If there is one thing that sets the pulses racing, it is the sight of a magnificent castle coming into view, dominating the surrounding countryside and proclaiming its majesty to all who gaze upon it. It is a sad fact that the most grand of these structures can no longer be found in the UK, but fortunately there are still places in the world where these incredible buildings live on to enchant us and fire our imaginations.
7. Neuschwanstein Castle
One of the most familiar castles in the world – which inspired the Walt Disney cartoonists in their creation of the Sleeping Beauty castle – sits on a hillside overlooking Hohenschwangau in southwest Germany. Originally commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Neuschwanstein was designed to be a personal royal retreat and was also meant to pay homage to composer Richard Wagner. After the death of the king in 1886, the castle was opened to the paying public. Since then in excess of sixty million people have passed through its doors.
6. Prague Castle
Prague Castle is said to be the largest ancient castle on earth. Almost 1800 feet long, it contains an amazing collection of old artifacts, including statues, ornate gates and several courtyards, as well as St Vitus’ Cathedral. The great tower of the cathedral boasts a large balcony offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, and contained within the castle walls is a street called the Golden Lane. This lane is packed with quaint old gift shops, inside one of which Franz Kafka is reputed to have lived.
5. Hohenzollern Castle
Another amazing German castle is Hohenzollern. Traditionally home to Prussian kings and German emperors, it is thought to have originally been constructed in 1061, though no recorded history exists before 1267. Partially destroyed in 1423, it remained largely underused for several centuries, before it was bought in 1819 by Frederick William IV, who decided to fully restore it. Emperor William II (1859-1941) is believed to have remarked, “The view from up here is truly worth a voyage,” when speaking of the vista from the battlements of the castle, high above the plains. With many historical royal artifacts on display, this is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.
4. Krak des Chevaliers
Built during the First Crusade at the beginning of the 12th century, on top of a 650-meter-high hill in Syria, this fortress was meant to guard a strategically important trade route between the city of Antioch southwards toward the Mediterranean sea and Beirut. This mighty citadel had walls three meters thick and could house over 2,000 men. Seven 10-meter towers surrounded the inner castle, and with a storeroom large enough to allow defending troops to keep up to five years worth of supplies, it would have been all but impregnable. There was even enough stabling for 1,000 horses. A truly magnificent old fortress, it only fell in 1271 when the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, Baibars, forged a letter from the Tripoli commander ordering them to give up.
3. Hameji Castle
In 1993, World Heritage Site status was awarded to the largest and most often visited of Japan’s castles. Seen as the finest surviving example of 17th century architecture in Japan, Hameji Castle is composed of a network of 83 buildings. Commonly known as the ‘White Egret Castle’ due to the exceptionally brightly painted white exterior, this glorious old castle dates to 1333. Despite heavy WWII bombardment of the area, and natural destructive forces such as earthquakes, Himeji Castle remains unscathed to this day, a wonderful reminder of times long gone by.
2. Mehrangarh Fort
There are several large forts in India, but one that stands out is the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodphur. Imposingly situated 400 feet above the city, this stunning structure – one of the largest forts in India – is enclosed by very thick walls. Inside are several palaces which are much admired for the intricate carvings inside. Also within the walls is a truly magnificent museum, featuring several exceptional royal palanquins from days long since past. Among these is to be found the Mahadol palanquin, with its intricate gilded dome, which was claimed from the Governor of Gujarat in a battle fought in 1730.
1. Marienburg Castle
Yet another fabulous German castle, located on the River Nogat, Marienburg was founded in 1274 by the Teutonic Order. These were crusaders, and the castle was named in honor of the Virgin Mary, patron saint of this order of knights. The Order had been based in Acre before the Muslim armies took it from the crusaders, after which the Teutonic headquarters became Venice. Papal decrees ensured the knights Templar were hunted all over Europe, so in 1309 the Order moved to the Marienburg because it was accessible via the ocean. In time this amazing building became Europe's biggest fortified Gothic castle. Containing three distinct structures within, it was four times the size of the UK’s own Windsor castle. Also notable for its unusual moats and towers, it was at one time home to 3,000 soldiers – hardly surprising when you consider the fact that the castle walls surround an area of 52 acres.