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The "Maiden's Castle" at Kizkalesi: Picturesque with a legend to match 

There is something both magnificent and melancholic about Christian fortifications in the Levant. And in that combination lies their charm. 

Magnificence is in the size of the castles and walled cities and in the intricacy of their defences, strengths that made up for their remote position in hostile territory and the smallness of their garrisons.

Melancholy stems from their abandonment to the forces of Islam in a protracted retreat which began with Saladin's victory at Hattin in 1187. It would not be until the second half of the 16th century, at the Great Siege of Malta and the Battle of Lepanto, that the tide would begin to be stemmed.

In a previous issue of Standpoint ("Castles of the Imagination", October 2009), I wrote about the "frontline" of the Crusading effort in Syria — the great Hospitaller fortresses of Krak des Chevaliers and Marqab, the Templar strongholds of Safita and Tartus and the castle of Sahyun, with its 90ft-deep rock-cut ditch. The present journey, inspired by A. F. Kersting's photographs in Castles of the Crusaders (Thames and Hudson, 1966), is through secondary lines of defence, from the walled city of Famagusta in eastern Cyprus to the Greek island of Rhodes.

Nowhere is the paradox of magnificence and melancholy more acute than in the old town of Famagusta. A small and declining Byzantine port, it fell to Richard Coeur de Lion and was sold by the Knights Templar to Guy de Lusignan the following year, in 1191. But it was only a century later, after the final expulsion of Christians from Acre, that it was transformed by fugitive merchants from the Palestinian mainland. As a transhipment point between East and West, it became one of the richest cities in the Levant. During its heyday, the Cathedral of St Nicholas, modelled on Notre-Dame in Rheims, was built, the citadel completed and the sea-wall strengthened. Merchant wealth and the needs of various denominations gave rise to many churches.  

The Lusignan kings of Cyprus lost control of Famagusta to the Genoese in 1373 and in 1489 it passed into Venetian hands. They initiated the second big wave of military building — a new outer wall surrounded by a wide ditch and punctuated with mighty bastions, a system of defence against cannon developed in Western Europe.

The strongpoints of the old town are the Rivettina Bastion in the south-west (a complex of galleries protected by a double moat), the arrowhead Martinengo Bastion in the north-west and the remodelled citadel overlooking the harbour.

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