St Hilarion Castle in Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus
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St. Hilarion Castle


St. Hilarion Castle
photo by: TAK News Agency
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St Hilarion the hermit

St Hilarion Castle is named after a hermit and monk who escaped from persecution in Palestine, and lived on the mountain where the castle stands today. The saint resisted the cries of tempting demons who stalked the mountain in the 7th century AD with ease – because he was stone deaf and couldn’t hear them. Eventually the demons left him, and the mountain, in peace.

St Hilarion, the Crusader Castle

By the 10th century, a Byzantine chapel and monastery has been added to the site of the saint’s tomb, joined by a fort in the 12th century. Richard the Lionheart captured the castle on his way to the Third Crusade, and the later Lusignan kings fortified it further. St Hilarion is one of three Crusader castles along the Northern Cyprus coastline, and together with the castles at Buffavento and Kantara, defended the island from pirates and various invaders.


St. Hilarion Castle Outside
photo by: Kenan Erden
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The Dieu d’Amour – fit for a king!

The kings also enjoyed staying in the castle during the summer months, when the mountain air kept the castle cool and comfortable. The French called it the “Dieu d’Amour”, which some have seen as a reference to the legend of the ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, who has strong links with Cyprus. More likely it’s a French corruption of the original Byzantine name for the fort, Didymos. The Venetians dismantled large sections of the castle to reduce the cost of upkeep in the 15th century. However, St Hilarion Castle came into its own again during the Cyprus conflicts of the 1960s, when a group of Turkish militia easily held off an attack by the Greek Cypriot National Guard.

St Hilarion Castle and Disney’s Snow White: the link

With its system of three sets of defensive walls and towers, topped with the redoubt, the castle certainly has a fairy-tale look about it. The writer Rose Macaulay called it ”a picture-book castle for elf-kings” and the rumour still persists that Walt Disney based Snow White’s castle on this North Cyprus original. At the bottom of the complex is the bailey, a courtyard inside the walls containing the stables and barracks. You climb steadily to another gate, which leads into the royal apartments and past the Byzantine church and dining hall. Onwards and upwards, you will discover another set of apartments, another dining hall and more barracks, before finally reaching the tower at the very summit of the twin peaked mountain. From here, the view across to Kyrenia and along the coastline is simply amazing.


St. Hilarion Castle Inside
photo by: Kenan Erden
[ enlarge photo ]

Visiting St Hilarion Castle in Northern Cyrpus

Getting to St Hilarion Castle is certainly an adventure, as the narrow road to the castle winds between rocky crags and past an army camp. Don’t be tempted to stop and take any photos, though, this is forbidden so close to a military base. It’s a good climb up through the various layers of defence at St Hilarion, so during the North Cyprus summer, time your visit for either early or late in the day summer to avoid the midday heat.

Paragliding in North Cyprus

For the adrenaline junkie, the position of St Hilarion castle makes it a great place for paragliding, ideal for thermal flying. You must always fly with an approved company or tour, however, as there are military bases nearby.