Like the other mountaintop redoubts of the Kyrenia Mountain range, St Hilarion and Buffavento, Kantara is an outrageously photogenic intertwining of history, myth and legend. For many visitors, it is the most attractive of the three, but maybe this is because it’s the one you don’t have to bust a gut to see – you can drive right up to its gates. Or maybe it’s because Kantara arguably has the best views. On a clear winters day, it is said that you can even see the snow clad peaks of the mountains of the Lebanon whilst the Taurus Mountains of Turkey are frequently on view.
Whatever, it’s certainly the best preserved of three castles and, like Buffavento, was most likely constructed by the Byzantines as a refuge from Arab pirate raids in the tenth-century.
It passed into historical lore as the place where the Byzantine ruler, Isaac Comnenos took refuge from Richard the Lionheart upon his conquest of Cyprus in 1191. In less violent times it was used as a hunting lodge for the abundant mountain goats and game birds that were once abundant in the Kyrenia Mountain range.
No Kyrenia Mountain range castle is complete without its ‘queen’s legend’ and here it is the grisly tale of how the workmen who built the castle were cast from the queen’s window in lieu of wages! Eventually the queen threw herself from the same window and her ghost, it is said, can sometimes be seen at the high gothic window of her boudoir.
More reliable historical information exists from the Lusignan and Venetian periods and lists the illustrious kings, barons and assorted nobility who frequently took refuge here upon this or that military defeat.
The Venetian period saw the development of the monolithic defensive castles of Kyrenia, Famagusta and Nicosia, which rendered the mountain-top fortresses redundant and Kantara was abandoned in 1525.