Queen Charlotte of Cyprus was blockaded there for three years and King Richard the Lionheart captured it on his way to the Third Crusade in 1191, which is when we first hear about it. It is an imposing and spectacular structure overlooking the harbour where yachts are docked and cafeterias are situated as a backdrop and this view makes for impressive pictures. Back in 2005, when I visited Kyrenia for the first time, I took pictures of the castle which are now framed, hanging on the wall. So what is its history?
It is a 16th Century castle built by the Venetians over a previous Crusader fortification. Within its walls lies a 12th Century chapel showing reused late Roman capitals and the Shipwreck Museum. Kyrenia has existed since the 10th Century BC. Excavations have found Greek traces that date back to the 7th Century BC and Kyrenia developed into a city under Roman rule.
The Byzantines built the original castle in the 7th Century to guard the city against the new Arab maritime threat. In 1191, King Richard the Lionheart of England captured it after defeating the upstart Isaac Comnenus who had proclaimed himself ruler and had ill treated Richard’s wife to be Princess Berengaria of Navarre and his sister the Queen Dowager. He then sold the island to the Knight’s Templar, then to his cousin Guy de Lusignan, former king of Jerusalem.
This began the 300 years of the Frankish Lusignan Kingdom of Cyprus. Initially the castle was quite small. John d’Ibelin enlarged it between 1208 and 1211. The castle’s main function was military and was subjected to several sieges, such as the Genoese attack in 1373, which almost destroyed the castle. The longest among the sieges in the 15th Century lasted nearly four years and the unfortunate occupants had to eat mice and rats.
By 1489, the Venetians took control. In 1540, the castle was enlarged which is its present day appearance. It has a small church of St George which the Byzantines may have built in the 11th or 12th Century. In 1570, Kyrenia surrendered to the Ottomans who made changes to the castle. The British removed these during their occupation and the castle was used as a police barracks and training school and a prison during EOKA. A moat full of water existed prior to the 14th Century and served as a harbour to the castle.
The castle now stands, a historical reference of the different phases of Cyprus’ varied history and is worth a visit.