The History of Kyrenia

Guzelyurt – A Place Like its Name “Beautiful Land”

Guzelyurt – Beautiful Land

In Turkish “Guzelyurt” means “Beautiful Land” and how apt this is for small yet charming town situated between Nicosia and Lefke. This is the part of this beautiful island where the greatest concentration of the citrus groves for which Cyprus is famous can be found. Indeed, this whole corner of the island is resplendently green but also blessed with a wealth of historical sites for the visitor to see. Although the region is rightly famous for its oranges, lemons, mandarins and grapefruit, the abundant water of the terrain also allows a host of other seasonal crops such as melon, watermelon, potatoes, pomegranate, and others to be grown here making this North Cyprus’ most productive agricultural region.

Set inn the foothills of and with splendid views of the Troodos Mountains, Guzelyurt’s mild climate is perfect for the production of citrus. The vast majority of North Cyprus’ exports of this vital crop are from region. Every year, in June and July, the Guzelyurt Orange Festival is held bringing a great social and cultural vitality to the region.

Along with its rich natural splendour though, Guzelyurt is home to a wealth of important historical sites such as the ancient of Soli, the ruins of the Vouni Palace, The Bronze Age settlement of Toumba Tou Skourou and the Church of Aya Mamas in the centre of Guzelyurt. The region is also home to two of Cyprus’ leading universities: The North Cyprus campus of Turkey’s renowned Middle East Technical University at Kalkanli and The Lefke European University situated in Lefke.

Guzelyurt can easily be reached by road and is 40 km from Nicosia and 47 km from Kyrenia. In addition to the main highway via Nicosia, there is also a pleasant sea and mountain road from Kyrenia.

The hospitable people of Guzelyurt are ever ready to share the rich culture, fascinating historical sites and wonderful natural beauty of this region with the visitor.

The History of Guzelyurt

Whilst the definite date of Guzelyurt’s first settlement isn’t known, remains and artifacts from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages have been discovered in the vicinity of the town. One story relates that Morphou was founded by Spartans amigrating from Greece who brought with them the worship of Aphrodite. Prior to 1974 the town was knows as Morphou but was changed to the Turkish, Guzelyurt which carries the same meaning of beautiful land.




The ancient Greek writer Homer started the Lambousa, along with Salamais and Paphos, was founded by Achaeans returning from the Trojan Wars around 1200 years B.C.E. The ph’losopher Strabo in the other hand, claimed that it was founded by the Spartan King Praxandros around the same time. Yet another tale relates that the city was founded by Belus, King of Tyre, in the 8th century B.C.E as a Phoenecian colony. During the proto-christian period and Byzantine Period, Lambousa moved to its present site by the sea from whence it gained great wealth partly also because of its port and its shipyard.

During the christian period it was also the centre of one of the 14 Bishoprics. During this period it was given the name Lambousa, meaning “shining”, maybe because of its shining wealth. it is thought the city fell into ruin as a result of either Arab pirate raids or due to earthquakes. It is related that tales of Lambousa’s wealth attracted Arab raiders who laid siege to the city in the year 654 A.D In return for their lives and freedom to leave the city unmolested the Arabs demanded the inhabitants surrender their possessions and jewelery. However, subsequent archaeological excavations appear to reveal that the Lambousans, instead of surrendering their possessions to the raiders, hid them in walls and ceilings.

During the Lusignan and Venetian Periods. Lambousa was known under the name Le field de la Pison and was the property of a wealthy feudal lord. It was during the Lusignan Period that Lambousa was abandoned by its inhabitants who left to found nearby Lapithos. In the 18th century, a section of Lapithos was split off to form a new village. Karavas, the present day Alsancak, and the ruins of the ancient city of Lambousa were utilised to supply stones fro the construction of the new village. This led to the disappearance of much of the ancient city.

Today, amongst the features of Lambousa that can be seen are the Akhiriopietos Monastery (6th-16th century), the St. Evlalios Church (16th century), the Queen’s Bath, remains of the city walls and carved funerary chambers.


Buffavento Castle

Buffavento Castle

Buffavento Castle is situated on the top of the Five Finger Mountains range at a heught of 950 metres. It was built as a defence against Arab raids and as a signals post. It has been variously known as “The Lion Castle” and “The One Hundred and One Houses”. During the Lusignan Period (1192-1489) it was used as a prison and this is when it was known as “The Lion Castle”. The name Buffavento was given to it by the italians and means “Defier of the Winds”. An ancient myth relates that there were 101 rooms in the castle and that whosoever passes through the door of the lost  101st room would inherit a treasure.

buffavento castle cyprus

The lowest part of the castle was probably built by Byzantines in the 11th century. The base was expanded by the Lusignans in the 14th century. It is not regular in shape as it makes use of the mountain itself for its defense. During the Venetian period Buffavento, like the other mountain strongholds of St. Hilarion and Kantara, fell into disuse as the costal castles of Cyprus, such as Kyrenia and Famagusta, became more important for the defence of Cyprus.

Another tale related to the castle tells of a Byzantine princess who, suffering from leprosy had retreated to the castle. Her dog also suffered from the same disease and one day the princess noticed that the skin of her dog had begun to heal. Following him she saw the animal bathed in a spring far below the castle. She did the same and was cured. In gratitude, she founded the Monastery of Ayios loannis Chrysostomos at the spot near the water source.

St. Hilarion Castle

St. Hilarion Castle

The castle is the main castle in Cyprus and one with the most impressive architecture. The name of the Saint Hilarion castle, also known as Dieu D’Amour belongs to a saint who is believed to have lived here. The second name came about with a word trick that was liked by many in the Middle Ages. In the old times this area was known as Didymos (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.

St. Hilarion Castle

St. Hilarion was one of the many castles built on the highest point of mountains to protect the Cypriot public from attacks by the Arabs. This protection chain also involved castles in Kyrenia, Buffavento and Kantara. The Arab attacks started in the 7th century and continued until the 10 th century with breaks in between. In this respect it is being predicted that the first observation tower here was built during the years these attacks took place. Also, written accounts state that the castle was present when Richard the Lionheart took the island in 1191.

St. Hilarion Castle

The castle was refurbished and developed during the Lusignan period. The fact that unlike the other castle in Cyprus, the garden in St. Hilarion always stayed cool even in hot weather and the chance to see one of the best sceneries in Cyprus made it the point of attraction for Lusignan nobles. The castle was also a point of refuge for the Lusignan nobles.

The castle was emptied and left vacant in 1489 when the Venetians the island.

St. Hilarion Castle

The biggest tragedy of this castle that has faced many tragedies and successes has been that of the Prince John of Antioch, brother of Peter I, King of Cyprus. The prince and his family started living in the castle in order to be protected from the Genoese attacks. John, due to the lies of Queen Eleanor, believed that his loyal Bulgarian mercenaries were secretly plotting against him. Prince got really upset at this incident and called his guards one by one to the castle and dropped them off the highest point. It is being predicted that this took place at what is now known as the Prince John Tower.

St. Hilarion Castle

The castle is made up three main sections that are built in different levels. The 1st section is built for soldiers and the castle workers and contains cisterns, stables and other structures. The barbican that protects the main entrance has been fortified with horseshoe shaped tower. It is predicted that underneath the entrance, which is an example of good architecture, in the plain and semi circular area were the kingdom weaponry and the picture of the saint.

St. Hilarion Castle

The second section consists of a church, the royal apartments and hall, kitchen, cistern and rooms that belong to the castellan as well as a pantry workshop, barracks and Middle Age toilets. The entrance could only be reached through a large closed door and a bridge that could be pulled up. The 10th century Byzantine church had an impressive architecture.

St. Hilarion Castle

The climb up to the third section starts with a steep pathway that used to have stairs, which made the climb easier in the past. Once you are in the internal garden, there is a kitchen with an oven inside, cisterns and subsidary buildings. To the west, the garden ends with the Lusignan period Royal rooms. The Gothic style windows in this section are also known as the Queen windows and are worth seeing. You reach the top after a short climb from the garden. The top is 732m from sea level and has a magnificent scenery. On the way down, those, who want to take on a challenge can take on an alternative path and visit the prince John Tower, which is isolated.

Things to do in Kyrenia

Things to do in Kyrenia

  • Pay a visit to the Eastern Mediterranean’s most magnificient example of gothic architecture at the Bellapais Abbey.
  • See St. Hilarion Castle, one of the Kyrenia mountain range’s three legendary and enigmatic castles and the inspiration for Walt Disney’s fairy castle in his film of  “Sleeping Beauty”.
  • At St. Hilarion marvel at the awe-inspring view of Kyrenia and Northern coast of Cyprus, from the Queen’s Window situated at 732 metres above sea level.
  • Visit the Herbarium at Alevkayasi where you can see the collection of all plant species endemic to Cyprus including rare species. Take part in an “Orchid Trail Walk”. The best time for this is from January to May.
  • Take a first hand at one of nature’s wonders; the hatching of turtles at Alagadi Beach. The months of July, August and September are the most suitable for this most unforgettable of experiences. You gave the chance to watch Caretta Caretta and Chelonia Mydas(Green Turtle) hatchlings’ first randezvous with sea.
  • Take a trip back in time with a visit to see the remains of the 2300 year old sunken trading vessel in the Ancient Shipwreck Museum inside Kyrenia Castle.
  • Take a pleasant stroll through the lanes and paths of the English village of Karmi(Karaman) nestled on the mountainside overlooking Kyrenia. All the streets carry the name of the flowers which are so abundant here.
  • Discover the underwater wealth of Kyrenia region by taking a dive at the one of the many diving spots.
  • For lovers of golf the course to the east of Kyrenia possesses perhaps the best views of any course in the Mediterranean.
  • Between the months of Fabruary and May a climb to the peak of Buffavento Castle will elevate your spirit. 
  • There are ample possibilities to join some of many walking or bird watching tours that regularly take place. 

Kyrenia – The Pearl of Cyprus Tourism

Situated between the Five Finger Mountains(The Northern Range) and the Mediterranean Sea, Kyrenia is unquestionably one of the most beautiful and evocative cities of the Mediterranean. It is blessed with beautiful sandy beaches the length of its coastal strip and also possesses the greatest concentration of touristic facilities. In terms of its geographical location, its history and its natural beauty as well as the enchanting Mediterranean Sea, Kyrenia is truly blessed. Beyond the coastal littoral upon which the town stands lies the mountain chain through which a narrow pass allows passage to the interior of the island.

Kyrenia is truly the perfect place for relaxing holiday. Without doubt, one of the town’s most evocative places is the old horseshoe shaped harbour which has become the symbol of the city. Here, the old buildings of the Venetian, Ottoman, and British Colonial, periods and the delightful restaurants, bars and small hotels offer tourists an unrivalled atmosphere of charm and fascination. And, as if not already beautiful enough, during the summer months Kyrenia bursts into colour with the vibrant hues of its fishing boats and yachts.

From the historical perspective, Kyrenia offers its visitors immense riches; Amongst the must see places are the historical harbour, Kyrenia Castle and the Ancient Shipwrecked Museum housed within it, St Hilarion Castle and Bellapais Abbey.

On the fringe of the historical harbour stands the imposing Kyrenia Castle. It is the largest and the best preserved castle in all of Cyprus and bears the indelible traces of the Byzantine, Lusignan and Venetian periods. One inside the castle visitors can see the Lusignan Dungeons, a recreation of the Vrysi Neolithic Settlement, The Akdeniz Village Tomb, The Kirni Village Tomb, The Lusignan and Venetian Towers and, of course, the Mediterranean’s second oldest recovered sunken trading vessel in the Ancient Shipwreck Museum.

All of these features; The castle and the harbour, as well as the most beautiful example of Gothic architecture in Cyprus at the Bellapais Abbey, and all its other attractions put Kyrenia at the very heart of North Cyprus’s tourism industry.

Situated in the foothills of the Five Finger Mountains, The Bellapais Abbey, built in the early XIII century, is the Eastern Mediterranean’s  finest example of Gothic architecture. The English writer Lawrence  Durell, who wrote his novel “Bitter Lemons” relating his experiences whilst sojourned in Cyprus, bought and restored a house in Bellapais village.