Kantara, is situated at the Eastern end of the Kyrenia Range over seven hundred meters above sea level. It is 26 miles North of Famagusta reached via Iskele and Ardahan villages. The castle is 2 miles east of the summer resort which is also called Kantara . The castle of Kantara is the easternmost castle of the three Pentadaktylos mountain range castles in the Ammochostos district commands both the northern coast and the Mesaoria plain and controls the entrance to the Karpas peninsula.
Kantara is thought to derive from the Arabic qantara, "arch" or "bridge", in Arabic probably so named by the Arab invaders in the past. In fact the whole setting of the terrain looks like an arch and it certainly commands excellent views of the seas on both sides and of long stretches of plain all around it. It was originally built by Byzantines against the invasions of the Saracens. Kantara Castle first appears in records during the time of the Crusades of Richard the Lionheart. It is said to be the castle where Isaac Komnenos - first and last Emperor of Cyprus in 1191 fled after being defeated by Richard the Lionheart at Tremetoushia and surrendered when the castle of Keryneia with Issac’s daughter was seized by Guy de Lusignan.
The Lusignans remodeled and enlarged this fortification and called it Candare or La Candaire. In peaceful times the Lusignan kings themselves would come to Kantara Castle to hunt in the mountain forests, pursuing the local mountain goats with tame leopards. More information on the castle exists from Frankish and Venetian sources (1191 – 1571). The castle acted as a stronghold especially during the Longobarbic war. In 1228, Kantara Castle was besieged by royalists, who bombarded the walls with catapults so badly that they had to be almost completely rebuilt. 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. There is the story of a mysterious 101st room and of a 'Queen' who has given her name to the topmost chamber of the ruins attached to Kantara Castle and as always. Search for legendary treasure has no doubt accounted for further dilapidation since the removal of the Venetian garrison in 1525. The ruins were strengthened and made safe in 1914.
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. The entrance is about in the centre of the eastern outer wall and was protected on both sides by two rectangular towers of which only tile parts survives.
In the south tower are now arranged the latrines. The outer wall ended to the North and the South in two shoe-horse shaped tower with loopholes. Climbing the steps, the visitor having entered the barbican reaches the inner entrance of the castle which is in the centre of a strong wall which ends in two huge towers at the North and South.
The Southeast tower contains a large rectangular room covered with a cross vault. The basement of this room, which has now been turned into a cistern for rain water storage, was, at first 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 southern wall of the castle ends in a shoe-horse shaped tower and continues at the west of the cliff with three vaulted climbers. In the most southerly chamber there is a small gate which was used by the garrison in an emergency.