The best preserved of North Cyprus' three castles, this fairytale castle (said by some to have inspired the one in Disneyland) is perched on a steep hilltop (732 m) with commanding views over Kyrenia and the coast. Note that most of the castle still is a ruin.
The 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 Holy Land. His relics were preserved in the castle and "kept right worshipfully" 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 his tomb. The first certain reference to the castle dates from 1191, when Richard the Lionheart successfully besieged it after conquering Kyrenia.
St. Hilarion is well signposted and just off the main highway connecting Kyrenia and Nicosia. There is no public transport, so car hire or chartering a taxi/dolmus is recommended. According to the tourist office, in June 2015, the only option was a taxi (TL 90 with one hour waiting). Note that the road to the castle from the main road crosses military terrain, and walking is prohibited. An alternative walking route from Kyrenia is possible, albeit tricky, steep, and requiring some rock scrambling. It starts from Zeytinlik village to the south west of the centre of Kyrenia following double green striped markers, note this does pass through the military area, going off the path is forbidden.
The car park lies at the foot of the castle, and from here the only way to get around (and up) is on foot. It is a bit of a steep climb all the way to the top, but the castle is quite large and there is plenty to see along the way. Some of the views going up are spectacular but nothing compared with the vista from the top. The climb should not be attempted unless you are fairly fit and, on a hot day, carry plenty of water with you.
The castle has three parts draped over the mountain.
- The Lower Ward consists of parapets defending the main entrance, still used to this date. The largest part of the castle, this area was inhabited by soldiers and their horses, tasked with defending the fortress.
- The Middle Ward houses the royal palace, the church, the kitchen and a large cistern for collecting rainwater.
- Entry to the Middle Ward is via a large Lusignan gate. Once through there is a courtyard in the middle, separating the quarters of the nobles on the east side from the kitchen and other utility rooms on the west side.
- The Church (partly ruined, partly reconstructed) is oversized compared to the rest of the castle and in some form probably dates back to the castle's first incarnation as a monastery.
- Be sure to check out the panoramic view from the Queen's Window on the second floor of the royal apartments.
- The Upper Ward lies to the west of Middle Ward and is reached by a restored staircase. The highest point is at the summit of the mountain (732 meters) and the squat Prince John Tower, surrounded by a precipice on three sides, is where a group of Bulgarian mercenaries suspected of plotting against Prince John of Antioch in 1373 were thrown off to their deaths.
Eat & Drink
There is a refreshment room (basically a cafe) selling mildly overpriced drinks and snacks in a restored gate house right next to the entrance.