Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kyrenia Castle & the Shipwreck Museum

St. Hillarion Castle on top of distant mountain
One day a few weeks ago while Glenn was visiting we set out to drive to St. Hillarion Castle, sometimes called the Snow White Castle because it is commonly thought that the castle depicted in the Disney movie was modeled after St. Hillarion.  The castle is located high in the Five Finger Mountain range near Girne (current name for the old city of Kyrenia).  Only the physically fit person should attempt to visit St. Hillarion.  It is touted as a one-hour climb/steep hike up from the car parking level to the castle.   Bill thought that I would never be able to handle the steep walk up at that altitude.  I brought a walking stick and figured I would go as far as I could; Bill and Glenn could go up ahead without me.  Bill didn't have the opportunity to be proven right because we got side-tracked in Girne and never made it up to St. Hillarion.  We visited the Kyrenia Castle at the old harbor in Girne instead.

Kyrenia Castle, a/k/a Girne Castle
Kyrenia Castle is also called Girne Castle today, but is far better known by its former name.  This is one large castle!  It is situated right on the old city harbor.  The first historical reference to the castle is 1191 A.D. when Richard the Lionheart captured the island of Cyprus from King Isak Komnen when Richard was on his way to the Holy Land during the Third Crusade.  No one knows who originally built Kyrenia Castle.  It has been modified and enlarged many times over millenia.  Excavations throughout the castle have revealed Hellenistic-Roman traces which date back to 7th century B.C.  It is likely that the castle was originally built to defend Kyrenia from Arab raids.  

Glenn outside Kyrenia Castle

The three of us must not have been very bright this particular day.  We walked completely around this large castle searching for the entrance.  Never found it.  The walls were unbroken completely around this big structure; no entrances, not even window openings in the stone walls. 
We then decided to walk around the adjacent old Venetian Harbor on the western side of the castle. 
There we found a tourist information office and the kind gentlemen directed us to the castle entrance -- at an upper level. 
Judy outside Kyrenia Castle
No wonder we didn't find the entrance; we hadn't been looking high enough.  Silly us; we were looking for an entrance on the ground level.  Seems that at some later years a moat of sorts was added surrounding the land side of the castle, and the only entrance through those very high castle walls was on an upper level that crossed the moat (which is now a road).  

Old Venetian Harbor
Settlement in the area dates back to the neolithic era.    During the 10th century B.C. the Phoenicians settled on the island of Cyprus and established Girne as a trading post.  During the Bronze Age the population in the region grew.  Until 312 B.C. Kyrenia was an independent city kingdom, but then was taken over by Salamis.  The name Girne is believed to date back to that time, so both Kyrenia and Girne are found throughout history used interchangeably for this small seaside city.  Ptolemy (of Egyptian fame) was known as King of Salamis.  Ptolemy referred to the town as Keravnia, which means Aphrodite with the Thunderbolt. 

Sidewalk cafes around old Venetian Harbor
Looking down from top of castle wall

During Roman times the area was granted a relatively large amount of autonomy, allowing Cyprus to develop along its own lines.  Girne was Christian even before Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.  During Roman rule the importance of the port for access to markets in Asia Minor helped the city grow in both stature and status.  

Collapsed Roman seawall extension

Looking down from the top of the castle wall, we could see the remains of an extension of the harbor wall that had been built by the Romans.  That extension has long-since collapsed but is still visible beneath the surface of the water.  Also, nearby are some Greco-Roman rock graves.

Inside castle courtyard

After a short period, King Richard sold the island first to the Templar Knights.  Then shortly afterward King Richard sold the island to his cousin Guy de Lusignan, the former King of Jerusalem.  Thus began the Frankish Lusignan rule of Cyprus which lasted for about 300 years (1192 to 1489).  The Lusignans divided Cyprus into feudal states.

Way down to the dungeons

Initially the castle was fairly small.  It was first enlarged between 1208 and 1211 during the reign of King John d'Ibelin.  Its main purpose was military, which was reflected in the buildings and functions of the castle.  Using the Byzantium style of fortification, a new entrance was added.  Also added were a square, several horseshoe-shaped towers, strongly built embrasures for archers and several dungeons.

St. George Church inside castle today
The castle was almost entirely destroyed during the Genoese raids in 1373.  By 1489 the Venetians took control of the island.  They also adapted and enlarged the castle and it took on its present day structure. 

During this period, thick fortified walls were built adjoining and encasing the original castle and walls.  Wide embrasures for cannons were built. 
Dome of St. George Church; old Venetian Harbor

When renovations to the castle were completed, the walls of the castle also encompassed the small church of St. George.  The church of St. George is thought to have been built by the Byzantines during the 1100s.

On top of castle wall
In 1571 the local people of Girne surrendered to the Ottomans without a single shot being fired in Girne.  In the corridor leading up to the Lusignan Tower there is a tomb of the Ottoman Admiral Sadik Pasha.  This bloodless surrender likely resulted because the local folks had heard of or had seen the horrific shelling of Famagusta on the southern side of the island and felt it was fruitless to fight the Ottomans.  Girne entered a period of decline after the Ottoman conquest due to the fact that as part of the greater Ottoman Empire, and surrounded by lands under Ottoman control, the strategic and economic value of Cyprus was neglected.  

One of the tourist brochures claims that all additions made by the Ottomans were destroyed during the British colonial rule.  

Another of the tourist brochures claims that after the British took over the administration of Cyprus in 1889 they attempted to improve and renovate Girne harbor with the idea to increase trade and shipping.  However, it was difficult for the harbor to shake off its reputation as a 'ship-wrecker.'  When one sees how destructive winter northerly winds can be in this area it is easy to understand how this harbor came by this reputation.  

Inner courtyard top level Kyrenia Castle
So it is unclear to me whether this city languished and declined during Ottoman rule or if the Ottomans did indeed make any improvements during their ruling years.

The British took control in 1889 and remained in control of Cyprus until 1960.  During this time the castle was used as a prison and a police academy for new recruits.  Since 1960, it has been open to the public.  

One of several 'modern' artillery mounts on top of castle walls

However, between 1963 and 1974 the castle was used mainly for military purposes by the Greek Cypriot army.  Mounted on top of the castle walls are several stands for automatic weapons used by the Greek Cypriot army.  Since 1974 the Department of Antiquities and Museums of The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has been responsible for all aspects of the castle's preservation and use.

Ancient cistern inside castle
Inside tiled cistern

One thing we found particularly interesting is that inside the huge courtyard of the castle there is a large underground water cistern.  This answered our question as to what in the world the people on this island did for fresh water. 
Exterior opening to cistern
It does not rain on Cyprus for a minimum of 8 months per year.  The farmers wait all year for a very small amount of rain during only a couple of months.  We could not figure out how people lived on this island with so little water, especially back in the days prior to desalination.  We assumed there must have been cisterns or wells but had seen no evidence of these anywhere on the island.  This was the first cistern we had found. 

Shoot arrows through this narrow slit
Archers must have been short
As we roamed around the tops of the walls surrounding the castle, Glenn noted that the archers of those ancient times must have been fairly short.  Glenn is 5'6" and could just fit inside the places where archers stood to shoot arrows down upon invaders.  Like Kantara Castle, which must have been built and modified at around the same times as Kyrenia Castle, there were many very narrow long slits for archers to shoot outwards. 

No idea what this was
I never figured out what this crumbling part of the castle might have been used for.  The crumbling upper part of this "structure" was open on the top of the outer castle walls.  People were climbing all around this open area.  Loose stones made for non-secure footing.  And inside the circle was a sheer drop of more than 50 feet.  Can you imagine such an unsafe area being open to the public in the United States!!

2300 year old sunken Phoenician merchant ship
Close-up of strakes
Inside the castle is housed the Shipwreck Museum.  This is what we really wanted to see!  This tiny museum is dedicated to a tiny Phoenician merchant ship over 2300 years old.  A local sponge fisherman found the sunken remains in 1965.  The wreck was about 1.5 kilometers north of Kyrenia at a depth of 18 meters.  It was salvaged by marine archaelogists from Pennsylvania University between 1967 - 69.  The tiny ship is the earliest trading vessel yet discovered anywhere.   I had read about this discovery years ago and had wanted to see it for a long time.  Did not know that it was located here on Cyprus.  Neat!!

Cross view replica of how ship was loaded

The ship was 15 meters in length and was constructed of Aleppo pine.  The wooden surface of the ship was coated with a strong lacquer to protect it against Mediterranean wood-boring maggot.

Replica section showing lead covering hull

The hull was also covered with vertical lead panels.  We thought these were copper, but the signs stated the panels were lead.  These also were to protect the wooden hull from marine growth, worms and maggots.

Amphoras salvaged from wreck

Cargo on this final voyage that was found still with the shipwreck included 400 large amphoras (storage vases), 29 basalt millstones and 9000 almonds.  Finding the almonds was a big deal because scientists can learn much about ancient crops and insects by testing these almonds. About 300 lead weights found with the wreck indicate that the ship was also used for fishing.  Or, at least the crew did some fishing, even if just for their own needs.

salvaged cargo of almonds

We got a real kick out of one of the statements on a sign in the museum.  The marine archaeologists determined that this ship had a crew of 4 during her final voyage.  They determined the number of crew based on the number of drinking cups found with the wreck.  Also by the number of wooden spoons found with the wreck.  Excuse me?  Because only 4 cups and 4 spoons are found with a 2300 year-old wreck one assumes that there were only 4 persons aboard?  That is faulty logic.  Wooden spoons could have easily been separated from the wreckage during the past 2300 years.  And to assume that the crew numbered 4 because there were 4 cups is quite a stretch.  Bill and I very often share a single drinking cup during passages.  It is easier than having 2 cups or glasses sliding around in the cockpit, so we share a single glass.  Does that mean there is only a crew of 1 on our boat?  Or, if one wanted to count all the drinking glasses on our boat, would that mean to a future marine archaeologist that there was a crew of 22 on our boat?  Maybe there was a crew of 4 on this old ship.  But it is a stretch to arrive at that number of crew simply based on the fact that only 4 drinking cups were found with the wreck.

The ship was built in 389 B.C. and was about 80 years old when it sank.  To put this in perspective for our non-sailing friends, this Phoenician merchant ship is just a bit more than 3 feet shorter in length than S/V BeBe.

I was frankly amazed that there were several wooden blocks or pulleys that had survived this long at the bottom of the sea.  Diagrams were provided indicating how this tiny ship was rigged.  The illustration below shows where this single-sheave block was used to hold and trim sails

More photos later emailed to us from Glenn: 
Kyrenia Harbor -- The old Venetian Harbor
Glenn in arrow shooting space Kyrenia Castle

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comment will be posted after we confirm that you are not a cyber stalker.