Kyrenia, North Cyprus
Beautiful Kyrenia (Girne) in North Cyprus
Kyrenia can lay claim to being the most attractive town on the Northern Cyprus coast, and few could disagree! The picturesque harbour, the fascinating old quarter of town plus the range of golden sandy beaches within easy reach make it a must-visit on your holiday in North Cyprus.
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History of Kyrenia
Kyrenia was first settled by mainland Greeks, and they soon made use of local quarried stone to build their town. The Kyrenia town grew in population, and was well established by Roman times. In the seventh century, Arab raids made living on the coastline of North Cyprus dangerous, and Kyrenia’s basic defence walls were useless the marauding raiders. The citizens of Kyrenia quickly built a defensive castle, the first of four that were to stand in the same spot, overlooking the modern harbour. (The ancient harbour had been further east).
Venetian Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus
By 1300, the town was well defended, with a moat around the castle and the entrance to the port secured by a chain right across it, preventing ships from entering without permission. The Venetians came and improved the defences no end, enlarging the castle and forming the shape of the harbour that we see today. They also built fine buildings in Kyrenia itself; the Folk Museum is housed in one such three storey house.
After the Venetians were defeated in 1571, many Ottoman military men stayed behind in Cyprus to colonise the island, and others came from mainland Turkey with their families. The Ottoman Empire gave such settlers generous tax breaks and other incentives to move, and by 1878 there were 95,00 Turkish Cypriots on the island.
Kyrenia's population through the years
The town’s population fluctuated between just a few families in the early 1800s to thousands in the first years on the 20th century. During the British administration, Kyrenia became a popular place to retire for British officials, and despite the upheaval of the events of 1974, it is still a popular place for British ex-pats today.
Kyrenia (Girne) Today
As soon as you arrive at the Kyrenia harbour, you can see immediately why Kyrenia in North Cyprus is so popular. The graceful arc of the harbour side is filled with the tables of restaurants and cafés, ideal for sitting back and simply watching the world go by. The former carob warehouses have been converted into restaurants and shops, giving the harbour a bustling lively feel without feeling rushed or crowded.
The harbour is dominated by the impressive Kyrenia Castle, which sits at the mouth of the harbour. It’s a great castle to visit and explore, and you get some great views of the town from the top. The Castle also houses the Kyrenia Shipwreck Museum, where the remains of an ancient trading ship, pulled from the mud just outside the harbour, are preserved.
Shopping in Kyrenia, North Cyprus
Back from the harbour, the narrow medieval town streets wind amongst shops, workshops and historic buildings, such as the Djafer Pasa mosque, dating from around 1570. It’s a fascinating wander up and down the steps that link the streets of Kyrenia, so take you time, to stop and admire a craftsman at work or just catch a glimpse a hidden walled garden. You can shop at the Municipal Market for your fruit and vegetables to take back to your North Cyprus villa, then drop in at the Round Tower Gallery, housed in a former town walls defence tower, for local North Cyprus crafts.
You really can’t help but walk on history in Kyrenia; under your feet are over 70 catacomb tombs cut into the limestone, many of which have long since been built over. Kyrenia’s former churches have been put to various uses, such as housing the Icon Museum, whereas other exists as picturesque ruins. The outskirts of Kyrenia have grown immensely in recent years due to new development, but the historic heart still beats with life and interest all year round.
Many consider Kyrenia THE place to visit on a North Cyprus holiday.
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