "grass-grown steps" now being clear and having a handrail and there being a cafe in one of the vaulted halls and a small exhibition about the castle in another, I'm sure she would find very little has changed despite the passage of years.
The castle ascends right up the mountain, through three distinct levels. The first ascent takes you from the huge lower ward through a gatehouse and tunnel into the middle section with its Byzantine chapel, cisterns, a belvedere and steps and stairs leading through a maze of chambers and halls until you reach the gate that opens the way to the upper towers. The narrow stone steps twist and turn, up and up and up through the pinewoods (and, in our case, the mist that came and went) to the final redoubt - the towers of the Royal apartments on one peak and - highest of all - Prince John's tower. The views are spectacular and, our visit taking place on a winter's afternoon, the quiet atmosphere quite magical. What it is like on a hot afternoon in summer with a coachload or two of fellow-tourists up there too might well be another matter.
1: Durrell's doorway
3: ...or that?
4: Idling still
...Bellapais, the name a corruption of Abbaye de la Paix (Abbey of Peace), the glorious shell of which is one of Cyprus's most romantic ruins. Hearing the name, rather than seeing it, you could easily think some 16th century Venetian sailor had named it Bellapaese - beautiful country - the name is every bit as appropriate.
Renowned English writer, Lawrence Durrell certainly found it so and immortalised the village and its people in his book "Bitter Lemons", a telling of the three years he spent here, teaching English and writing 'Justine", the first volume of his Alexandria Quartet. The book is on sale everywhere here, renamed (wrongly!) "Bitter Lemons of Cyprus" and the small plaque marking the house that Durrell bought is much photographed. For lovers of contemporary English literature the house and the Tree of Idleness down in the village square are as much places of pilgrimage as the abbey is to lovers of Gothic architecture.
Lying just a few kilometres inland on the flank of the mountains behind Kyrenia, the village has undoubtedly lost some of the charm Durrell found here in the mid 1950s. Asphalt may have replaced cobbles on the steep and narrow streets, and cafes and shops competing with each other for custom may display garish modern signs but, seen from across the ravine as you approach from the coastal plain, or from the upper levels of the abbey itself, it's not hard to see why this place was named "the most beautiful village in Cyprus". Sitting over a coffee in the square on a quiet sunny morning in late winter or taking an evening stroll up around the floodlit abbey grounds after the day trippers have gone, you don't need the influence of a Tree of Idleness to find yourself entering into a state of calm reflectiveness that sees the rest of the world drift away.
As to the indolence-inducing tree, no-one's quite sure which tree Lawrence meant when he wrote:"We were careful not to drink coffee under it lest we were forever consumed with idleness." Two canny cafe owners lay claim to their tree being the real one - you can take your pick.
With its rich history dating far back into pre-Hellenic times, Cyprus has a wealth of archaeological treasures and, in two seperate museums, Kyrenia Castle houses significantly important finds from both land and sea.
Not to be missed is the 2300 year old Greek trading ship and its cargo. Discovered in 1967 in 30 metres of water about a mile offshore from the safety of the harbour, this is the oldest shipwreck known. Before raising it to the surface, archaeologists spent two years recording every aspect of the wreck along with the location of every artifact before anything was brought to the surface. Hundreds of wine amphorae from Rhodes formed a large part of the cargo, along with thousands of almonds - some stored in jars, others now a packed mass in the hold would have been transported in long-disintegrated sacks. These and other distinctive items make it possible to chart the route the ship sailed as it traded from island to island, whilst things such as cooking pots and fishing weights tell of the life of the crew, which from the four spoons, cups, oil jugs and salt dishes found, we can assume numbered four men, and fig, grape and olive seeds give us an idea of what they ate apart from the almonds and the fish they caught with those lead weights.
More than 40 feet of the 47 foot Aleppo pine hull was preserved in the seabed's thick mud. Carbon dating of the wood tell us the ship was some 80 years old when she sank, whilst the almond's carbon date identifies the time she sank
A raised walkway allows vistors to inspect the ship from above, and a gallery at this upper level documents the archaelogical expedition at work on the seabed.
The Tomb-Finds Gallery, in another part of the castle, displays a reconstructed Neolithic "house" from the area, a reconstruction of a Bronze Age tomb with accompanying grave goods from a site near Pinarbasi. Classical-era artefacts dating from Greek through to Byzantine times are displayed upstairs along with a reconstructed catacomb tomb of the period.
Photo: Clostered calm - Bellapais Abbey
The Abbey of Peace - what an appropriate name for this beautiful place. Its mellow old stones ooze tranquility and quiet contemplation takes over as you wander through the cloister and the old monastery.
Built in the 13th century by monks from the Holy Land, the abbey's royal patronage saw it being richly endowed and afforded many privileges for the first hundred years. The following centuries saw a slow decline until, with the Ottoman invasion of 1570, the Latin community was forced to leave, the abbey church was handed over to the Orthodox Greeks, and the monastery buildings began the slide into the ruin that stands here today. From that point on until the beginning of the 20th century, local people treated the complex as little more than a quarry of ready-dressed stones for their own building projects and that so much of the original building remains is a testament to what a magnificent building it must have been.
Bellapais being a Greek village until the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of 1974 saw all the Greeks leave, the 13th century church was well maintained and in constant use. Although no longer a functioning place of worship, it is still kept just as the congregation left it, with its Bishop's chair, pulpit and iconostasis still in place. It's a rather sad place but no such sadness pervades the rest of the abbey.
The cloister with its arches, arcades and delicate carvings is real joy - and a photographers's delight. Wonderful architectural features abound - a rose window here, carved capitals and corbels there, elegant window tracery and massive masonery walls all around. Stairs take you up and down to different levels, offering sweeping views out to mountains and sea and intimate glimpes of quiet corners through windows and doorways. Simple signs tell you this was where the monks ate and slept ; here was their treasury and here their chapter house. A Roman sarcophagus, swagged with fruit and flowers, lion masks and naked youths, served as the monk's ablution trough and door jambs carved with coats of arms tell of of long-dead kings.
I know I keep saying it, but being here in late winter was perfect - hardly anyone around, laden orange trees adding a touch of colour to the stones that changed from grey to gold as the clouds moved across the sun. These places are never quite the same when shared with too many others.
From the moment you enter Kyrenia castle and begin to ascend the steeply ramped tunnel. its multi-layered history begins to reveal itself. Leading off the main entrance, a narrow tunnel brings you to the tiny Byzantine chapel of St George. Built outside the walls some time in the 10th century, it became all but entirely enclosed within the castle when the Venetians extended the fortifications in 1489 - the roof with its drum and dome stand exposed near the north-west tower. (photos 1 & 2)
Continuing up the entrance passage to the top, you'll come out into the Lusignan castle, but before you step out into the open court, take a look at the tomb at the end of the passage - this is where the Algerian admiral, Sadik Pasha lies (photo 5). He led the succesful Ottoman attack of 1570 that saw the castle fall into Turkish hands and began the settling of Muslim Turks on the island. Built by the Venetians to facilitate the positioning of cannons, the ramp takes you up to the north-west tower from which point there are fabulous views over the harbour and from where you can begin the walk around the walls.
Time and the weather - the wind was really picking up - found us walking only about one-third of the walls but a complete circuit is possible. Stairs near the south-west bastion brought us down to ground level where we found, scattered all around the courtyard, evidence in in stone of the various stages of the castle's history - photo 4 is a collage of this - Greek script on a broken Byzantine column (despite being the historical continuation of the Roman Empire, Greek, not Latin, was the language of the Byzantines); lions and crosses from Lusignan times; piles of stone balls used in catapults in the the same period; and a panels of Turkish and Greek script from the Ottoman era.
If you're lucky enough to be in Kyrenia on Wednesday, you really should make your way to the weekly market, about a kilometre south of the old town, past the bus station. Stall after stall is heaped with wonderful fruit and vegetables - in February, when we were there that meant mountains of scented citrus, glossy peppers and aubergines, enormous piles of rosy radishes, slender spears of wild asparagus and literally truckloads of elegant artichokes to name a few. Of course there were the sacks of nuts and dried fruits that no Turkish market would be without, bowls of olives, fresh baked breads, yoghurt, honey, olive oil, traditional sweets, bunches of the first spring flowers. All of it as fresh as fresh can be, all of it locally produced.
The stall holders here move from town to town around the island - Friday is Famagusta's turn, Saturday it's in Guzelyurt. We'd bought beautiful dried figs and prunes from a fellow with a van outside St Barnabas's monastery on Monday and were greeted like long lost friends when he recognised us on Wednesday. Needless to say we added to our store before we were done - pistachios and dried apricots - delicious and healthy, and together with the homemade cheese filled bread and mandarins we bought, a perfect picnic lunch to eat next day on the long drive to Paphos, across the border and over in the far south-western corner of the island.
Before that though, lunch at a market cafe completed the morning - a big bowl of hearty bean stew with crusty bread, just the thing for a chilly day, and cheap as chips.
The most visible sign of Ottoman rule here in Kyrenia is the minaret of the Cafer Pasa Camii (Cafer Pasha Mosque - photos 1 &2 ), just one street back from the harbour. Although neither as tall nor as slender as most Turkish minarets, with its pencil point roof and muezzin balcony , it is unmistakably an Ottoman building with a rather Cypriot sensibility in that it doesn't have a domed roof - all the older mosques around the island have this same simple appearance, only those built more recently have domes it seems (photos 3 & 4).
The Cafer Pasa Camii was built no later than 1589, reportedly on land donated by one Cafer Pasha. One school of thought is that it was converted from a Lusignan building - maybe, maybe not - it's a very simple and unassuming structure whoever built it.
For all that Girne (as Kyrenia is now known) was part of the Ottoman Empire for some 400 years and is today a Turkish town, historically, its population was very largely Greek and there are not many indications of the time spent under Ottoman rule. Two places do stand out however - the mosque, by virtue of its minaret, is one. The other is a tomb in what appears to be a small park (in reality, this is the last corner of a once-huge Ottoman cemetery),near the main city carpark.
I love Ottoman grave markers, most of them simple posts topped by the hat of rank worn by their now-departed owners. Sadly, almost nothing remains of this graveyard except for a turbe - a large tomb standing beneath a domed shelter. This one is known as the Baldoken Turbe.
Truth be told, the main sights of Kyrenia can be seen in a day. A walk along the breakwater, the rest of the morning spent visiting the castle, lunch at one of the harbourside restaurants (more for the view and the atmosphere than the food it must be said) and then the afternoon given over to exploring the narrow streets of the old town and you'll have seen pretty much the best of what town has to offer in sightseeing terms. Even the most dedicated iconophile would think twice about spending time among the very ordinary collection of late (ie mostly 18th and 19th century) in the Icon Museum housed in the former Church of the Arkhangelos and from all accounts the town's other minor museums are no more compelling.
The real attraction of Kyrenia's harbourside area lies in the old buildings and quiet corners of the little lanes - here a Byzantine tower has become an art gallery (on Hurriyet Caddesi - the main street) with the old covered market (the Bandibuliya), now given over to arty-craft stalls and cafes, around the corner in Canbulat Sok (photos 1 & 2); there a cafe set down at the foot of a remnant of a Lusignan tower and an old house overlooking the harbour (photo 3).
The little white church (photo 4) at the end of Hurriyet Cad isn't an old church restored - it was built by the British in the early 20th century, dedicated appropriately to the Greek St Andrew and now serves all the Protestants in the area. Tea and biscuits are served there daily in the lower floor community centre by members of the church community - expats all. Anyone is welcome to drop in.
Anyone with more than a day or two to devote to exploring Kyrenia will, in fact, find there are many other lesser known sites - with plans to see more of the north and only four days there in all, we had only a day and a bit to give to Kyrenia. The websites given here gives details of several places in Kyrenia itself as well as the wider locality, some of which are not to be found in any guidebook. Some of the Byzantine catacombs]and Kyrenia's oldest church are near at hand. You would probably need your own transport to get to some of the others described here.
Visitors with lots of time on their hands can spend hours visiting the various exhibition galleries housed in Kyrenia castle's mediaeval buildings. Those who prefer their history dressed up in Disneyesque mannequins will find life-size mock-ups of various military scenes including a Venetian cannon crew all set for action, and a rather more gruesome dungeon complete with torture chamber.
More to my taste were the Shipwreck Museum and the Tomb-finds Galley - both of which present superb findings from the island's prehistoric and Roman past.
These two museums were once the Lusignan castle's general living quarters along the eastern wall. Housed where once the lesser occupants of the castle lived (the royal family occupied rather grander apartments along the western wall), the Shipwreck Museum houses the oldest known shipwreck anywhere in the world. The Tomb-finds Gallery presents finds from the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Classical eras. If you visit nothing else but these two galleries after exploring the complexities of the fortress's multi-era structure, your time in the castle will have been well spent.
Opposite these museums, along the north-western flank of the castle the remnants of the Lusignan Royal apartments can be seen though, as not all areas are safe, only the dungeons are open to view.
Finally, tucked against the north wall, the small cafe would a shady respite on a hot day - and summer in Cyprus is hot!
Which ever way you approach it, Kyrenia Castle presents itself as a formidable fortress indeed, and it proved to be for whoever held it throughout the centuries, each ruling power extending and adapting the existing castle to their needs in the manner of their times.
At first sight, the castle is 16th century Venetian but come closer and you soon begin to see the evidence of earlier builders all around you. You can climb steps from the harbour up to the ticket office or come to it down the hill, from the town centre. Passing over the moat and through the 14th century gatehouse, looking up you'll see two Lusignan coats of arms, peering hard into the gloom you can still see the remnants of the mechanism that worked the portcullis and straight ahead is a steep ramped tunnel leading up and in to the heart of the castle.
Before you come to buy your ticket though, a walk along the breakwater to see the castle from the sea will show you just how formidable a stronghold it was. This castle was never taken by force though long sieges saw its defenders starved into submission or - in the case of the Ottoman defeat of the Venetians - forced into surrender by the evidence of the brutalities they would face if they didn't comply.
Best viewed from the breakwater, the tower at the north-eastern corner was built by the Lusignans and left unaltered by the Venetians. The much larger tower on the south-east corner and all the south and western walls (these are best seen from the west, across the ancient harbour) were built by the Venetians, extending the castle well beyond the limits of earlier building.
It is possible to walk around the ramparts of the castle - a howling gale deterred us somewhat but we braved it for a bit as the views from points between the crenellations are suberb.
Some of the buildings on the harbourside were once carob warehouses (there are lots of these dotted along the coastline).
Look carefully as you walk towards the castle. You'll spot a hefty chunk of wall (almost a buttress) sticking out. .......that's part of the Medieval town walls. and the two hunks of stone with holes drilled through them were once mooring points for the huge carob-cargo ships.
But if you didn't know that, you probably wouldn't notice (I did, but history/architecture/archaeology is my 'thing') for very little of historical interest is signed in Kyrenia.
This Guide gives the Visitor several alternatives of Things and Places to visit while in the round area of Kyrenia. The Tips will help you choose the Best Spots Not to be Missed. The list is...