St. Hilarion castle
The castle of Saint Hilarion is built on a peak (approximately 725 m from the sea level) of the western part of the Pentadaktylos mountain range in the occupied part of Cyprus. The castle’s location is spectacular since is built among huge and extremely steep rocks and it is inaccessible from the north, northeast and east. It was named after St. Hilarion because the saint used this peak as a hermitage.
Saint Hilarion Castle
The castle was built during the Byzantine period, at the end of the 11th century, like the castles of Kantara and Buffavento. These three castles, all situated on the Pentadaktylos mountain range, were important fortresses and contributed greatly towards the island’s defense against sea raids from the north. During the Frankish period, apart from being used for defense purposes the castle was also used (during peaceful times) by the island’s royal family as a holiday home. It is for this reason that the royal apartments were added to the castle. After the 14th century the castle of St. Hilarion was abandoned along with the other mountainous fortresses in the area since the developments in military strategies and technology made the castles ineffective. With the Venetians, the castles of St. Hilarion, Buffavento and Kantara were demolished so that any chance of an enemy seizing them was made impossible.
The castle of St. Hilarion is comprised of three defensive units built upon different levels:
The first unit is situated on the lowest level of the hill and it is the largest in length. This level is surrounded by the Byzantine wall which is built on the hills’ three sides whereas on the fourth side in the north the second level’s steep slope rises. Seven semi-circular towers are built along the wall and two other towers exist in the south where the wall protects the castles’ main entrance. Many buildings that functioned as habitation units for the soldiers and as animal dens exist on this level.
The second unit, which is situated on the hill’s next elevation level, consists of the most important architectural remains of the castle. One is led to the second level via a large Byzantine two-story building. The Lusignans incorporated a vaulted passageway into this building which used to close with a moveable bridge. This is also the unit where the remains of St. Hilarion’s church are situated. The church is dated to the end of the 11th century and it bears a dome which is supported by eight composite pillars. The church’s ground plan is trapezoidal and its interior dimensions are 9,80 X 7,30 m. In the interior the walls are constructed with irregular limestones while on the exterior surface of the southern wall (the church’s only visible surface) the layer of mortar imitates the surface of squared stones and baked bricks. In the east the church’s apse is preserved. The roof has not survived nor have the frescoes that adorned it. Even though the church was initially built without a narthex, a trapezoidal-shaped narthex was added during the 12th century and its walls survive at a height of 4 – 5 m. The three rooms that are situated north of the church also date to the 12th century. The middle room is covered by a groin-vault whereas the other two are domed A trapezoidal room was also added in the northeastern side of the church.
Saint Hilarion Church
Some important buildings survive to the north and the northeast of the church of St. Hilarion such as a 14th century room with underground storerooms and a vaulted kitchen. To the southeast of this room is the belvedere (building with a beautiful view) which is vaulted and has pointed arches. A four-storey building exists in this unit’s eastern limit. This building was probably the area where the royal apartments were situated before being transferred to the third unit. To the west there area three 14th century vaulted rooms in a row.
A steep path and an arched entrance with a semi-circular tower lead to the third unit which is situated at the hill’s highest point. This unit consists of two complexes: the apartments with their auxiliary rooms in the lowest area and the defensive buildings at the top of the hill. The apartments are situated in the western part of the unit and they consist of an oblong 14th century building with a large vaulted room and a cistern in its ground floor. A wide staircase leads to the building’s upper floor which comprises of a large room once covered with a wooden roof. In the eastern side of the building there used to be a colonnade with which the upper floor’s rooms communicated externally. A large gothic window and benches survive in the building’s west wall. A wall flanked by two rectangular towers was built in the south, on the hill’s highest level. Finally, cisterns can be seen spread all over this highest level.
Saint Hilarion: ground plan