On the way to Karpas from Famagusta, the largest settlement in the area is Iskele (Trikomo). The town is mainly inhabited by the Turkish-Cypriot refugees from Larnaca (now in south Cyprus) who relocated to here after 1974.
The quaint 15th century Byzantine church of St. Jacob (Avios Iakovos) dominates the center of the town.
Iskele icon museum is another main attraction in the town. Iinaugurated in 1991, the 12th century church of Panagina Theotokos (Blessed Virgin Mary) is preserved by the Department of Antiquities and Museums as the icon museum.
Iskele and the vast Karpas peninsula with the virgin beaches, attractive wildlife and ancient churches and ruins offers ideal place for those seeking peace and quiet.
The region also houses the wild Cypriot donkeys who gaze care-free in the nature. In the recent years there has been controversy between the environmentalists and the authorities on how best to control their population in a more sustainable way.
Iskele is also famous for its annual festival during summer, as well as the Mehmetcik (Galatya) Grape Festival both major regional cultural events attracting visitors across the island.
The town is thought to have been founded around 1600 BC on an artificial mound. Its name means the ‘Mound of Darkness’.
A piece of copper slag discovered has led some archaeologists to think that Toumba tou Skourou was probably one of the towns on the island where copper was worked and exported in the Bronze Age. The rich grave finds confirm the prosperity of the settlement.
The houses were built of mudbrick on stone foundations. Its handmade pottery is exceptionally good and includes White Slip Ware and Base Ring Ware. The first group is decorated with geometric motifs in orange or dark brown colour on white ground. The Base Ring Ware is mostly little jugs with tall necks bringing to mind the shape of the inverted opium poppy-head.
Kantara is one of the most important castles by which the natural defence of the Kyrenia range was reinforced. The word ‘Kantara’ in Arabic means bridge or arch. Since this castle bridges the range and commands all the area surrounding it, the name is more than appropriate. It is planted on a group of steep cliffs. The origins of the Kantara castle go back to the 10th century when it was built as a lookout post. The first reference to the castle in the records is in 1191 when Richard the Lionheart captured Cyprus and Isaac Comnenos, the rebel Byzantine prince from Trapezus (Trabzon) who had captured the island and proclaiming himself King of Cyprus, after having ruled for seven years as a despot, sheltered in Kantara. In the 12th century it was remodelled by the Lusignans. Throughout the island’s history Kantara often served as a shelter for defeated barons and kings. When the Genoese conquered Famagusta and Nicosia in 1373, Kantara remained in the hands of John of Antioch, the brother of King Peter I of Cyprus – till he moved to St Hilarion.
Later his brother, King James I (1382-1398) of Cyprus refortified Kantara. Most of the surviving parts belong to his restorations. It continued to be used as late as 1525 when Venetians having relied on the coastal fortresses such as Kyrenia and Famagusta for the defence of the island neglected it as they had done with the other inland castles of Saint Hilarion and Buffavento.
This impregnable castle begins with a barbican on its eastern side. It is inaccessible from the other three steep directions. The door of the barbican is flanked by a pair of square towers, and opens into a large bailey. A second opening, again protected by two towers, is the entrance into the actual castle.
The tower in the direction of the sea is a two-storey structure of passages and vaulted rooms with shooting slits. On the land side its equivalent has a vaulted basement which was used as prison. This tower is succeeded by a single room and a group of three vaulted rooms with shooting slits and a toilet. These were the rooms where the knights stayed. In the southern section of the walls the remains of a lookout tower and some rooms and cisterns have survived. On the peak of the cliff there are the ruins of the tower from which flares were used to signal Nicosia and Buffavento during the night.
Church of Panagia Theotokos
This Byzantine church was built in the early 12th century as a single aisled, domed church. In the 15th century a second vaulted aisle was added to its north side.
The first building has retained much of its original frescoes executed in the early Comnenian style.Its dome is occupied by the figure of Christ Pantocrator (Omnipotent) surrounded by the Preparation of the Throne where the throne is flanked by the Virgin and John the Baptist and groups of angels. The other surviving frescoes depict the life of the Virgin Mary according to the apocryphal gospels. The eastern vault above the conch of the apse shows the Ascension. The conch of the apse is occupied by a 15th century representation of ‘Mary Orans’ (a 15th century version of Mary Blachernitissa).
The north aisle contains some 15th century Franco-Byzantine murals.
The second church whose remains are incorporated in the present day building is thought to have been built in the late 5th or 6th century as a colonnaded basilica with a narthex, a nave, two aisles, and an apse. After it was destroyed in the Arab raids around 700, it was rebuilt as a buttressed basilica. However following an earthquake in 1160 it was again restored and rebuilt as a multidomed structure. However, the work did not finish till the 14th century.
Its apse and some columns of its narthex and Corinthian capitals belong to the earlier church. Its southern narthex and the small porch on the south side are also later additions.
The original mosaic which decorated its apse represented the Christ Child sitting on the lap of the Virgin Mary attended by two archangels and surrounded by a frieze of apostles. Its part which showed Christ Child, an arch angel, St James and St Matthew was split into four pieces and stolen by art thieves. The mosaic was made in 525-550 AD and one of the only six or seven mosaics which have survived the Byzantine Iconoclastic period (726-843 AD).
The surviving frescoes, such as the fresco of the Virgin Mary in the lunette above the south portal have been restored several times.
Church of Panagia Kyras
The little church of Panagia Kyras is thought to date from the 7th century and incorporates the remains of the apse of an earlier church of the 6th century. In this old apse there is a mosaic of the Virgin Mary whose cubes are thought to be good for minor illnesses such as pimple and spots. The fragmentary murals in the church are from the 13th century.
The ruins of Nitovikla fortress have survived on a low hill near the sea. This fortress is thought to have been built at the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c 1900-1650 BC) to protect the area against sea raids. The fortress was a rectangle surrounded by massive walls and its entrance was guarded by towers. At its centre there was a courtyard to which the rooms opened. The flat roofs served as platforms for the soldiers. The structure brings to mind the Hittite fortresses of Anatolia
Church of Ayia Trias (Sipahi)
This church was built in the 6th century. Originally it began with a narthex which opened into a courtyard surrounded with columns. The building had a columned nave with two aisles and a triple-arched apse. In the middle of the nave the remains of a chancel have survived. An inscription in front of the main apse refers to one deacon Heraclios as a benefactor of the edifice. Other donor names included in the mosaics are Aetis, Euthalis and Eutychianos. The ruins of the baptistry of the church retaining some of its marble steps descending into a font in the shape of a crucifix can also be identified. The west side of the building was occupied by the bishop’s palace.
The mosaics of the church are thought to be the work of local mosaicists and reflect the taste of the eastern Mediterranean school, represented at its best by the pavements of Antioch-on-the-Orontes.
Church of Ayios Philon
Philon was the name of the bishop who converted the inhabitants of the Carpas area to Christianity in the 4th century. The early 5th century complex which carries his name was built on the foundations of earlier Hellenistic and Roman structures. This was the site of the ancient city of Carpasia built first by the Phoenicians. The city was destroyed by Arab raids in 802. Traces of its old harbour with remains of stone blocks and columns can be distingished.
The church consisted of a columned courtyard, a narthex and a nave with aisles ending with a triple-apse. The original floors of this monument were paved with colourful stone pieces in red, white and grey. In the 12th century a domed Byzantine church was built on the ruins of this construction. To the southeast of the complex are the remains of a cistern and a baptistery.
Aphendrika was known as one of the six important cities of Cyprus at the beginning of the 2nd century BC. Research has brought to light the remains of a citadel, a necropolis with rock-cut tombs, the site of a temple, and the ancient (silted) harbour of this settlement.
By the 8th century Cyprus seems to have recovered from the Arab raids and though smaller than those of the previous period new churches were built. The churches of this period had sturdy masonry piers to divide the nave from the aisles, wooden roofs, and apsed east ends. The three ruin groups clustered together not far from Aphendrika belong to this group.
The first of these is the church of Ayios Yeoryios (St George) which was originally a domed
Byzantine structure erected at the turn of the 10th century. The building had a double apse with niches on either side. The rounded-square drum under the fallen dome rested on arches linking the four piers just west of the apses.
The church of Panagia Chrysiotissa was built in the 6th century. After it was destroyed by the Arab raids its original wooden roof was replaced with barrel vaulting at the end of the 10th century. It had blind arcades. Following a second destruction in medieval times it was rebuilt in the 16th century.
This basilica, whose ruins have survived to the present day, had pointed barrel vaulting and occupies only a part of the former site. A column surviving at the spot that it was erected in the first arch of the south wall of the later church helps to identify the arrangement of the columns in the previous building. Half-column fragments in the western part and in the apse also belong to the previous structure.
The Panagia Asomatos basilica which was also built in the 6th century is in better condition. Its plan was similar to Panagia Chrysiotissa. After its destruction by the Arabs its wooden roof was also replaced with barrel vaulting at the end of the 10th century. It preserves its apsidal passages and vaulting over the southern aisle.
Apostolos Andreas Monastery
Christian literature has it that in one of his travels St Andrew was returning to Palestine on a vessel whose captain was one-eyed. They put ashore here and St Andrew struck the rock, and out gushed a spring whose water cured illnesses. Thus, St Andrew restored the captain’s sight.
The present day building is new. Below it and close to the sea there is a rock grotto over which a 15th century chapel has been erected on a tiny spring of freshwater.
The tip of the peninsula known as the Cape Apostolos Andreas (Zafer Burnu) has the remains one of the earliest Neolithic settlements on the island (6000-5800 BC) on the wind-protected southern slope of a hill. The finds – fish bones, sea-shells and fishing implements – show that the inhabitants lived mostly on fishing. The obsidian artefacts have led archaeologists to think that they were either from Anatolia or had connections with Anatolia.