Busy with excursion boats, laced with wooden pontoons and bristling with masts, Girne’s medieval harbour is one of the most picturesque in the Mediterranean. Almost perfectly circular, its western side is dominated by the massive Venetian castle, while the harbour entrance is now protected by a long breakwater built after independence. The horseshoe-shaped quay is taken up with restaurants and small hotels, some in converted carob warehouses, others in modern buildings, with balconied upper stories and canopied ground floors. Nearby is the Customs House, converted by the British from a medieval tower to which, during troubled times, a chain was slung from the castle to prevent access to the harbour. It is now occupied by the tourist office. There’s an even older, ancient harbour immediately to the east (you can see it from the Venetian tower of the castle) and a much newer, modern one even further east beyond that.
Girne Castle has a confusing architectural history, having been adapted, destroyed, rebuilt and improved so many times. The Byzantines first built a castle here, perhaps on the remains of an earlier structure, in the tenth century AD. Rectangular in shape, it was reinforced and extended during the Lusignan era, with the addition of living quarters and a moat. Its present form took shape under the Venetians in the sixteenth century, with the addition of the west and south walls and the construction of three new bastions. The British used the castle as a prison and as a police academy, and, during the late 1950s, to incarcerate EOKA fighters.
Never taken by force (though it was almost destroyed by the Genoese in 1373), the castle did succumb to the Ottomans in 1570. It is said that the Venetian commander of the castle negotiated a truce with the Ottomans until it became clear how the siege of Nicosia turned out. When the Ottomans presented him with the severed head of his Nicosian counterpart, he promptly surrendered.