The original Kyrenia castle was probably built by Byzantines in the 7th Century to guard the city against the new Arab maritime threat. The first historical reference to the castle occurs in 1191, when King Richard the Lionheart of England captured it on his way to the Third Crusade. He did so by defeating Isaac Comnenus, an upstart local governor who had proclaimed himself emperor.
After a short period, Richard sold the island to the Knights Templar, and then to his cousin Guy de Lusignan, the former king of Jerusalem. This began the 300 years of the Frankish Lusignan Kingdom of Cyprus (1192–1489). Initially the castle was quite small. John d'Ibelin enlarged it between 1208 and 1211. The Castle's main function was military and the improvements consisted of a new entrance, square and horseshoe-shaped towers, embrasures for archers, and dungeons.
The castle was subjected to several sieges. A Genoese attack in 1373 almost destroyed the castle, and the longest amongst the sieges, in the 15th century, lasted nearly four years and reduced the unfortunate occupants to eating mice and rats. By 1489 the Venetians had taken control of Cyprus and in 1540 they enlarged the castle, giving it its present-day appearance. The chief changes, such as the addition of thick walls and embrasures for cannons, were adaptations to changes in warfare in the form of gunpowder artillery. The Venetians also installed gun ports at three levels so that they could direct cannon fire against attackers from the land, suggesting that they were more afraid of an attack from the Cypriots than from the sea. Inside the castle, they built huge long ramps so as to be able to drag artillery up on the walls. When the work on the castle was finished, its walls also encompassed the small church of St. George, which the Byzantines may have built in the 11th or 12th century.
In 1570, Kyrenia surrendered to the Ottomans. The Ottomans too made changes to the castle, but the British removed these during their occupation. The castle contains the tomb of the Ottoman Admiral Sadik Pasha. The British used the castle as a police barracks and training school. They also used the castle as a prison for members of the Greek Cypriot EOKA organization.
Since 1960 the castle has been open to the public. However, during the period from 1963 to 1967 the Cypriot National Guard used the castle as a military headquarters. Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, in 1974 the Girne Department of Antiquities and Museums took over responsibility for the castle's preservation and use. The Department is keeping icons that were collected from churches in the Kyrenia area pre-1974 and has stored them in the castle's locked rooms for safekeeping. Some of these are now on display in the Archangel Michael Church.
The moat on the landward side of the castle was full of water prior to the 14th Century AD and served as a harbour to the castle. One enters the Castle through its north-west entrance, which opens on a bridge spanning the moat. From the first gate, lying to the north west of the fortified wall that the Venetians built, one comes to a vaulted corridor that leads to the entrance of the Lusignan castle. A passage to the left of the corridor gives entry to the cruciform Church of St. George. The dome of this church rests on marble columns with Corinthian capitals that were salvaged from an older building elsewhere and placed here.
The tomb in the entrance corridor of the Lusignan castle belongs to the Ottoman Admiral Sadik Pasha who conquered Kyrenia in 1570. The corridor then leads to the castle's large inner courtyard, which is lined with guardrooms, stables and living quarters. The arched rooms (royal guard rooms, prison etc.) to the north and east of the yard belong to the Lusignan Period. The Royal quarters to the west of the yard, as well as the big and arched windows of the little Latin Temple also date back to the Lusignan Period. On the southern part of the yard there are fortifications and remains belonging to the Byzantine Period. Ramps lead to the defences on the upper sections of the walls. One can climb steps to the Lusignan royal apartments and a small chapel. The depths of Kyrenia Castle contain dungeons, storage rooms and the powder magazines. Off the courtyard, there is a room displaying the finds from various archaeological sites such as the Akdeniz village tomb, the neolithic settlement at Vrysi, and the Kirni Bronze Age tomb. There is also a small souvenir shop and simple cafe at the northern end of the courtyard.
One of the rooms leading off the courtyard contains the Shipwreck Museum, which exhibits the remains of a Greek merchant ship from the 4th century BC, one of the oldest vessels ever to be recovered, together with its cargo. In 1965, Andreas Kariolou, a Greek-Cypriot diver, discovered the vessel, laden with millstones and amphorae of wine from Kos and Rhodes. The vessel was sailing to Cyprus when a storm wrecked it outside Kyrenia harbour. In 1967 he showed the wreck to archeologists. A team, under Michael Katsev of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, then studied the wreck from 1969 to 1974. The vessel was approximately already 80 years old at the time it sank. Today, the 14 m long hull, made of Aleppo pine sheathed in lead, is preserved in a specially controlled environment in the Museum, together with its amphorae.References:
From its origin as a small stronghold built by the ancient Illyrian tribe Dalmatae, becoming a royal castle that was the seat of many Croatian kings, to its final development as a large fortress during the Ottoman wars in Europe, Klis Fortress has guarded the frontier, being lost and re-conquered several times. Due to its location on a pass that separates the mountains Mosor and Kozjak, the fortress served as a major source of defense in Dalmatia, especially against the Ottoman advance, and has been a key crossroad between the Mediterranean belt and the Balkan rear.
Since Duke Mislav of the Duchy of Croatia made Klis Fortress the seat of his throne in the middle of the 9th century, the fortress served as the seat of many Croatia"s rulers. The reign of his successor, Duke Trpimir I, the founder of the Croatian royal House of Trpimirović, is significant for spreading Christianity in the Duchy of Croatia. He largely expanded the Klis Fortress, and in Rižinice, in the valley under the fortress, he built a church and the first Benedictine monastery in Croatia. During the reign of the first Croatian king, Tomislav, Klis and Biograd na Moru were his chief residences.
In March 1242 at Klis Fortress, Tatars who were a constituent segment of the Mongol army under the leadership of Kadan suffered a major defeat while in pursuit of the Hungarian army led by King Béla IV. After their defeat by Croatian forces, the Mongols retreated, and Béla IV rewarded many Croatian towns and nobles with 'substantial riches'. During the Late Middle Ages, the fortress was governed by Croatian nobility, amongst whom Paul I Šubić of Bribir was the most significant. During his reign, the House of Šubić controlled most of modern-day Croatia and Bosnia. Excluding the brief possession by the forces of Bosnian King, Tvrtko I, the fortress remained in Hungaro-Croatian hands for the next several hundred years, until the 16th century.
Klis Fortress is probably best known for its defense against the Ottoman invasion of Europe in the early 16th century. Croatian captain Petar Kružić led the defense of the fortress against a Turkish invasion and siege that lasted for more than two and a half decades. During this defense, as Kružić and his soldiers fought without allies against the Turks, the military faction of Uskoks was formed, which later became famous as an elite Croatian militant sect. Ultimately, the defenders were defeated and the fortress was occupied by the Ottomans in 1537. After more than a century under Ottoman rule, in 1669, Klis Fortress was besieged and seized by the Republic of Venice, thus moving the border between Christian and Muslim Europe further east and helping to contribute to the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The Venetians restored and enlarged the fortress, but it was taken by the Austrians after Napoleon extinguished the republic itself in 1797. Today, Klis Fortress contains a museum where visitors to this historic military structure can see an array of arms, armor, and traditional uniforms.