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Place: St. Hilarion Castle North Cyprus

St Hilarion Castle - Archeological Site in North Cyprus    by Jessica I. Jones

St. Hilarion Castle, in North Cyprus not far from Girne, was built on Byzantine foundations by the Crusading Lusignan dynasty. Richard the Lionheart gave Cyprus to Hugh Lusignan. King Peter I, who ruled from 1359 to 1369, was his descendant. Eleanor of Aragon was Peter's wife. Melusine d'Ibelin was a noble lady in waiting to the queen, and she will give you an "nsider's" tour of the castle.

"Good day, welcome to St. Hilarion Castle. I am Melusine d'belin, once in the service of Eleanor, Queen of Cyprus, now paying for my sins.

"The saintly hermit, Hilarion, lived in a cave. Then came the Byzantine monastery with its church. Next the tower, built to watch for Arab raids. But the castle itself was built in 1228 by my own relative, Jean d'belin. It has three parts-- this lower ward; the middle ward, where the garrison lived and the King's business was done; and the upper ward, where the royal family lived. Standing high and alone is Prince John's Tower, a place of evil memory.

"This lower ward was a little village. Cyprus (in those days there was no North Cyprus of course) was the last bastion against the Muslims-home of daring deeds. Frankish nobles did not indulge in trade, but the Venetians and the Genoese did brisk business. People were constantly coming and going--landless knights eager to fight the pagans and win salvation and booty; skilled tradespeople; merchants of all sorts; the thieves who preyed upon them; and the women who comforted them all.

"The chapel is Byzantine. Those narrow red bricks are typical of Byzantine building, and so are the wide bands of mortar. The bath house is a Byzantine idea too, borrowed from the sinful, lascivious, marvelous East.

"But we will go up this footpath to the middle ward, the main part of the castle, and I will tell you of the Kings of Cyprus.

"Richard the Lionhearted gave Cyprus to Guy of Lusignan in 1192. At that time many Franks were driven from their estates in Syria and Palestine by the Muslims. Guy encouraged them to settle here. My Lady's husband, King Peter, was Guy's descendant.

"But here is the Byzantine Church. The dome is long gone. There in the east end of the church was the altar. On the north side of the Church is this chapel with the picture of the Annunciation.

"North of the church property is the old refectory. Many a time I sat in this hall, a handsome knight at my side, laughing and flirting, drinking and eating, dancing and, yes, well, I am being punished for my sins. But imagine the hall filled with us Frankish lords and ladies, in our brightly colored silks and satins, gold jewelry, and good steel armor. Can you hear, faintly, the minstrels singing? Come out this way to the east. This is the belvedere. Have you ever seen such a fine view? After the evening meal, many a damsel and her knight stole out of the hall to... admire the view.

"Now north again, through the buttery and the kitchens. Here is the terrace where the royalty and their favorites ...admired the view. All along here are the rooms where the King transacted business. "In these rooms the men-at-arms slept while they were on duty. They guarded the King, and the great open cistern. We always feared poisoning. We were afraid of the Muslims. We were afraid of our Cypriot serfs, with their Greek language and their Orthodox religion. And we were afraid of one another, always jostling for power and influence. When warriors jostle, blood flows. And their women are no gentler. "Now we will ascend to the upper ward. Past the entrance is the old Byzantine watchtower. To the north you can see the kitchens. "That two-story building on the west holds the royal apartments. A wooden gallery connected the main floor rooms. Gracefully arched windows gave lovely views from the upper floor. You must imagine the rooms hung with tapestries, and richly furnished. Many an hour I spent stitching and gossiping. We ladies were meant to keep Queen Eleanor happy. "That was easy when she was first married to King Peter. He was all a woman could ask-handsome, chivalrous, daring. Peter hoped Europe would undertake another Crusade. In 1362 he sailed for Europe to recruit an army. Peter traveled from Flanders to Prague, from Vienna to Avignon, but received no aid. Finally, Venice and Genoa gave ships in return for huge trading concessions. Then, instead of attacking Syria as planned, he sacked Alexandria. Now, Alexandria was a trading partner of the Italians and some Italian merchants had even been killed in the attack. So there was no more help from Venice and Genoa. In 1367, he again left for Europe to recruit. But this time he left a troubled home. Did Eleanor really throw Peter's mistress, Joana the German, into a dungeon and torture her? Did Eleanor have an affair with Baron Jean de Morphou? Peter came back unsuccessful and in a towering rage at Europe, at his brothers, his barons. He was furious with Eleanor, since her conduct was common gossip in Europe. Peter treated the Queen and his brothers abominably and outraged the nobles. A group of barons murdered him as he slept. Eleanor believed her brother-in-law John was behind the plot. For years she kept vengeance in her heart. John's mind became more and more clouded until he took only Bulgarians into his bodyguard. Captives from a raid on their homeland, they depended entirely on him. He holed up here, at St. Hilarion. Eleanor saw her chance. She convinced John that his Bulgarians were plotting against him. He had them thrown, one by one, from this tower. Then Eleanor lured John into Kyrenia to be killed.

Jessica I. Jones is a free lance writer working with Cyprus Seaterra. If you have any North Cyprus questions feel free to visit the site at This article may be copied to your web site as long as you use it as is without editing and you include the direct link to