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KYRENIA DISTRICT AND ITS HISTORICAL SITES

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Kyrenia is located in southern part of Northern Cyprus. Beşparmak Dağları (Pentadaktylos)  seperates Kyrenia from the interior side of the city. Kyrenia is 35 kilometers from the airport. The location on which Kyrenia was built was centered on a bay which was suitable for being a natural harbour. It is believed that Kyrenia was first founded by Achaeans in the late 2000 B.C.

Kyrenia has a beautiful city centre and harbour. Casinos, bars and restaurants are mostly located at the coastline. Food, alcoholic beverages and cigarette are served for free at the casinos. The city centre includes many five-star hotels and casinos. Old Harbour, Kyrenia Castle, Saint Hilarion Castle and Bellapais Abbey are among the locations and architectures that must definitely be visited in Kyrenia.

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It is estimated that there has been a settlement in Kyrenia since 10th century and the first settlement was around the old harbour. However, most of today’s harbour was rebuilt by Venetians. After Kyrenia was invaded by Venetians in 1489, they started to take defensive measures against Ottoman Empire. Kyrenia Harbour is the most prominent harbour of the whole island. It is considered that Venetians planned to increase defense with Kyrenia Castle, which is why it is located so close to the mainland. Today, Kyrenia Harbour is home to restaurants and bars and it is not used for marine transportation but as a marina for yachts and a shelter for fishermen. It is also one of the main entertainment centre in Kyrenia.

Kyrenia Castle, which is currently the symbol of Kyrenia, is one of the most impressive structures in Northern Cyprus. The Castle has been through a lot of decorations and renovations until it took its current shape. These decorations and renovations are divided into three stages; The first ascertained stage of the castle, which is located in eastern part of Kyrenia Harbour, dates back to 7th century. Today there are only a few ruins remaining from the first castle which was built by Byzantine Empire to defense the town against Arabic attacks. The castle took its current shape mostly under the control of Lusignan Dynasty between 1208-1211. The castle got damage when Venetians invaded the island in 14th century. After the modifications and additions, the castle took its current shape in 1491. Huge round towers that are located in northwest and southeast of the castle to fortify the castle agaisnt the Ottoman Empire, are the additions of the castle built by Venetians. Inspite of all these measures, the city and the castle surrendered to the Ottoman Army without resisting after the Ottoman victory in Nicosia or Lefkosia (Turkish: Lefkoşa), so the castle did not get any harm due to a possible battle.

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The castle has a square-like architecture, having a tower at each corner. The castle is surrounded by a deep ditch, from south and west, and by sea from north and east. The castle can be entered via a bridge on northwest. A Byzantine church named St. George Chapel, built in 1100, is located inside of the castle. The tomb of Ottoman Admiral named Algerian Sadık Pasha, who was martyrized during the Ottoman invasion, is situated next to the entrance of the castle. Exhibition halls, located inside of the castle, exhibit a shipwreck found in off of Kyrenia and various findings as well as some archeological remains excavated in Kyrenia. Besides, some animations depicting the historical process of the castle are performed in the castle.

Having a splendid view of Northern Cyprus, Kyrenia Harbour is currently used as a marina. In addition to the breakwaters and lighthouses depicting the historical process that the castle went through, St. Hilarion Castle and Beşparmak Dağları (Pentadaktylos) play a major role on the great view. With its massive – structured Kyrenia Castle, old harbour structures, an old bell tower and an old mosque minaret, Kyrenia takes you back to the past.

The structures, around the harbour, that remained intact, operate as restaurants, cafes or bars. One of those structures is a Cyprus house, remaining from 18th century, which is used as a Folk Art Museum. Agricultural materials about harvesting such as olive oil clamps, wooden plow, counter and threshing sled are exhibited in the ground floor of the museum while the top floor includes the examples of local handicraft such as crochets, coverlets, table clothes, wool socks, engraved chest, bridal dress and cupboards.

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The Kyrenia Castle does not have a defensive function in solitary for the town; because it is more like a citadel. Just a few of the town’s ramparts have remained today, and they are belong to three towers. The most well-preserved one is the Round Tower which is located in front of Bandabuliya on Ziya Rızkı Street. The tower was built in 1300 by Lusignans who developed the defense of the town. Venetians expanded this defense system that originally dates from the Byzantine period. After the Ottomans took control of the island, the ramparts lost its importance and the island expanded towards the outside of the ramparts. The other rampart is located on the street that heads toward to the marina from Bandabuliya, and the last one is situated on the southwestern part of the marina. The Round Tower is used as art gallery after the renovation in 1987.

Bellapais Abbey is located in the eastern Kyrenia at the foot of Beşparmak Mountains on a precipice. This monastery, which was built in 1198 – 1205, is a unique example of Gothic Art and its name derives from the French “Abbaye de la Paix which means Peace Monastery. The main building, that can be seen today, of the monastery was built by Augustunian monks emigrating from Jerusalem between 1267 - 1284 during the rule of King Hugh III. The refectory and the pavillions around the courtyard were built between 1324 – 1359 during the rule of King Hugh IV. After the Ottomans took control of the island, the monastery was given to Greek Orthodox Church.

The church next to the courtyard is the most well-preserved part of the monastery. Italian frescoes on the facade were made in 15th century. The church has a unique hall used for various classical music concerts and Bellapais Music Festival. The refectory is another splendid example of Gothic Art. The eastern part of the atrium includes working and council rooms of monks. The pillar in the middle of council room is considered to have dated from the early Byzantine Church. The dormitory and treasure room are situated at the top floor. The monastery can be seen from almost every point of Kyrenia as it is lightened in the evenings, so it presents an awesome view.

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Bellapais village is as impressive as the monastery. The well-known British writer Lawrence Durell had been in Cyprus between 1953-1956 and published a book named “Bitter Lemons” to put his admiration for the Cyprus and Bellapais into words. If you go on a walk around Huzurağaç, it is possible for you to see Durell’s house on which a plate is hanged in memory of Durell.

St. Hilarion Castle is one of the three castles that was built in Beşparmak Mountains to prevent Arabic attacks that would possibly come from north. It was aimed to take northern part of the island under control with Kyrenia Castle which was built for the same intention with St. Hilarion Castle. In 10th century, a church and a monastery was added to the castle that is located on two steep hils with a sea elevation of 700 meters. The castle took its name from a saint who immigrated to Cyprus after the invasion of Jerusalem by Arabs. He spent his last years here worshipping and praying. There is no any certain information about the construction date of the castle, yet the name of the castle is mentioned in the archives dating back to 1191. Although it had a strategic importance in the past, it was used as a summer place and resting area by Lusignan nobles. When the gun was invented and the defense of coastline gained importance, it lost its significance just like Kantara and Buffavento Castles.

The castle is formed of three sections; the defence area located in the ground floor was developed by the Byzantines in 11th century. The lower part was used for horses and soldiers. The middle section includes the palace of the king, the kitchen, a water tank and the church. The entrance gate of the upper castle contains a Lusignan gate. The nobles used to reside in eastern side, the kitchen and other daily rooms used to locate in western side. The view of the surrounding from the queen window, which is located in the second floor of royalty domicile, is awesome. The top floor contains a tower named Prince John Tower.