Once one of the ancient city kingdoms of Cyprus, Kyrenia (Girne) was founded by Mycenaean Greeks around 1200 BC. From this point Kyrenia’s history is, in essence, the history of its castle. Little more is known about the town until the castle’s construction by the Byzantines in the 7th century to ward off continuing Arab raids.
In 1191 the castle was captured by Richard the Lionheart of England, on his way to Jerusalem and a third crusade. The castle was then used as both a residence and prison. It was sold to the Knights Templar and then gifted to Guy de Lusignan when he became king of Cyprus.
In the 14th century the Venetians extended the castle and built the bulbous sea-facing fortifications still seen today. During Ottoman rule, changes to the castle were again made, while Kyrenia itself functioned primarily as the island’s only northern port.
Kyrenia has long since given up this port role, as the Old Harbour’s size and depth only allow it to service tourist crafts, fishing boats and the small yachts commonly found in its cluttered quays. Two kilometres to the east of Kyrenia, there is now a large purpose-built harbour created to receive commercial and passenger ships from Turkey.
During British rule, the town became a favourite with retiring (ex-colonial) British civil servants. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, it used the beaches to the west of Kyrenia as the prime location for landing its army. Almost all Greek Cypriots and many British retirees fled.
Now, 40 years later, Kyrenia supports a large and growing tourist industry, mainly from Britain, Germany and Turkey.