Sunday, March 25, 2012

Snow White's Castle, a/k/a St. Hilarion Castle

St. Hilarion Castle way up there
St. Hilarion Castle is named after a hermit who fled from Palestine in the seventh century.   But the castle is better known as being the inspiration to Walt Disney for the castle depicted in "Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs."  Situated on the top of a mountain overlooking the large coastal city of Girne, a/k/a Kyrenia, this ancient castle does indeed resemble the castle I remember seeing in Snow White so many years ago.  The towers used in many Disney animations are very similar to the towers of this castle.

St. Hilarion Castle from lower level Sec 1

Looking down at Girne one can easily spot Kyrenia Castle, which we visited last autumn when Glenn Martin visited us.  Kyrenia Castle is a very large castle; but when viewed from the top of St. Hilarion Castle, it looks very small.  

Only entrance--on 2nd level
St. Hilarion is one of the 4 crusader castles on the island of Cyprus which served as look-outs for marauding Arabs.  Previously we visited Kantara Castle, which is the lowest of the mountaintop castles and also is the farthest east on the island. 
Church in St. Hilarion Castle
Then we visited Kyrenia Castle down on the seaside.  And this week we toured St. Hilarion, the westernmost.  The highest (and centrally located) crusader castle is Buffavento, but we won't attempt to visit that one because it supposedly is in a state of total disintegration and the road leading up to it is quite bad.   Buffavento is situated at 930 meters above sea level and was used as a prison for 300 years.  Frankly, St. Hilarion is plenty high enough, thank you.

Find big Kyrenia Castle down by the sea?
St. Hilarion is situated at 732 meters above sea level.  The views are spectacular on clear days.  And we had chosen the perfect day for this trip. 
Steep steps way up
There was a haze in the distance and we could not see Turkey, but it was a sunny day on Cyprus and we could see the whole island and a good 20 miles out to sea.  And there was no wind for a change.  It would not be pleasant to be up that high on a typical windy day.  The road up to the castle goes right through the middle of the TRNC military training base. 
Rest break to breathe again

Still stepping up
Photography is prohibited while on this road.  And the road is closed during training exercises.   From the top of the castle we could see a large shooting range right next to a section of the road, hidden from street view only by large bushes.  Probably wise to close off the road when that shooting range is being used.

First level inside barbican of St. Hilarion Castle

2nd level St. Hilarion Castle
This is the main castle in Cyprus and the one with the most impressive architecture.  St. Hilarion is also known as Dieu D'Amour.  In ancient times this area was known as Didymos (pronounced DEE-dee-mas, meaning twins) because of the two peaks that were separated by a valley.  This name was mispronounced by the first Latin settlers and the name Dieu D'Amour became widely used to the amusement of the local citizens.  

3rd level St. Hilarion Castle up there
Arabs attacked Cyprus off and on between the 7th century and the 10th century.  The first observation tower of St. Hilarion was built at some point during those years.  Written accounts state that the castle was present when Richard the Lionheart took the island in 1191.   The castle was refurbished and developed during the Lusignan period.  The fact that this castle always stayed cool even in hot weather made it a point of attraction for the Lusignan nobles.  It was also a point of refuge for them.  St. Hilarion was emptied and left vacant in 1489 when the Venetians took the island.

The biggest tragedy of this castle was that of Prince John of Antioch, brother of Peter I, king of Cyprus in the early-to-mid 1300s.  Prince John and his family moved to the castle to be protected from the Genoese attacks.  His sister-in-law Queen Eleanor despised Prince John, believing him responsible for the assassination of her husband King Peter.  She convinced Prince John that his Bulgarian mercenary bodyguards were secretly plotting against him.  Prince John called his guards in one-by-one and dropped them off the highest point of the castle, at a spot now known as Prince John Tower.  Afterwards, Queen Eleanor invited Prince John to dinner at the palace in Nicosia.  His advisers pleaded with him not to attend because he had no bodyguards (having thrown them all off the castle).  He went anyway and was stabbed to death by servants under the orders of Queen Eleanor.  (Please note that this is Queen Eleanor of Aragon, not to be confused with Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine who lived 300 years earlier in a completely different part of Europe.)

St. Hilarion Castle is constructed of 3 main sections built in different levels.  The first and lowest section was built for soldiers and castle workers.  It contains cisterns, stables and  other utilitarian structures.  The barbican that protects the main entrance has been fortified with horseshoe shaped towers.  Beneath the entrance supposedly sits a plain semi-circular area where the kingdom weaponry was held.  We did not see this area.

The second level consists of a church, the royal apartments and hall, the kitchen, another cistern, a pantry , workshop, barracks, rudimentary Middle Age toilets, and rooms for the castellan (the guy who organized all the workers and soldiers and ran the castle).  The entrance could only be reached through a large closed door and a bridge that could be pulled up.  The 10th century Byzantine church dominates the eastern side of this level and has interesting architecture.

Castellon Room in St. Hilarion Castle
Several of the rooms have mannequins in period costumes depicting daily activities.  The views are gorgeous.  This middle level is spread over a large area of the mountaintop. 
2nd level kitchen, St. Hilarion Castle
As one exits from this level (facing the sea to northward) there are steep worn stone steps leading up to the third level.  There is a sheer drop of hundreds of feet, so these steps were not accessible by climbing up the mountain; one could only reach the royal apartments or the uppermost level of the castle via the main entrance on the southern side.  The tourist literature stated that there used to be some very steep steps leading directly up to the third level, but these are long since crumbled away. 
One of many towers St. Hilarion Castle
Now there are stone steps that switch back and forth leading to the uppermost level.  Thank goodness they have installed a sturdy metal handrail alongside most of these steps.   I thought these steps were plenty steep; I can only imagine what the castle caretakers considered steep steps.  I was really huffing and puffing on this climb up, even with frequent rest stops and using a walking stick.
Never found the royal apts.
At the top level there is an internal garden, another kitchen with an inside oven, more cisterns and a few other buildings.  On the western side are the Lusignan period royal rooms.  Bill opted to walk that direction but he never found any royal rooms.  Instead, he found a sign stating that the royal rooms were below on the second level.  (Remember, on the second level there was a sign stating that the royal rooms were on the third level.  Oh well; guess we weren't meant to see the royal quarters.)

Prince John Tower
Looking down from Prince John Tower

I opted to take the extremely steep steps to the left and out to the isolated Prince John Tower.  Entrance into the tower is impossible as there is no floor inside.  Wish they had put that on a sign at the bottom of the steps and saved me the effort of getting all the way up and out there.

Abandoned Greek tiny church

On the long drive back eastward to the marina we stopped at one of the abandoned little Greek churches.  Like all the others on this side of the island, it had been looted and vandalized.  

Inside abandoned Greek church
We have wondered why there are so many of these tiny churches scattered all over the island.  Apparently, many of these were built to keep the Arabs from taking the land.  

Rear of tiny church

Ruins of several nearby bldgs
Taking religious property was not allowed for religious reasons when the Arabs were invading the SE Med all those centuries ago.  So these churches were built all over the islands claiming the land to be religious property.  I don't know how true that story is.  I have my doubts.  But that is what we have been told.  There were remnants of several buildings around the abandoned church on the hillside overlooking the sea.

Bill says he is now 'castled out.'  When we toured SE Asia he got 'templed out.'  Another friend told me that by the time she left the Med she was 'ruined out.'  I am not sure how many more castles I will be able to drag Bill to see.  For that matter, I'm not sure how many more I am physically able to climb to see.  This one really wore me out and my legs hurt for days afterward.  There is one more that I would like to see about 50 miles from Alanya Turkey.  Maybe by the time we get over there Bill will have forgotten how tired he is of seeing old castles and I will have forgotten how sore my legs got and how my heart pounded climbing those steep steps.  Surely we can visit just one more.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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