Spring Break: Castles in the Kyrenia Mountains

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.

St. Hilarion

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.

A view of the road leading up to St. Hilarion from the castle.

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.

A view of St. Hilarion from the base of the castle.

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.

Entrance to the base of St. Hilarion.
The castle walls up against the mountain.
Remains of the church at St. Hilarion.
Stairs leading downwards to another section of St. Hilarion.
The author climbing sloped steps up to a tower. Photo courtesy of Geoff Kuenning.

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 Royal rooms of the Lusignan period.
The author sitting at one of the Queen windows. Photo courtesy of Geoff Kuenning.

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.

The author at the top of St. Hilarion. Photo courtesy of Geoff Kuenning.

Much of the castle was dismantled by the Venetians in the 15th century to reduce the up-keeping cost of garrisons.

A view of the continuing mountains through a cutout.
One of the Gothic style windows in the Royal rooms.
A view of Kyrenia and the sea from St. Hilarion.

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.

A view of the walls of Buffavento.

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 Kyrenia Mountains looking towards St. Hilarion.

The lowest part of the castle was likely built by the Byzantines in the 11th century. The Lusignans expanded it in the 14th century.

An archway with the ocean in the background.
A doorway into a small room at Buffavento.


Once again, when Venetians took control of the island, Buffavento fell into disrepair with the coastal castles of Kyrenia and Famagusta becoming more important.

My father taking a picture of the Kyrenia Mountains.
My father posing at the top of Buffavento.
Graffiti at the top of Buffavento.

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.


3 thoughts on “Spring Break: Castles in the Kyrenia Mountains

  1. Beautiful photographs. You and your Dad are true adventurers. Knowing that wind is your favorite element, you must have loved summiting these two castles. I hope you weren’t disappointed by the relative calm on Buffavento (Defier of the Winds). Breath-taking views from both castles. I love your framing on a lot of these photos.


  2. The picture of you standing next to the cut-out soldier, coat puffed up and almost blowing off the lookout, really demonstrates the wind power at that height. I also love the shot of you sitting in the Queen’s Window looking out with your hair blowing horizontally! With all those steps and climbing I would have had a very hard time keeping up with you two, though it certainly was worth the climb to get to the top to see those views.
    BTW: Next time I fall into a fit of uncontrolable laughter, I’ll have to remember my new patron saint of hilarity, St. Hilarion!


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