Formidable fortresses - 20 imposing castles

updated 8/6/2021
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From India to England, epic castles and forts have been built to withstand wars across the world. Here's a look at some of the most impressive.

1. Rumeli, Turkey

Once a cannon-studded defensive battlement that showed little mercy to ships failing to halt their course along the Bosphorus, then a customs point and prison, Rumeli Fortress fell victim to a vicious earthquake in 1509 and an even more vicious fire in 1746. Its final role, before ending up as a open-air museum and cultural centre, was to accommodate a residential neighbourhood.

Rumeli fortress, Turkey © Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock

2. Alcázar of Toledo, Spain

Toledo’s Alcázar has a long heritage, having once been used as a Roman palace in the third century and more recently been a focal point during the Spanish Civil War. Dramatic events during this war led to the building being regarded as a potent symbol for Spanish Nationalism. Following meticulous restoration, the fortress is now a museum and library.

Panorama of the Alcazar of Toledo, near Madrid, Spain © Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

3. Janjira, India

This is the only fort on the west coast of India that has remained undefeated, in the face of many attacks from countries including the Netherlands, Portugal and England. A huge marine fortress on an island near Murud, it has 19 still-complete bastions, punctured by rusting cannons.

View of Murud Janjira Fort in monsoon season at Konkan, Maharashtra, India © ImagesofIndia/Shutterstock

4. The Tower of London, England

The words “sent to the Tower” would have been enough to strike fear into the heart of any medieval Englishman, for this place was not only a palace and royal residence, it was also a grisly prison. A handful of people have been executed here – possibly the most famous was Anne Boleyn. The centre point is The White Tower, commissioned by William the Conqueror in the eleventh century.

The Tower of London fortress in the evening light with white clouds © balounm/Shutterstock

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5. Mehrangarh Fort, India

Bearing down on the city of Jodphur is Mehrangarh Fort, a giant of a building that encloses a handful of large and intricate palaces. The castle preserves memories of a long and violent past: cannonball marks on one gate, a shrine to a solider who fell in battle, and another gate with palm prints of the creators on it. You may recognize the fortress from the final Batman film, the Dark Knight Rises.

© Dmitry Rukhlenko/Shutterstock

6. Fort de Douaumant, France

This fort was one of 19 such buildings constructed around the town of Verdun in northern France. Because the forts dated from the 1890s, the modern warfare and weapons of World War I completely overwhelmed them: Fort du Douaumont was occupied without struggle by a small German troop in February 1916. The 9-month Battle of Verdun ensued, tragically costing the lives of countless young men.

Fort Douaumont at First World War One battlefield near Verdun in France © T.W. van Urk/Shutterstock

7. Bamburgh, England

Dominating the little fishing village of Bamburgh on the Northumberland coastline, Bamburgh Castle still has its Norman core. Primarily the seat of the English monarch over the years, it was an occasional target for Scottish raids and has belonged to the Armstrong family since 1894. It’s open to the public, and is a very popular wedding venue.

Find even more English castles to visit in our guide to England's most impressive castles.

Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast, England © Michael Conrad/Shutterstock

8. Citadel of Aleppo, Syria

Considered the oldest and largest fortress in existence, Aleppo’s citadel sits on a mound that has been inhabited since – incredibly – the middle of the third millennium BC. The citadel is surrounded by a deep moat, and inside there's a remarkable amphitheatre, palace, hammam and underground passages.

Entrance to Aleppo Citadel © milosk50/Shutterstock

9. Baba Vida, Bulgaria

Baba Vida Fortress is named after Vida, the eldest daughter of a nobleman who left his lands and powers to his three girls. Kula and Gamza married badly, while Vida refused all proposals, instead concentrating her efforts on constructing this fortress. Simply designed but oh-so-effective, with four towers and two thick grey walls, the fortress is now a fascinating museum.

Aerial shot of Baba Vida fortress in Vidin, Bulgaria on the shore of Danube river © Todor Stoyanov/Shutterstock

10. Kumbhalgarh, India

India has plenty of remarkable fortresses, but what makes Kumbhalgarh Fort in Rajasthan so special is its beautiful evening light show, when its bulbous gates and curving ramparts are bathed in an orangey glow. Built in the fifteenth century and the birthplace of the great warrior Maharana Pratap, the fortress protects hundreds of shrines and the highlight, the painted Badal Mahal (Palace of Cloud).

Kumbhalgarh Fort. Rajasthan, India © Dmitry Rukhlenko/Shutterstock

11. Spiš Castle, Slovakia

Due to its rocky ruins, rambling ramparts and glorious views from its hilltop location, Spiš Castle in Slovakia has starred in a selection of medieval-era films such as Dragonheart and the Last Legion. Built over an original settlement in the twelfth century, the castle has had a long and tumultuous past, but burnt down to its current clapped-out state in 1780.

Spis Castle, Slovakia © Rasto SK/Shutterstock

12. Prague Castle, Czech Republic

Prague Castle is the jewel in the crown for the Czech Republic, and in fact houses the Czech Crown Jewels themselves. The fortress is an attractive collection of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings, all displaying different architectural styles – like the Gothic St Vitus Cathedral and Romanesque Basilica of St George.

© Shutterstock

13. Bourtange, Netherlands

A haven of green fields and trickling canals, and shaped like a star, Bourtange Fort looks far from martial. William of Orange commissioned the fort during the Eighty Years War (1568–1648) but by 1851 it had been transformed into a peaceful village. The fort now looks as it did during the eighteenth century, but is now a diverting open-air museum.

Bourtange Fortress aerial view during sunset in the Province of Groningen. Fortress in shape of star near border of Netherlands and Germany © saleksv/Shutterstock

14. Himeji Castle, Japan

One of the prettiest buildings you’ll ever see, Japan’s Himeji Castle is often referred to as the “White Heron Castle” for its resemblance to a flying bird. It has 6 stories, 83 rooms and a serene inner moat, and has the auspicious claim of being Japan’s premier and most popular castle. It’s currently undergoing extensive renovation, due to finish in spring 2015.

Himejii Castle, Japan © Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock

15. Potala Palace, Tibet

Thirteen stories, white walls measuring over 3 metres wide, more than 1000 rooms and countless shrines and statues combine to produce the massive, unconquerable Potala Palace in eastern Tibet. The Dalai Lama lived here until the 1959 Tibetan uprising, and it’s now a well-visited museum.

Potala Palace, Tibet © Chris Redan/Shutterstock

16. Kotor, Montenegro

The coastal town of Kotor is encircled by a extensive walled fortification system that has had to contend with Ottoman sieges, Venetian and Habsburg rule, Russian occupation and vicious British attack – not to mention a handful of destructive earthquakes, which put it on the World Heritage List of Danger until 2003.

Kotor, Montenegro © Shutterstock

17. Malbork Castle, Poland

An unfathomable number of red bricks went into the making of Poland’s Malbork Castle. A classic medieval fortress founded by the Teutonic Knights, complete with moats, towers and ramparts, the castle was pulverised during World War II. Today, visitors can see the result of admirable and ongoing restoration.

Castle Malbork, Poland © Shutterstock

18. Buda Castle, Hungary

Commanding the River Danube and the higgledy-piggledy Castle District around it, Budapest’s fortress was the glitzy, golden home of the Hungarian kings, dubbed, unsurprisingly, the Royal Palace. It’s a rather plain beast today compared to what it once was and instead of regal folk, now houses museums and galleries.

Budapest Hungary - Aerial panoramic skyline view of Budapest at sunset with Buda Castle Royal Palace, Szechenyi Chain Bridge, Parliament, Matthias Church over Danube river © LostintheCity/Shutterstock

19. Krak de Chevaliers, Syria

Built strategically on top of a hill east of Taurus, eastern Syria, the magnificent Krak de Chevaliers was originally a Crusader castle, constructed in the twelfth century (though the site was inhabited before that). T. E Lawrence once described it as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world” and today it still has remnants of medieval frescoes within.

Krak des Chevaliers, also Crac des Chevaliers, is a Crusader castle in Syria © Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

20. Conwy Castle, Wales

Eight massive towers and a vast, thick curtain wall protect Conwy’s castle with extraordinary medieval might. The fortress dates from the reign of Edward I and his Conquest of Wales, and it has been centre stage during many consecutive bloody battles, before enjoying a decidedly more peaceful role as the subject of Victorian paintings and tourist rambles.

Conwy Castle, Wales © Richard Hayman/Shutterstock

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updated 8/6/2021
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