St Hilarion Castle
castle is named, not after St. Hilarion the Great, the
founder of monasticism in Palestine who died near Paphos about A.D. 371, but
after a later saint, of whom little is known. He is counted among the three
hundred saints who according to local tradition, sought refuge in Cyprus when
the Arabs overran the Holly Land. His relics were preserved in the castle and
"kept right workshipfully" according to an English visitor in the 14th
century. It may be presumed that he retired to this hill-top to live the life of
a hermit and that as the hermitage of St. Neophytos near Paphos, a monastery was
established to shelter those who should follow his example, as well pilgrims to
St. Hilarion Castle
The original castle, to which
the monastery gave place formed part of the Byzantine defense of the Island,
which included castles of Kyrenia, Buffavento and Kantara also.
The date of its
construction is not recorded, but probably it was in the late 11th century.
Alternatively, the building of the castle may have formed part of the measures
taken by the Emperor Alexis I for the greater security of the Island, following
a serious revolt in 1092.
The earliest references to the
castle are found in the contemporary accounts of Richard Lionheart's campaign in
the Island in 1191. After Richard's victory at Tremethousha, where Isaac
Comnenus was captured, St. Hilarion and the island remained to be reduced. When
Richard fell ill at Nicosia he assigned this task to Guy de Lusignan. Kyrenia,
after a brief attack, was surrendered together with family and treasures. St.
Hilarion was next invested but resisted vigorously until Isaac ordered its
surrender; whereupon Isaac's daughter was placed in the castle to prevent her
being recaptured by his supporters. At this time the castle was known as Didymus
(the Twins), from the twin crests which crown the mountain peak on which it is
built, a name which the Franks corrupted to Dieudamour (Dieu d'Amour).
The castle was probably
strengthened in the early years of the Lusignan kingdom. It was organized for
defense in 1228, when the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II, on his way to
Palestine, landed at Limassol and demanded the regency of Cyprus during
theminority of the young King Henry I, on the ground that the Lusignan had
received their crown form the Emperor's father Henry VI in 1197. After abortive
parleys, John d'lbelin, who held the regency in succession to his brother
Philip, whom the High Court of Cyprus had appointed, defied the Emperor and
retired to St. Hilarion. lbelin had already provisioned the castle and had sent
the women and children of his supporters there for safety. However a truce was
ultimately arranged during which lbelin joined the Emperor's crusading
expedition. On his return to Cyprus the next year (1299), lbelin found
Frederick's supporters in control of the Island. He engaged and defeated them
near Nicosia, whence they retired to St. Hilarion, which they surrendered after
a nine-month siege. The roles were again reversed in 1232, when the King and
lbelin were absent in Syria. A force of Frederick's Longbard troops overran the
Island; the King's sister and supporters took refuge at St. Hilarion; which the
Imperialists invested. Capitulation was narrowly averted by the return of young
King Henry from Syria. His army fell on the besieging forces and routed them at
Agirdha where the road from Nicosia enters the Kyrenia pass, a success which was
followed by their capitulation at Kyrenia and put an end to Frederick's claims to
Untouched by warfare for the
next 140 years, the castle, improved and embellished, seems to have become a
summer residence for the Lusignan royal family. In 1373, while the Genoese
invaders ravaged the Island, on the pretext of avenging the death of a few
compatriot during an incident at the coronation of Peter II, John Price of
Antioch, Regent and uncle of the young King, took refuge in the castle. He had
with him his faithful guard of Bulgarian mercenaries, who made effective sallies
against the Genoese besieging Kyrenia Castle. When the King and his mother Queen
Eleanor had made peace with the Genoese, ceding them Famagusta, the Queen
sought to avenge herself against the Prince for his part in the assassination of
her husband, his brother King Peter I. Persuaded by the Queen that his
Bulgarians were plotting to kill him, the Prince summoned them one by to the top
of the castle and had them thrown into the abyss below. A few days later,
defenseless, he went down to Nicosia, never to return. After the occupation of
the Island by the Venetians in 1489, the new administration ordered the
dismantling of this and other castles to save the cost of their garrisons.
The castle is named after St.
Hilarion, a hermit monk who fled from persecution in the Holy Land and lived and
died in a cave on the mountain. Later in the 10th century the Byzantines built a
church and monastery here.
Along with Kantara and
Buffavento, St. Hilarion Castle was originally built as a watch tower to give
warning of approaching Arab pirates who launched a continuous series of raids on
Cyprus and the coasts of Anatolia from the 7th to the 10th centuries.
A monastery and a church were
built here in the 10th century. The first references to the castle are found in
the 1191 records. For some time it was of strategic importance, but later it
became the summer resort of the Lusignan nobility.
Especially after the invention
of firearms and the increasing importance of defending the coastline it lost its
functionality and importance like the Kantara and the Buffavento castles. The
castle has three parts. The parapets for the defence of the main entrance were
fortified by the Byzantines in the 11th century. The lower section of the castle
was being used for the soldiers and the horses. The middle section contained the
royal palace, the kitchen, the church and a big cistern. At the entrance to the
castle in the upper section there is a Lusignan Gate. There is a courtyard in
the middle. The nobility used to live in the Eastern section, the kitchen and
the other rooms for daily use were in the western section. The panoramic view
through the Queen’s window (a window carved in the Gothic style) on the second
floor of the royal apartments is superb. The Prince John Tower is at the top.
When the Venetians captured
Cyprus in 1489, they relied on Kyrenia, Nicosia and Famagusta for the defence of
the island and St. Hilarion was neglected and fell into oblivion.
Map of the St Hilarion Castle
- Entrance to barbican
- Royal Apartments
- Barrack rooms
- Entrance gate
- Gate House
- St Hilarion's Chapel
- Royal apartments
- Prince John's tower
In its main outline and
arrangement the castle remains as the Byzantines built it, but many sections in
their present form are Frankish, the work of those who rebuilt and improved the
castle under the Lusignan kings.
There are three divisions:
- the lower ward, occupying
the southward slope below the rocky summit;
- the middle ward, the main
section on the eastward shoulder;
- and the upper ward, between
the twin crests of the summit.
The outer gate, beside which
stands the restored gate house now a refreshment room , leads into the Barbican, a small outwork protecting the main entrance . The latter retains its
semi-circular Byzantine arch above a later opening; the carved corbels of the
brattice which overhung it also belong to the original work. Within this
entrance to the lower ward is the reroofed inner gate-house, now the Custodian's
The LOWER WARD is the largest
section, the burg as it was called, where the men-at-arms and animals were
quartered, but it lacks important buildings. The long wall encircles it and
climbs to close with the defenses on the summit is Byzantine work. It has seven
semi-circular towers, in one of which quarters have been provided for the
From the Custodian's tower to
that next in to the west the parapet walk along the battlements has been put in
order. The large cistern built against it is again in use.
Near the south-west corner of
the lower ward, the path passes the STABLES , a vaulted Frankish building entered
by an archway high enough for a camel or a mounted knight. In the nearby
corner-tower two of the wooden floors have been restored to indicate the
original subdivision into three storeys: a store below and two upper levels,
each with loop-holes towards the exterior and a pair of arches opening inwards,
into the lower ward.
The Middle Ward is reached
through a massive Gate House, a Byzantine shell within which the Lusignan
masons have devised a vaulted passage in cut stone, originally closed by a
drawbridge passing through the passage and up the steps to the right.
The Church is reached, a
Byzantine structure formerly covered by a large dome. The latter was carried
over a square nave on right arches of irregular spans. The arches on the east
side were reconstructed in 1959 in order to support the vaulted roof to prevent
its collapse a narthex to the west and an annex to the north of it are likewise
constructed in the Byzantine ecclesiastical manner.
The church and its annexes,
which far exceed the needs of a castle chapel, warrant the assumption, already
mentioned, that the first substantial structure on the site was a monastery,
successor to the hermitage of the saint. The existence of ready-made
accommodation in such a monastery would explain the choice of this site for a
castle, for which in some respects it is ill-suited. The church is an inexpert
example of its type, which is represented elsewhere in Cyprus at the
Antiphonitis monastery near Ayios Amvoios, and must be relatively early in date
though hardly earlier than 965.
A.D. Traces of two coast of
paintings survive on the south wall, the second of 12th century style, perhaps
dates from a restoration of the church after the Byzantines had converted the
monastery into a castle.
The buildings to the south of
the church , have for the most part fallen. North of the church steps lead down
to a vaulted passage of Frankish construction separating it from the HALL ,
rebuilt in the 14th century, but now lacking its steep wood-and-tile roof and
also the floor which divided it from the cellars below. Some earlier masonry
surviving in the end walls suggests that a similar hall existed in the Byzantine
castle. Possibly this earlier hall originally served as the Refectory of the
The same passage leads into the
Belvedere, a vaulted loggia commanding fine views through its open
arch-ways. This and the vaulted kitchen block to the east of the hall, to the
east of the hall, to which we pass, date in their present form from the Lusignan
period. The buttery , if such it be, between the hall and the kitchen, is of
more primitive construction and had a terrace roof supported by rafters carried
on transverse arches. Below it is a cistern lately restored to use. The kitchen
block, where chimney flues are visible at more than one point, is arched over a
crevice in the rock on the south side to provide an outlet for a group of
From the kitchen there are two
alternative routes. The visitor with little time to spare should descend the
wooden steps leading down to a terrace outside the cellars of the hall , from
which the main route to the top of the castle is regained.
For the longer route, return to
the Belvedere and follow the stone steps and passage which lead down, under the
kitchen into the buildings occupying the eastern extremity of the middle a
building of importance. It probably housed the royal apartments in the 13th
century before the more spacious quarters in the upper ward were build. Later
repairs included the addition of a step-pitch tiled roof, of which the east
gable survives, the modern steps at the east end of this building lead up to a
terrace , the most easterly point in the castle, commanding a wide panorama of
land and sea. Descending to the basement level, a row of massive vaulted
chambers is reached , Frankish 14th century work, probably barrack
In a small yard to the east are
the remains of a kiln in which roof-tiles were made . Ascending the long flight
of stone steps and passing, on the right the remains of buildings constructed on
top of the vaulted barracks, the direct route to the top of the castle is
retained. At the exit from the middle ward was a gate .
Outside it, a postern and an
enormous open Tank, both of Frankish construction complete the features
of this main section of the castle. The tank served to store winter rainfall
from the natural catchment area above, for building and other requirements in
the summer months. The tank stands at the bottom of the gulley up which a zigzag
path climbs to the Upper Ward. The entrance is through a Frankish arch set in
rougher, Byzantine wall and protected by a tower akin to those of the lower
ward. The courtyard within is flanked by the twin crests of forming the summit.
At the east end are service buildings of Frankish date, including a kitchen with
the remains of an oven.
On the west the courtyard is
closed by the Royal Apartments, a fine, but much-damaged Lusignan
buildings of the 14th century . A passage, which leads below it to a postern ,
and a cistern occupy the basement level. From the vaulted hall on the ground
floor, which was sub-divided by partitions, the upper level can be reached from
a restored staircase at the south end.
The upper chambers were covered
with a steep-pitched, tiled roof and originally they could also be reached from
external gallery throughout the length of the inner wall.
The west wall retains at the
south end one of its traceries windows with side-seats, popularly known as the "Queen's
window". At the other end a passage leads to a substantial, but
primitive closet .
Descending to the courtyard by
the staircase from which the gallery was reached, the visitor passes the remains
of a group of subsidiary buildings and cisterns.
From the courtyard a short
climb gains the top-most rampart. On the southern crest, and the Summit ,
732 m. above the sea, from which a splendid panorama is obtained. This rampart
with its square towers , which were covered with flat roofs on rafters, is early
Frankish work. But it replaced a less substantial Byzantine wall with round
towers, of which a trace survives below the western tower .
Descending, by the same route,
the adventurous, after leaving the upper ward, may visit the Prince John's
Tower , by keeping right, route leads to a strong and isolated tower
standing at the center of the castle, its vaulted Frankish construction
suggesting a 14th century date. With sheer precipices on three sides this is
surely "The donjon-tower where the great precipice is " the place,
according to the chroniclers, where the Prince of Antioch's Bulgarians met their
On the return journey most of
the middle ward can be by-passed through a passage and tunnel , the latter
surviving from the Byzantine monastery.
From the passage the isolated Castellan's
Quarters are reached . These are of Frankish construction and include a
vaulted cellar below and, and a main chamber above (re-roofed in 1938), the
latter communicating with a closet and, through a service hatch, with a small
vaulted kitchen .
On returning to the Costadian's
Tower those with time to spare can explore the eastern section of the lower
ward, where the outer wall crosses a steep slope to close against the cliff of
rock on top of which the middle ward was built. Here was a postern and here, as
elsewhere, cisterns were constructed against the inner face of the wall . High
on the slope, below the church, are the much ruined remains of a bath building
of Byzantine date .
Who is St
Hilarion the Great?
St. Hilarion (~371 AD) was an
abbot and monastic pioneer of Palestine. He studied at Alexandria, where he
became a Christian. He visited St. Antony, then at the height of his fame, but
returned to Palestine, found his parents were dead, gave all his belongings to
his brothers and to the poor, and became a hermit at Majuma in about 306
His regime was based on St.
Antony's: he lived on figs, bread, vegetables, and oil. First, he made a shelter
of reeds, later a very small cell. Disciples came to learn from him and large
crowds were attracted to him by his austerities and miracles. For the sake of
his monks he had come to own household goods and a farm.
To escape these
responsibilities and the crowds, he left Palestine, first for Egypt, then for
Sicily (where his disciple St. Hesychius found him), and eventually for
Epidaurus in Dalmatia. Once more his miracles attracted publicity and he fled to
Cyprus. He settled near Paphos, but later retired to a more remote site about 20
km away, where Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, visited him.
St. Hilarion died at the age of
eighty. He was buried near Paphos, but his relics were translated to Majuma.
Memory Celebrated on October 21.