Kyrenia Harbor

Sometime around the year 300 BC, a trading ship sank off the coast of Cyprus. Barely a mile from the city-kingdom of Kyrenia, it went down with wine amphorae from Rhodes and Samos, millstones from the island of Kos and several thousand almonds (found perfectly preserved in jars). The ship may have been sunk by pirates, by bad weather or simply because it was old - there were many repairs made to the hull.
The wreck is interesting mostly because of its age - it's the oldest recovered shipwreck in the world - and completeness. For Kyrenians, though, it is a symbol of the city's ancient connection to the greater world.
Today the "medieval harbor" is much sleepier and less used than it once was. There are still a few fishing vessels along the piers, but there are more pleasure craft and a large number of tour boats. Closed off on one side by the massive Kyrenia castle, and along the seaward side by a long breakwater, the marina has an intimate, cozy feel. Its water is shallow, the pace is slow. The waterside is lined with restaurants and bars. A sunny promenade stretches along the breakwater and young couples sit on the riprap to kiss or watch the sunset.
The harbor was only recently re-enclosed, though. The British opened the port to the sea at the end of the 19th century, which allowed for deeper ships to enter but wrecked many of the local boats. It was the latest turn of fortune for the marina, which has had a history of highs and lows.
The ancient city of Kyrenia was an important one, a major stop along the flourishing east-west trading routes of the Mediterranean. The closest Cypriot port to Anatolia, it served as a gateway between the island and the mainland for centuries. Trading routes at the time favored short hops between ports instead of long distance sailing - ships like the one found here were too small for real open water journeys. Sailors preferred to navigate along the coast or among islands, making landfall at night. It's probable that the ship's crew ate their meals on land, and would have slept there too. Harbors of the time were important shelters as well as trading points.
Sitting at the junction between Anatolia, Greece and Babylonia, Cyprus helped to link the west with eastern cities like Aleppo and Jerusalem. In fact, analysis of the shipwreck's wood suggests that it was built in Syria, though most of its cargo was Grecian and it may have traveled as far as Venice.
The ancient port, where the shipwrecked boat was headed, was once sited in a cove just east of the castle and medieval harbor. Strangely, this pretty little crescent is the one part of Kyrenia that hasn't been built up - the water is bordered only by grass and brownish sand, the land around it makes a natural amphitheater. Standing here, looking in just the right direction, one might think they'd come across someplace really wild.
The present harbor dates to the middle ages, when the Frankish Lusignans decided it was more easily defended than its predecessor. Under Ottoman rule, Kyrenia and its port foundered. Forbidden from conducting trade with lands to the west or east, the district capital was reduced to small necessities trading with the Turkish mainland. Adding to the town's medieval decline was the advent of larger, more seaworthy ships and improved navigation. It was no longer necessary to travel primarily in coastal waters, and trading ships began to bypass Cyprus on their way to and from the East.
By the time the British arrived in 1878, Kyrenia was little more than a fishing village, and the harbor was home to only a few small caïques.
The fishing industry has returned a little, but the truth is that the northern coast of Cyprus has always had rather poor fishing. There aren't enough nutrients in the water to support a large native stock - for years, most of Cyprus's seafood has been imported. In the old days, fishing was very much a subsistence lifestyle. Tourism has taken over as the primary seafaring industry, and a lot of boats were being spruced up before the high season rush.
We were warned by a few Girne locals not to eat at any of the waterside places - one man named Tunay, who we met at the Fisherman's Inn, was also adamant that we avoid all sea bream and sea bass. "Those are the farmed fish," he told us. "You want real fish, from the sea." While it's true that the quality of the port restaurants is a little lower than some of the inland spots and the prices are higher, I think the locals are more offended by the tourists than by the food.And it's hard to pass up the atmosphere of the evening harbor, the lights and old buildings, the boats quietly creaking. The small ring of old inns and warehouses is just high enough to block out all the recent, squared-off development that spreads away from the water. It's easy enough to have a drink or a few plates of meze - and the place isn't unusually touristy by Mediterranean standards.
One can see the salvaged remains of the Kyrenia shipwreck in the "Shipwreck Museum," located in the castle. Also on display are several of the amphorae and stone mills, as well as a small percentage of those nine thousand preserved almonds.
Another place one can see the ship's image is on the Cypriot euro coins, on the .10, .20 and .50 cent pieces.
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1 comment for "Kyrenia Harbor"

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