Twin (“Didymos”), Queen’s Castle, Ais Larkou Castle are some of the several names that were given to the Castle of Saint Hilarion or else known as Agios Ilarion. The dominant name is named after St Hilarion, a hermit monk who fled from prosecution in the Holy Land and lived and died to the western hilltop of the now occupied mountain range, Pentadaktylos.
The Saint Hilarion Castle was built by the Byzantines in the 11th century A.C. on a key defensive location, as it is surrounded by rocky crag that allows access only to the southern side. They also built the castles of Buffavento and Kantara for defence against pirates raiding the northern coast of Cyprus. During the Frankish Rule, the St Hilarion castle, like the other two, was upgraded. Particularly, the castle not only served as a defence fortress but also as a summer residence of the Frankish kings of Cyprus - this is why there are several royal apartments. Finally, the castle was abandoned and destroyed by the Venetians (end of the 15th century) so it wouldn’t have been occupied by their enemies.
In the modern times, the castle was occupied by the Turks shortly after the Cyprus Intercommunal Violence in 1963 that led to clashes between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Since 1974, the St Hilarion Castle is under the Turkish occupation.
The impressive castle consists of three defence units that are built on three different levels. The lower ward is encircled by a Byzantine wall and has seven semi-circular towers. Two more towers are near the main entrance. On this level, many buildings are preserved which mainly accommodated soldiers and animals.
The second unit of the castle is the middle ward which consists of the most significant buildings of the castle. There are the remains of a church devoted to St Hilarion that was erected in the 11th century. The church has a large dome supported by eight pillars. The frescoes that adorned its interior are no longer visible. To the north of the church, there are three rooms dating to the 12th century and a remarkable hall of the 14th century that contains an underground storage room, a kitchen and a unique belvedere with a vaulted roof with pointed arcs offering tremendous views. This is a four-storey building block with a wood-panelled roof.
The third and highest unit of the castle consists of two blocks: the apartments on the lower level and a defence building at the top. The royal apartments of the 14th century are found in this unit and their structure is elongated. Based on the surviving architectural elements, it appears that this was a great example of Gothic architecture. This is where the famous “Queen’s Window” is located. It is a big window carved in Gothic style where you can sit on both sides and enjoy the breath-taking panoramic view. At the top of the castle there is a wall framed by two square towers.
The castle of St Hilarion, like the other two castles in Pentadaktylos, is connected with many local folk legends that relate mainly to the Queen (Rigena). According to a legend, during the construction of the castle, Rigena was particularly tough to the workers whom she tortured. When the castle was completed, she commanded the soldiers to throw the workers into the cliff so they would not reveal any secrets. Another legend claims that because they were unable to besiege the castle, the enemies decided to dress one of their soldiers as a pregnant woman who was crying out of labour pains. Rigena decided to open the gate for him. As soon as the gate opened the enemy army got in and Rigena decided to jump out of the window so as not to get caught. Finally, there is a legend that evil spirits live there, probably inspired by the grandeur and magnificence of the castle.