The castle of Kantara is the easternmost castle of the three Pentadaktylos mountain range castles in the Ammochostos district in occupied Cyprus. Built at 2068ft it commands both the northern coast and the Mesaoria plain and controls the entrance to the Karpas peninsula. Like the castles of St. Hilarion and Buffavento, it was first built in the Byzantine period after the Arab raids. However, nothing is known about the castle before the conquest of Cyprus by King Richard the Lionheart in 1191.
The first mention of the castle is in 1191. The self-declared king of Cyprus Isaak Comnenos, fled to the castle after being defeated by Richard the Lionheart at Tremetoushia. Isaak surrendered when the castle of Keryneia (where his wife and daughters were kept) was seized by Guy de Lusignan.
More information on the castle exists from Frankish and Venetian sources (1191 – 1571). The castle acted as a stronghold especially during the Longobarbic war. With the name Le Candaire or Cantare, it was an impregnable fortress. In 1373 when the Genoese seized Ammochostos and Lefkosia, the Prince John of Antioch fled to Kantara after escaping from Ammochostos where he had been imprisoned by the Genoese. According to Etienne Lusignan in 1391, King James I (1382 – 1398) fortified Kantara castle and it seems that the existing fortifications date to that period. For as long as the Genoese held Ammochostos Kantara castle was an invaluable observation and defensive outpost.
Historical sources mention that the castle was well equipped and strong but in 1562 it seems to have been in ruins. We learn from Stefano Lusignan that the three castles on the Pentadaktylos range (Kantara, Buffavento and St. Hilarion) were demolished by the Venetians who did not consider them to be important fortifications and also because of the difficulties they faced in manning them. The destruction was not complete even though the elements have contributed towards their further decay.
Kantara Castle: ground plan
The castle is built on a rocky hilltop which determined both its outline and the arrangement of its buildings. The north, south and west steep cliffs made access to the castle impossible. The entrance is therefore situated in the east where the cliff is less steep and allows access. The entrance consists of an imposing barbican which is protected by strong towers. The barbican and the outer entrance have been ruined. In the north and south the castle’s fortification wall ends up in two huge towers with embrasures.
The southeastern tower in the castle’s interior is a large rectangular room covered with a cross vault. This room’s vaulted basement, which was turned into a cistern for the concentration of rain water, was originally used as a prison. To the southwest of this tower another vaulted room exists and to its south there is a range of three vaulted chambers with loopholes where the soldiers resided.
The west part of the castle’s southern wall ends in a horseshoe-shaped tower and continues in the west side of the cliff with three vaulted chambers. In the north side of the west part of the castle there are two vaulted chambers which were used as cisterns. To the north of this area one can see the remains of the castle’s Byzantine northern wall along with cisterns and other buildings that are in a ruinous condition.
The chamber at the top of the hill (2068 ft) preserves its beautiful window in its south wall. The view from this part of the castle is stunning since one can see the island’s northern coastline, the Karpas peninsula, the east part of the Mesaoria plain and the gulf of Ammochostos.
The northeast tower commands the entrance and controlled the movement at sea in the north. The tower’s ground floor consists of a passage with loopholes at the north, which leads to a square chamber covered with a cross vault. In the eastern wall of this chamber an entrance leads to the horseshoe-shaped vaulted tower with loopholes on all of its three sides. The tower’s upper floor consists of a long narrow passage which ended in the rectangular chamber.