Discover Top 9 Historical Destinations of Northern Cyprus
Kyrenia Harbout Is this the prettiest harbour in the Mediterranean? We think so, in fact, we know so! Come and see for yourself on your holiday in North Cyprus.
Famagusta Town A world apart from the holiday villas and five star resorts of the north coast, this is wild country where the donkey is king – really!
Nicosia is the capital of Northern Cyprus and is located to the west of Ercan which is the main airport of North Cyprus.
Bellapais Village and Bellapais Abbey A stunning abbey in a magnificent setting, and a village renowned for being busy doing nothing. A must-see on any North Cyprus villa holiday.
Top 9 Historical Destinations of Northern Cyprus…
1. Kyrenia Harbour
As soon as you get to Kyrenia harbour, you can see why it is so popular.
With the backdrop of the jagged mountains behind and the calm sparkling sea in front, the harbour has a heady, peaceful atmosphere. The graceful arch shaped harbour is filled with restaurants and cafes and is perfect for sitting back and just watch people.
Kyrenia harbour is dominated by the impressive Kyrenia Castle which guarded this important and strategic port since the 1500s. It’s an excellent idea to visit and explore, and you get a great view of the town of Kyrenia from the top. On the castle grounds you can find Kyrenia Shipwreck Museum, the remains of an ancient merchant ship.
2. Kyrenia Castle
Have you ever received a postcard from Northern Cyprus? If so you will probably remember the picturesque scene on the front of the card depicting the historic Kyrenia harbour with its iconic castle which has been guarding the harbour for several hundred years, and is one of Cyprus’s brightest stars on the tourist map.
High up on the thick golden walls you can take a stroll around and take in the beautiful views of the Mountain range, the azure blue Mediterranean Sea and the romantic setting of the half-moon shaped Harbour. Do not forget to bring your camera to capture the beautiful views.
The castle was built in 330 AD but has been rebuilt at various times after that.
Inside the huge courtyard you find yourself in an environment that bears traces of the distant past. Here you can get a light lunch or a coffee. A must is to visit the museum which is located in one of the castle halls which displays a shipwreck of a 2300 year old merchant ship.
3. Büyük Han
This traditional inn built in 1572 by Muzaffer Pasha, the first Ottoman governor in Cyprus is a very beautiful stone building, with two floors, built around a courtyard. Of the 67 rooms, used the upstairs originally as accommodation for travelers. These are independent and have individual fireplaces with octagonal chimneys.
The rooms on the ground floor was used as stores, warehouses and offices. Stall for horses, mules, donkeys, camels were on the outside of the building. The inner courtyard is an octagonal mosque (masjid) used for prayers, with a fountain below. Unusually, the inn has two entrances, the main entrance on Asmaaltı Street (to the east), and an entrance to the west.
Since the beginning of the old colonial days, the British used the inn as the Nicosia central prison until 1895. It became a home for poor families until 1963, when a part failed restoration attempts were carried out. Later, in 1995, began a massive restoration project, which was completed in 2003 and the inn became one of the greatest contributions to the social and cultural life in Nicosia.
Today, the “Great Inn”, which also is used as an information center, a home for many small antique/craft shops and art galleries, where visitors can find all types of traditional Cypriot souvenirs and handicrafts. Small-scale performances and cultural activities going on, besides it an authentic Turkish Cypriot cafe, a restaurant where fresh local cuisine is served, and a wine bar where self-produced wines served with live music.
4. Salamis Ruins
Salamis ruins are a must visit when in North Cyprus. The ancient site on Cyprus’ east coast is so well preserved. Columns, marble floors, walls and even statues are still intact! You can walk for hours here soaking up all the history. Among other things that can be found here, are the remains of a large sports stadium, swimming pools, public toilets for up to 44 people, a large amphitheatre, a temple dedicated to Zeus and much more. The day I first visited Salamis it was very hot, so I did not go around the whole city, but believe me, it was great.
Excavations show that the history of the ancient city of Salamis goes back as far as 1000 BC. Salamis was one of the great cities of the eastern Mediterranean and served as an important trading post. The architecture shows that many different kingdoms ruled here through the years.
An advice is to take good pair of walking shoes, plenty of water and plenty of time when visiting the Salamis ruins. In the area there is both a restaurant and picnic area, there is also a beach if you would like to take a refreshing dip. Entrance to the area only costs a few Turkish lira and there is a lot of information to take in.
5. St. Hilarion Castle
The fairytale castle St.Hilarion is perched high up on the five finger Mountain range and watches over northern Cyprus down to the coast and beyond. It is felt by many that St. Hilarion with its glowing lights after dark which swirl around the mountain peaks is there to guard and protect the town of Kyrenia and surrounding area.
Travel brochures proudly boast that the castle inspired Walt Disney when he created the castle in the classic film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. For those who choose to visit St. Hilarion there is no doubt that it will be an unforgettable and worthwhile journey. At 732 meters above sea level extends the well-preserved ruins of what once was a fort built to defend Cyprus’s coasts against pirates.
St. Hilarion Castle is a perfect destination for those who enjoy walking in beautiful countryside. Uneven steps and steep paths can be quite challenging so one tip is to take comfortable shoes and bring plenty of drinking water. Once you arrive high up the Mountain you will realise that it was well worth the trek, with the fresh clear air filling your lungs and with light veils of cloud surrounding you like etheric winged angles and below the amazing view of the landscape. An experience you will treasure for the rest of your life.
In the hot summer months it is advised to visit St. Hilarion Castle in the late afternoon when the worst of the heat has subsided. We were there the sun was low and the gold sparkly light gave a special atmosphere to the millennial scene.
St. Hilarion Castle is open until 18:00 and it only costs a few Turkish lira to enter. There is also a car park and a cafe on site.
6. The Old Town of Famagusta
The Old Town of Famagusta is filled with enough history to be called a big outdoor museum. Here you walk among ruins in a romantic ambience, filled with palm trees and bougainvillea flowers. Several countries have ruled the city through the centuries, which have left its imprints in buildings and architecture.
The Old Town is surrounded by a stone wall built by the Lusignans in the 1300’s. What makes the wall so special is that it is so well preserved and intact. If one wants to take a stroll down history lane the city wall is a good place to start. At the south west gate you can park your car and walk up the cobblestone coated incline up to the top of the wall. From here you have a magnificent view over the Old Town with the serene Mediterranean Sea in the background.
Another place one should see is the field at the wall’s north west bastion. The pointed defences, which protrudes from the castle bank, is designed by a Venetian architect and build in the mid 1500’s. The Church of the Carmelite’s and the Armenian Church are standing in the middle of the field, old and beaten by time, but still beautiful to look at. If you look closely you will discover details in the architecture, in the walls and the ceiling, typical for its time.
7. Ruins of Soli
Soli is an ancient settlement located in the western part of north Cyprus, just outside the village of Gemikonagi, on the coast near Lefke. Its history can be dated back to the 11th century BC.
The city we can see today, was built around the 6th century BC, and is thought to have been named after the Greek philosopher, Solon. Soli was one of the most important capitals of Cyprus because of its port facilities and fertile soil.
8. St. Mamas Monastery
Residing in the centre of Güzelyurt is St. Mamas monastery. The monastery’s was originally built by the Byzantine’s and its architecture has been modified over the centuries that followed. Among other things, the large dome arrived afterwards.
It is said that Mama was a Christian saint from Anatolia who was killed because of his religious beliefs. It is said that his family was helped by Jesus Christ to place Mamas body in a coffin which was then buried in the sea. The tide carried the coffin away which eventually ended in Cyprus, more specifically in Güzelyurt. A man found the coffin on the beach and enlisted the help of his sons to move it. They tied a rope around the chest and with the help of two oxen tried to move it from the beach. The coffin was much heavier than they thought, and it required a lot of work to move it. With great effort, they managed to finally tow it away. When they could no longer move the coffin any further they put it down and built the monastery around it.
St. Mamas grave is situated to the left of the church’s entrance and is surrounded by offerings, many in the form of wax ears. It is said that during the Ottoman rule it was believed that there were treasures hidden in the coffin, so holes were drilled in it. Through the holes oozed a kind of nectar which continued to do so at irregular intervals for a long time afterwards. This nectar was said to provide protection against earache. Also surrounding the coffin are small wax dolls that have been left as offerings.
The church is also filled with beautiful icons, chandeliers and a pulpit.
When we visited the Church on Sunday it was full of tourists. Many come from Southern Cyprus to see the beautiful church, they kiss images of the saints and make the sign of the cross. This is a special place for them.
It costs 7 TL to enter the church and you buy your tickets at the building next to the museum of nature and archaeology.
9. Museum of Nature and Archaeology
The museum of nature and archaeology in Güzelyurt opened in 1979. It features items placed out on display on two floors. On the ground floor you find a collection of stuffed animas from Cyprus and it is fairly interesting to see what animal species live and have lived in Cyprus.
On the upper floor you will find a display of artifacts from the Bronze Age, organized after chronological order. A large number of well preserved finds with patterns and colors from the ancient city of Soli on Cyprus’ west coast including a range from jewelry, necklaces, bowls, cups and pots.