Located near the sea, the Kyrenia Mountains were of strategic importance. Three castles were built on the peaks: St. Hilarion, Buffavento, and Kantara. All located in the North, I got to see the former two.
The best preserved of the three strongholds, its location provided the castle with command of the pass road from Kyrenia to Nicosia. Today, there is a military base beneath the site, meaning you cannot take pictures on the road up.
St. Hilarion was originally a monastery built in the 10th century. Starting in the 11th century, the Byzantines began fortification to defend against Arab pirates raiding the coast. During Lusignan rule, some sections were further upgraded and it may have been used as a summer residence.
The castle has three divisions or wards built on different levels. The first section was for soldiers and the castle workers; it contains cisterns, stables, and other structures. The second ward consisted of a church, the royal apartments and hall, and kitchen.
The third section begins in the internal garden where there is a kitchen, cisterns, and subsidiary buildings. To the west, the Lusignan period Royal rooms are located. The Gothic style windows in this section are known as the Queen windows.
The top of the castle is located here, 732m (2,401ft) from sea level with a great view of the surrounding area, though also incredibly windy.
Much of the castle was dismantled by the Venetians in the 15th century to reduce the up-keeping cost of garrisons.
The castle’s influence did not end with its ruin; it is said that the Walt Disney production of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was inspired by St. Hilarion, making it the original Disney Castle.
The original plan was to see both St. Hilarion and Buffavento on the same day. However, due to a car malfunction (it wouldn’t accelerate meaning we couldn’t go up any hills), we decided to try again the next day with a new car, unfortunately meaning we had to buy new insurance at the checkpoint. Getting to Buffavento means driving windy, cliff-side roads that can be scary to drive but provide great views of the valley below. There is free access to the castle 24/7 and it is much more off the beaten path in terms of tourism than St. Hilarion.
Buffavento is located at 950m (3,116ft) above sea level, which can create some fierce winds giving the castle its name “Defier of the Winds.” Because of its location between St. Hilarion and Kantara, it was used to pass signals between them.
The lowest part of the castle was likely built by the Byzantines in the 11th century. The Lusignans expanded it in the 14th century.
Once again, when Venetians took control of the island, Buffavento fell into disrepair with the coastal castles of Kyrenia and Famagusta becoming more important.
We chose a good day to see Buffavento as the winds were barely existent. Both the castles require strenuous climbing of stairs with often little to no support in terms of handrails, especially at Buffavento. Getting to the top was always worth it, however, due to the great views the two castles provided.