Posted in Features on January 23, 2008
By Sarah Scrafford
Everyone seems to know that the most luxurious castles are located in Europe. Or, are they? As we traveled the world we learned that castles exist everywhere. From South Africa to Louisiana and from New Zealand to Iran, a curious traveler can find a castle in just about every corner in the world.
Just to prove this theory to you, we’ve gathered twenty-five amazing castles from around the world for your perusal. This selection represents some of the most intriguing castles in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North America, and from around the world. The oldest castle is being restored in Iran after an earthquake destroyed eighty percent of its buildings. The newest castle was built during this century on a stretch of private land on the Sinai coast. No matter when these castles were built, most of them are available to book for special events or as tourist venues. So, you can always visit to see if the royal lifestyle is up your alley.
Although numbered, this list is not in any particular order. So, the numbering does not indicate that we favor one castle over another or that they are listed in order of quality, size, or historic value.
It seems that you can’t turn around in Europe without bumping into a castle. Europe is the heart of pomp and circumstance, and every country holds amazing stories about their palaces and fortresses. But, if you can visit Europe only once, the following castles are on the “must see” list for your trip. Once you see them, you’ll realize that photographs don’t do justice to the sheer size and luxury that were bestowed on these current and former residences.
- Windsor Castle: If you plan to visit England, you’ll discover that you could spend months visiting all the castles on this island. However, Windsor Castle is probably the most well known castle in the world, as – together with Buckingham Palace in London and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh – it is one of the official residences of England’s Queen and the largest occupied castle in the world. This building and its complex have provided a home and fortress for royalty for over 900 years. Originally made of wood, the castle was built for William the Conqueror to guard the approach to London. The site sits above the River Thames, on the edge of a Saxon hunting ground and one day’s march from the Tower of London. Visitors can walk around the State Apartments, which are extensive suites of rooms at the heart of the working palace. Once you’re through with this castle, you can visit some of the top castles in Britain listed at the Travel Channel. Those castles all come highly recommended, but don’t forget to visit some of the smaller castles such as the one located in Dolwyddelan, Wales. This castle is a lovely place to visit along the road from Betws-y-Coed to the western coast and provides a chance to view Mount Snowden, the highest mountain in Wales.
- Castello di Strassoldo di Sopra: While there are more magnificent and famous Italian castles, this choice is far from the maddening tourist crowd. This castle is the ‘upper’ castle, which is located near the Castello di Strassoldo di Sotto (“lower” castle), and both castles are located in northeast Italy. Both castles also are privately owned by the Strassoldo family and have been in this family for almost one thousand years. Since they’re privately owned, they aren’t open to the public; however, the owners open their halls for two fascinating exhibits in the spring and fall each year. Additionally, important wedding banquets and other memorable events are personally organized by the owners. The castle’s splendid and fully furnished halls can host several hundred people, while the park can be used for open air buffets and wonderful photos. The owners of the Castello di Sopra have recently restored a fifteenth-century small house called “la Vicinia,” which they rent out overnight. This building and the castle are located in the heart of a lovely medieval village, surrounded by a centuries-old park that’s fed by spring waters.
- Frankenstein Castle: Darmstadt, Germany is home to the setting for Mary Shelley’s Gothic horror novel, Frankenstein. This castle was the 18th century home of Lord Konrad Dippel Von Frankenstein. There are many theories about Dippel, including one that he sold his soul for eternal life. In reality, Dippel was a highly controversial alchemist in whose laboratory the colour Prussian Blue was discovered. Maybe his enemies tried to ruin his reputation with the legend about the monster created in his laboratory. Visit Frankenstein Castle during Halloween to get the maximum scare factor, as an elaborate monster-themed theater show is performed, along with actors who lurk in the castle shadows. If this castle isn’t enough for you, you can visit a few other German castles that might tickle your luxury bones.
- Bran Castle: This is another castle that the faint of heart might want to avoid! Commonly known as Dracula ‘s Castle, the Bran Castle was originally a stronghold built by the Knights of Teutonic Order in 1212. The first documentary attestation of the Bran Castle is the act issued on 19 November 1377, giving the Saxons of Kronstadt (Brasov) the privilege to build the Citadel. The building started in 1378 as a defense against Turks and later became a customs post on the pass between Transylvania and Walachia. From 1920 the castle became a royal residence until the expulsion of the royal family in 1948. Today it functions as a very attractive museum of medieval arts. The official Romanian site will provide you with the lowdown on this country’s castles, so be sure to visit that site if you plan to visit Romania.
- Château de Versailles: This castle complex is Louis XIV’s masterpiece, a structure so magnificent that the state treasury was almost depleted during its construction. Also known as the Palace of Versailles, and located now on the edge of Paris, this palace became home to French nobility during the seventeenth century. As the complex grew through four “building campaigns,” Versailles became the center of French government. Louis XIV lived at Versailles, and government offices, homes of thousands of courtiers and their retinues were built there, and nobles of a certain rank and position spent time each year at the court complex. Louis XIV’s attempt to centralize the French government succeeded, as few could match the ostentatious glamour represented by Versailles. Visitors now can visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site and view luxuries such as the Hall of Mirrors (pictured here) and the magnificent gardens among other features. The official Web site also contains a gallery and podcasts where individuals can learn about the castle before they actually visit. If this castle isn’t enough for you, then visit this list of French castle sites.
The most significant castles in this region include those created by the European Crusaders who arrived in the Middle East during the Middle Ages to protect Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher. All total, eight crusades were carried out between 1096 and 1270, and an entire network of castles was built during this era that stretched from deserts in south Jordan to northern Asia Minor Mountains. You can gain access to a map that shows the sites of the Crusader castles located in the Levant.
What this map doesn’t show is the large percentage of castles built upon Byzantine architecture and with a strong influence from Armenian art. These castles often influenced European architecture, which borrowed upon this Greco-Armenian influence. On the other hand, an enterprising traveler could use this guide to soak in more than a handful of castles during a short trip. We chose five of the best castles within this region that we feel you shouldn’t miss – including one that was built recently.
- Krak des Chevaliers: T.E. Lawrence once described this castle, located in Syria, as “the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world.” It is the easternmost of a chain of five castles intended to secure the Homs Gap, atop a 650-meter-high hill along the only route from Antioch to Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea. This castle and Beaufort, located in Lebanon as well, were the most important connection castles in the Middle East and they planed a major role in coastal defense for the Crusaders. In 1142 the castle was given by Raymond, Count of Tripoli, to the Knights Hospitallers, and it was they who, during the ensuing fifty years, remodeled and developed it as the most distinguished work of military architecture of its time. The castle remains one of the most complete pieces of military architecture dating from this period, and it holds some of the best preserved Crusader frescoes in the world. The complex contains two concentric walls that sandwich a ditch. The outer wall is an impressive three meters in width, and originally featured a dry moat and drawbridge and was designed to be able to withstand a siege lasting up to five years. Three of the eight round towers were built following the Crusades. Additionally, a chapel within this complex was later converted into a mosque.
- Castle Zaman: Castle Zaman is perched atop a desert cliff midway between Taba and Nuweiba in Sinai. The simple architecture provides amazing views over the Gulf of Aqaba, and into Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The exact site signifies a landmark on the ancient road that connected St. Catherine’s Monastery with Jerusalem. But, while a distant perspective might fool your eyes into believing this is an ancient ruin, Castle Zaman was built along a local theme to accommodate the contemporary tourist market. Used for honeymooners, parties, film or fashion shootings, the castle and its amenities are available for rent on a weekly or daily basis depending upon availability. Zaman’s private beach, with its pristine sand and crystal clear waters, is the only virgin beach left in the Taba and Nuweiba area.
- Arg-é Bam Castle: This enormous citadel, situated on the famous Silk Road, was built some time before 500 BCE and remained in use until 1850 CE. It is not known for certain why it was then abandoned. Located in Bam, Iran, this castle is the largest adobe building in the world. The entire building was a large fortress in whose heart the citadel itself was located, but because of the impressive look of the citadel, which forms the highest point, the entire fortress is named the Bam Citadel. It is listed by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage Site, but an earthquake in 2003 destroyed more than 80 percent of the buildings. However, since it is a World Heritage site, several countries – including Japan, Italy, and France – have joined forces to reconstruct the buildings. The World Bank has also granted a large sum of money to the restoration project.
- Rhodes Castle: The Island of Roses, or Rhodes, is famous for its historic Medieval town, great shopping, and the site of the Colossus of Rhodes. This ‘castle’ was built within the Old Town walls at the beginning of the 13th century CE by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. The building is comprised of 205 rooms and a conference area that hosts summits for European and world leaders. Today it attracts visitors from around the world as it houses the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes. Rhodes lies between Crete and the near East along the Aegean ocean. It is the largest of the Dodecanese islands and popular even among the Greeks as a holiday retreat. Rhodes holds about sixty thousand permanent residents, and it is the financial and cultural center of the southeastern Aegean area. The excellent tourist infrastructure that includes a wide variety of entertainment makes Rhodes a popular destination.
- Kolossi Castle: The Kolossi Castle is stronghold located a few kilometers outside the city of Limassol on the island of Cyprus. It held a great strategic importance and contained production of sugar, one of Cyprus’ main exports in the Middle Ages. The original castle was built about 1210 by Frankish military when the land of Kolossi was given by King Hugh I to the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (Hospitallers). It is a stone fortress and the baseground was probably used as a store with two underground cisterns. You’ll enter the first floor via a suspended bridge, and on the south wall of one of the two lower rooms there is a wall painting representing the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the Blason Magnac, which is testimony to the royal devotional use of this room. The next room with the fireplace was likely to be the main dining and reception room. On the second floor there are two more rooms, which were used for lodging. On the roof of the monument, a scalding bowl and loopholes bring the thought of the visitor back to medieval sieges, along with the thought of boiling oil. Former inhabitants of this castle include Richard the Lionhearted and the Knights Templar.
Like the Middle East, you can find maps that show castle locations throughout Asia. One map, which illustrates castle locations in Japan, clearly demonstrates the proliferation of these Oriental castles in the southern region of the islands. You also can learn about Japanese castles on a site written by a person who has visited over thirty Japanese castles. Maps for Chinese castles are few and far between, but this country’s marvelous architectural structures are beginning to enjoy global attention. Korea also holds a number of castles. Most of these buildings were created as fortresses with entire cities built within their enclosures, but many ‘castles’ in this region consist of temple-cities as well.
- Forbidden City: As the seat of supreme power for over five centuries from 1416 to 1911, the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, contains four high towers on the four corners of the city wall. This is a fort that contains a city, and the walls are approximately one meter thick. Landscaped gardens and many buildings (whose nearly 10,000 rooms contain furniture and works of art), constitute a priceless testimony to Chinese civilization during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Imperial Palace of the Qing Dynasty in Shenyang consists of 114 buildings constructed between 1625–26 and 1783. It contains an important library and testifies to the foundation of the last dynasty that ruled China before it expanded its power to the center of the country and moved the capital to Beijing. This palace then became auxiliary to the Imperial Palace in Beijing.
- Himeji Castle: Himeji Castle was originally built in 1346 by Akamatsu Sadanori as a fortification against local shoguns. However, the castle has never seen battle, so it is the best preserved example of medieval castle architecture in all of Japan. Himeji is a hill castle that employs the surrounding geography as a bulwark against an enemy attack. The three moats – inner, middle, and outer – served as three lines of defense. The building has expanded over the centuries, and now stands intact on a hill in the center of Himeji City. It is surrounded by a tangled network of spiraling paths and high white walls and, in Japan, it is known as ‘White Heron Castle.’ In 1931 it was designated a national treasure. After several aborted attempts, restoration work began in 1956 and was completed in 1964. It 1993 it was put on the list of UNESCO World Cultural and Heritage Sites. The castle is said to be haunted by a servant girl named Okiku, who is said to have spurned a wealthy warlord’s attention in favor of her true love.
- Gyeongbokgung or Gyeongbok Palace: While Seoul, Korea, contains five castles (or, palaces), this building may be the largest and most spectacular palace in Korea. It was originally built in 1395 by Korean architect Do-jeon. King Taejo then added on to the building to make it the main palace of the Joseon dynasty. The Japanese burned the building during an invasion in 1592, and it was left in ruins until King Gojong restored the area in 1868. At one time there were 330 buildings in the palace complex. Many of these are being reconstructed. It is said that the Korean alphabet, known as Hangeul, was created inside this palace during the fifteenth century under the reign of King Sejong.
- Angkor Wat: The ruins of Angkor Wat are located amid forests and farmland to the north of the Great Lake (Tonle Sap) and south of the Kulen Hills, near modern day Siem Reap in Cambodia. Although not a castle per se, Angkor represents the seat of the Khmer empire that flourished in this region from approximately the ninth to fifteenth centuries. This period of rule began when the Khmer Hindu monarch Jayavarman II declared himself the “universal monarch” and “god-king” of Cambodia in about 802 CE until 1431 CE, when Thai invaders sacked the Khmer capital and caused its population to migrate south to the Phnom Penh area. The temples are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the main building, Angkor Wat, is said to be the world’s largest single religious monument. Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together they comprise the most significant site for Khmer architecture. With the help of satellite photographs and other techniques, an international team of researchers concluded in 2007 that Angkor Wat was the largest preindustrial city in the world, with an urban sprawl of 1,150 square miles. The closest rival would have been the Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala, which was roughly fifty square miles in total size.
- Malacca A’Famosa: When you go to the Web site linked here, you might wonder where the castle went. Well, for the most part, all that’s left of this sixteenth-century Portuguese fort is a tiny gate called the Porta de Santiago. In 1511 a Portuguese fleet arrived in what was then known as Melaka in Malaysia, under the command of Alfonso de Albuquerque. His forces attacked and successfully defeated the armies of the native Sultanate, and Albuquerque built a fortress near the sea. This commander believed that Melaka would become an important link between Portugal and China along the Spice Route. As Melaka’s population grew, the fort was expanded around 1586. The fort changed hands in 1641 when the Dutch drove the Portuguese out of Malaysia. The property changed hands once again in the early nineteenth century when the Dutch handed it over the British to prevent Melaka from falling into Napoleon’s hands. Knowing that they would need to hand the property back to the Dutch at the end of the Napoleonic wars, the British tried to make the entire city useless. Sir Stanford Raffles, Singapore’s founder, convinced the British to allow the population to remain, but all that remains of the buildings was the gate that stands today.
Yes, Virginia – castles do exist in North America. Canada holds the largest castles on this continent, but there is something to be said about a castle that’s small enough to serve as a fishing camp. The following five castles represent a handful of approximately one hundred castles scattered throughout this continent.
- Chapultepec Castle: When you’re in Mexico City, Mexico, look up on the tallest point in the middle of Chapultepec Park. You’ll discover a building that has been used as a military academy, an imperial palace, an observatory, and a museum. It currently houses the Mexican National Museum of History, but you may recognize it as the 1996 film location for the Academy Award-nominated movie, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It is the only castle in North America that was occupied by European sovereigns. Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez ordered the construction of a country house on Chapultepec Hill in 1785. After a series of misfortunes and conspiricies, the municipal government of Mexico City purchased the building in 1806. The building went through more occupations and periods of disuse before President Lázaro Cárdenas decreed a law that established Chapultepec Castle as the seat of the National Museum of History (Museo Nacional de Historia) with the collections of the former National Museum of Archaeology, History and Ethnography.
- Hearst Castle: On the other side of the U.S. in California, you can find the home of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. Located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, construction on this home began in 1919 on a 40,000 acre ranch that Hearst inherited from his father, George Hearst, and that was purchased originally in 1865. San Francisco architect Julia Morgan designed most of the buildings, but the estate was never completed during Hearst’s lifetime. He would tear down structures and rebuild them at a whim, making it difficult to complete the estate while Hearst had a hand in it. Additionally, the estate is a mix of architectural fancies that Hearst enjoyed on his European trips. The facade is modeled after a sixteenth-century Spanish cathedral, while the outdoor pool features an ancient Roman temple front that was transported wholesale from Europe and reconstructed at the site. The indoor pool, shown here, is modeled after Roman baths with gold mosaic tiles. The castle was donated by the Hearst Corporation to the state of California in 1957, and it is a Sate Historical Monument and a National Historic Landmark open for public tours.
- Casa Loma: Located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, this castle was the former estate of Sir Henry Pellatt, a prominent Toronto financier, industrialist and military man. Construction on this castle began in 1911, and it took 300 men and nearly 3 years to complete at a price of over three million dollars. Pellatt enjoyed the castle for about one decade before he declared financial ruin. The city seized Casa Loma in 1933 for $27,303 in back taxes. While one critic called the mansion “a mixture of 17th century Scotland and 20th Century Fox,” many visitors tour the decorated suites, secret passages, an 800-foot tunnel, towers, stables, and five-acre estate gardens. The house was commissioned to Canadian architect. E.J. Lennox and, at 98 rooms, it was the largest private residence in North America upon completion. Many of the rooms were left unfinished, and today serve as the Regimental Museum for The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.
- Frontenac Castle: The Frontenac Castle is actually a Fairmont Hotel that is located in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, about one-half mile from Quebec’s parliament. Although the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is actually a hotel, it is as symbolic to Quebec as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. This Renaissance style castle was build in less than a century by the Canadian Pacific Railway company. With its castle-like architecture and turrets, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac plays a huge role in the heart of the city’s activities, and it has been designated a United Nations World Heritage Site. It may be difficult to book a room in 2008, as this year represents Quebec’s 400th anniversary.
- Fisherman’s Castle: Anyone who’s driven along I-10 between the Mississippi-Louisiana border and New Orleans in the United States has seen this small and simple castle sitting on the other side of Irish Bayou. Contractor Simon Villemarrette built the ‘home’ in 1981 and he based it upon a fourteenth-century French castle. He purposely built the castle with round turrets and with enough concrete to withstand 140 mph wind gusts. Unfortunately, Villemarrette died before he could occupy the home. This building did survive Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with little damage other than the chunks cut from the sides by flying debris. Jon Digman currently resides in the home as a caretaker, but it’s unknown who owns the home or what the future of this castle holds. The image shown here was taken in 2007, so it’s obvious that any damage created by Hurricane Katrina has been repaired. This little replica goes to show that any home can be a castle.
Around the World
The following castles aren’t as grand as those found in Europe or even in the Middle East or in Asia. But, for their owners and inhabitants, they represented all that was powerful, protective, and princely. And, the castle in Colombia, South America, would rival many European castles in sheer size. Many of the ‘castles’ located around the Caribbean were forts that housed a city complex complete with soldiers. On the other hand, some of the castles shown here were meant as private homes. Yet, these latter buildings are spacious enough to host large functions.
- Stollmeyer’s Castle: Modeled after a wing of Balmoral Castle in Scotland, and created by the Scottish architect, Robert Gillies from the firm of Taylor and Gillies, this fantastic residence is definitely under Scottish influence. However, it’s located far from Scotland, as the home is located in Port-of-Spain in Trinidad. The wife of the original builder, Charles Fourier Stollmeyer, did not like the house, so it was passed to the Stollmeyer’s son, Conrad C. Stollmeyer. Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Stollmeyer lived at the house until their deaths in the 1960s, and the house then passed to the Stollmeyers’ only son, Dr. John Stollmeyer. In March, 1972, John Stollmeyer sold the home for $215,000 to Jesse Henry A. Mahabir, an insurance executive. The building was to be used for residential purposes only. The building was acquired from Mr. Mahabir by the Trinidad and Tobago Government in 1979. If you’re visiting Trinidad and Tobago, you might want to take in this home as well as six others that make up this country’s Magnificent Seven architectural treasures.
- Larnach Castle: Visiting New Zealand? If you plan to spend any time in this area, then you’ll want to visit this country’s one and only castle. Australian-born William Larnach, merchant baron and politician, built this home for for his first wife in 1871. Over 200 workmen spent three years building the Castle shell and master European craftsmen spent a further 12 years embellishing the interior. Larnach spared no expense on this dream home, which features the finest materials from around the world. The building is the centerpiece of a 35-acre property atop a hill midway along the Otago Peninsula, eight miles from the city of Dunedin on the east cost of the country’s South Island. Still privately owned, the Barker family celebrated their 40th anniversary with Larnach Castle in 2007. Weddings, balls, official and formal functions and celebrations are held often in the home’s 3,000 square foot ballroom. But, be aware that this castle is haunted by both the first and second Mrs. Larnachs, and daughter Katie. The specter of Larnach himself might linger, as he shot himself in the head in 1898 when he learned that his young third wife was embroiled in an affair with one of Larnach’s sons from his first marriage.
- Castillo San Felipe del Morro: Over two million visitors a year explore theme windswept ramparts and pageways in this fortress/castle, where the history of 400 years of Spain in Puerto Rico comes alive. Begun in 1539 by Spanish settlers to defend the port of San Juan, El Morro’s architecture follows well established Spanish military fortification design principles. Similar Spanish fortifications from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can be seen on islands throughout the Caribbean and in Florida in the U.S. Named in honor of King Philip II of Spain, the Castillo was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1983 and is part of San Juan National Historic Site.
- Castle of Good Hope: The Castle of Good Hope was built in Cape Town, South Africa, between between 1666 and 1679, which makes this castle complex the oldest surviving building in this region. The current pentagonal fortification replaced a small clay and timber fort built by Commander Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 upon establishing a maritime replenishment station art the Cape of Good Hope for the Dutch East India Company, better known as the VOC (Verenigde Oos-Indische Compagnie). In 1936 the Castle was declared a National Monument. As a result of an extensive, ongoing restoration and conservation program launched in the 1980’s, the Castle of Good Hope remains the best preserved of its kind built by the VOC in regions where it had interests. The Cape of Good Hope houses the regional headquarters of the South African Army in the Western Cape, the famous William Fehr Collection of historic artworks, the Castle Military Museum and ceremonial facilities for traditional Cape Regiments.
- San Felipe Castle: Castillo de San Felipe, Cartagena, Colombia, South America, was founded in 1533. This forted castle is a walled city and a World Heritage site. It took slave labor over a century to build this fortress that dominates the landscape and that protected residents from pirates. The fortress is thought to be Spain’s most successful military engineering project in the Americas. Built from red brick and concrete, this citadel is designed so even if one part of the fortress fell to invaders (which never happened), the defenders could fire from another part. Its size is startling, and visitors begin to realize this building’s magnitude when they begin to explore the underground tunnel network.
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