Cyprus is at the crossroads of east and west. Over its long history it has been ruled by the Byzantines (395-1191), the Frankish Lusignan Dynasty (1192-1489), Venice (1489-1571), and the Ottoman Empire (1571-1878), among many others. One of the hallmarks of Cyprus’ varied history is a series of ten castles, built and adapted by these various rulers, which still dot the island today.
Five castles are on each side of the island, the southern Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. They are spread throughout five of Cyprus’ six districts. Nicosia, the district that includes and is the namesake of Cyprus’ capital, is the only one without one of the ten castles. No matter which side of the island you visit, the castles feature among some of the top sites to see. See where each is located and learn more about each one below. The names of the castles have links that will take you to websites with more information about hours, admission prices, and how to get there. There is generally more information available for the castles in the south than in the north. If you visit the Republic of Cyprus in the south, there are day or multi-day passes where you can visit multiple museums (including several castles) for a lower overall price.
The Paphos and Saranta Kolones Castles are both in the city of Paphos, while both the Kolossi and Limassol Castles are in Limassol. The Kyrenia, St. Hilarion, and Buffavento Castles are all relatively close together, while the other three are far from each other.
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
Kyrenia District, 10th century
This was originally a monastery, also named after St. Hilarion, who chose the site as his hermitage. In the 11th century the Byzantines began to fortify it, as part of a northern defensive string of fortresses along with Buffavento Castle and Kantara Castle, of which St. Hilarion is the best preserved. The castle was upgraded by the Lusignan Dynasty, and several sections from that time can be seen today, although large parts of the castle were taken down by the Venetians to cut maintenance costs.
Kyrenia District, 7th century
Byzantines built the original castle at Kyrenia on the site of a previous Roman fort, but significant renovations and additions were undertaken by both the Lusignans and later the Venetians. The Ottomans and the British later used the castle as well during their respective occupations of the island. The current castle includes a tomb of an Ottoman admiral and the Shipwreck Museum, which contains one of the oldest ships ever recovered, a Greek trading ship from the 4th century BC.
Kyrenia District, 11th century
Despite its Italian name, the castle was originally built by the Byzantines, but was later expanded by the Lusignan Dynasty. It uses the mountain it is built into as a partial defense. It was used together with St. Hilarion Castle and Kantara Castle as a chain of castles that could pass signals between each other to guard against the Arabs.
Famagusta District, 10th century
Although the castle’s name derives from the Arabic word for bridge, it was first built by the Byzantines to defend against the Arabs. The Byzantine ruler of the island, Isaac Komnenos, took refuge in the castle when Richard the Lionheart of England invaded, before later being captured. The walls later became so damaged that they had to be almost entirely rebuilt, although legend has it that the Lusignan queen threw the workers from her window because she couldn’t afford to pay them.
Famagusta District, 14th century
Built by the Lusignan kings in the 14th century, this castle was later improved upon by the Venetians, who named the castle after one of their own governors of the island, Othello. It is possible that Shakespeare’s Othello was at least in part inspired by this castle. One can still see a relief of the winged lion of St. Mark on the castle as a hallmark to former Venetian hegemony. It was the main entrance into Famagusta, and was considered practically impregnable.
Republic of Cyprus
Larnaca District, 12th century
The Byzantines built a fort on the current site, most likely in the late 12th century, but it was substantially expanded under James I (1382-98) to protect the harbor of Larnaca, which had become a major port city under the Lusignans. It fell into a partial ruin under the Ottomans, but it was later used as a prison and execution site under the British. Today it houses a museum with artifacts from the Byzantine, medieval, and Ottoman periods.
Limassol District, 12th century
The first castle on the site was built by Guy of Lusignan, the first Frankish king of Cyprus. The ottomans took it in 1538, but the Venetians recaptured it and destroyed it to prevent the Ottomans from ever retaking it. Once the Ottomans took the entire island later in the 16th century, they built a new castle that incorporated what remained of the old Frankish one. This site is also supposedly where Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre during the Third Crusade. Now it is home to the Cyprus Medieval Museum
Limassol District, 13th century
The site of the castle was given to the Hospitaller Knights (also known as the Knights of St. John) by King Hugh I in 1210, but the current castle was not built until 1454. You can still see the coat of arms of the Hospitaller commander that built the castle, Louis de Magnac, carved on the castle’s walls.
Paphos District, 13th century
The original Byzantine fort is long gone, destroyed by a 1222 earthquake. The Lusignans rebuilt it, only for the fort to be demolished by the Venetians in 1570. The current castle was built by the Ottomans and served a variety of purposes over the past few centuries, including a stint as a salt warehouse during the British occupation of the island. Now it is the site of the annual Paphos Aphrodite Festival, presenting a famous opera at the castle the first weekend of September.
Paphos District, 7th Century
This castle’s name means forty columns in Greek and comes from large columns found at the site that were once probably part of the ancient agora, or marketplace. A castle was first built on the site in the 7th century by the Byzantines and was later improved upon by the Lusignans before the castle was abandoned after the 1222 earthquake, unlike the nearby Paphos Castle, which was rebuilt. Today the ruins are part of Paphos Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.