Friday, January 1, 2010

St. Hilarion Castle Barbican and first ward

St. Hilarion Castle is the main castle in Cyprus, and one with the most impressive architecture. The name of the Saint Hilarion castle belongs to a hermit saint who is believed to have lived there. (Not to be confused with a more famous fella of the same name, this guy was just a local guy.) In the old times, this area was known as Didymos (the twins) because of the two which were separated by a valley.

The valley referred to is the only usable pass through the Kyrenian mountains which divide the north shore of Cyprus from the rest of the island. The castle commands this pass, and incidently functions as a seriously useful lookout over the north of the Island. They say that you can see mainland Turkey from up here! Pirates and invaders can be seen from tens of miles away from way up there, and signals can be sent instantly to fortifications and castles in Kyrenia, Buffavento and Kantara when trouble comes calling from the north.

The Arab attacks started in the 7th century, and continued with breaks until the 10th century. Written accounts state that the castle was present when Richard the Lion Heart took the island in 1191. The castle was refurbished and developed during the Lusignan period.

In addition to being nearly impregnable (and the toughest nut to crack in the whole of the Mediterranian) it always stayed delightfully cool even in the summer, and certainly it had the nicest view of any castle anywhere in the Middle East. I am sure fans of Krak de Chavalier in Syria might take issue with that statement. The Lusignan nobles were not particularly well liked, and the castle served as an excellent refuge for them when trouble started.

The castle is made up of three sections, or wards, which are built on radically different levels. This resulted in a maze like network of corridors and stairs, in fact, it is said that Walt Disney was inspired by the multi level castle for his production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (Or was it Sleeping Beauty. Arn't they one and the same?)

I put these pictures in the order as seen by a person leaving the castle, entering the first ward from the second ward. The above picture is the roots of the great gate which would have protected the second ward from invasion. Not much left of it I fear.

This is the same view, only from the attacker's perspective.
Draw back a bit and see the remnants of the stables in the first ward. The green grass means that we are here in the winter, when it is nice and cool, and rainy.

If you click on the above picture, it will enlarge to show the inside of the north wall. These are the famous "horseshoe towers", that is, towers without backs. If an enemy were to take one of these towers, he would be exposed to fire from behind.
The beautiful first ward was always filled with gardens. Horses were stabled in the building above. There is plenty of excavation to do here the left of this picture is a cistern. The nature of this mountain range is that if there is any rain to be had, they have it here, and two huge cisterns (the covered here on the north side) and the roofless one on the south side of this mountain always had water in them.

The lowest level would be the arrival courtyard (the barbican), with fine overlapping fields of fire, all covering a switchback road up a heck of steep hill. There is no moat (I mean,who needs it!) but there is a solid gate, leading to an excellent barbican which in turn has a broad gate leading to the first garden-like bastion. It was a garden back then...likely herbs and olives just as it is now, and the stables are restored into a pretty little interpretive welcome structure. The barbican which protects the main entrance has been fortified with horseshoe shaped towers (essentially towers without backs on them...) Below this garden would have been the repository for weapons (for the whole kingdom) , guard rooms, kingdom and warfare administrative offices and likely the hundreds of buckets for the bucket brigade which passed water up from the valley far below to Princess Eleanor's powder room.

A small keep, the administrative centre for castle defense is at the west end of the north wall. I fear the merlons may not be entirely period to the castle...but they are rebuilt in the same place. If you drop a stone outside that wall, it will fall until it hits a batter, which will cause the stone to fly out sideways with good results.
Another view of the administrative keep, shewing the steep slope which is characteristic of the first ward.

The Barbican...comparatively small walls, with two doors, separated by a narrow open space which seems very exposed. An attacker would have to force the outside gate, charge into this small barbican space, turn hard left and try to force the next gate. The picture below shows the small amount of space you have to fight in. The door you have to go through is just to the left.

If you get up to the gate, below, you will have a heck of a time of it since as you can see by the above pic, you won't have much in the way of space to swing a battering ram. Those nice railings would not have been there to protect you from slipping over the edge. Its about a forty foot drop by the way...
This is the gate you would be trying to force. Note the weight relieving arch above the main entrance. This gate is apparently large enough for a knight on horseback to enter. I beg to differ.
This is the barbican as seen from in front of the above door. Its just a killing ground... The view in this pic is 180 degrees from the view in the second picture up.

Below is the outside of the gate, the other side of the door you see in the above picture.
In the above picture you can see the batter in the base of the main north wall. This batter (a thickening of the wall near the base) will enable a defender to totally wipe out any Chevy Suburbans which might be crouched in wait below. The square window in the barbican is a window into the guard room. I note the three arrow loupes looking down on us from the administrative tower (rounded on this side).

These last three pictures are just to let you know what you would be facing if you managed to fight your way up the five hundred meters of forty five degree grade to this point.

ip-location map zoom

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