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Functioning as both a connection to the past and an exhibition of architectural beauty, these mighty and somewhat unrealistic constructions are now ironically considered some of the most peaceful buildings around. From huge, solid strongholds to oriental fortresses and highly decorative palaces, here is our pick of the world’s most incredible ancient castles.
image by mindriot
Prague Castle, Czech Republic
Prague Castle is one of the largest and oldest castles in the world – its surface is around 570 metres long and 130 metres wide. Most fascinating about the castle is its design; representing literally every architectural style of the last millennium, from Gothic to Romanesque and Baroque features, the castle’s first buildings emerged as early as in the ninth century.
The Potala Palace, Tibet
Situated upon Marpo Ri hill, above the Lhasa valley in Tibet, the Potala Palace is the greatest monumental structure in the country. Built by Emperor Songtsen Gampo in 637, the original structure stood until the seventeenth century, when it was incorporated into the foundations of the larger buildings, which still stand today. The present palace, known as Potrang Karpo, or the White Palace, was completed in 1648, during the reign of the fifth Dalai Lama. The Potrang Marpo, or Red Palace, was then added, requiring some 7000 workers and 1500 artists and craftsman for its completion.
Mont St. Michel, France
Le Mont St Michel is located on a small, rocky quasi-island on the Normandy coast, near Brittany. Only one narrow causeway links the island to the coastline, adding to the overall impression of this other-wordly castle. Unlike other castles in France, which were built for defence or to house royals, Mont St Michel began life as a monastery. Italian architect, William de Volpiano, designed the Romanesque church of the abbey in the 11th century, daringly placing the transept crossing at the top of the mount. Countless underground crypts and chapels were built below the structure to compensate for its weight. Today, it attracts over four million visitors a year and has been featured in several movies, cartoons, and even videogames.
Predjamski Castle, Slovenia
Do not be deceived by this castle’s small stature in comparison to other’s around the world – Predjamski is integrated into the second largest cave system in Slovenia and probably the only castle in the world incorporated into the landscape in such a way. It is also the only cave in the world with a double-track railway, meaning tourists can view the inner tunnels, galleries and halls of this unique architectural work.Although its name literally translates as ‘Castle in Front of the Cave’, the castle was actually built in stages, beginning in the twelfth century, with the middle added in renaissance, and the right wing built around 1570.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle via @ Wikicommons
Built for Louis II of Bavaria, often referred to as Mad King Ludwig, Neuschwanstein is a royal palace, located in the Bavarian Alps of Germany. The castle is a quintessential work of nineteenth century romanticism and a fantastical imitation of a medieval castle, complete with towers, spires and turrets – it’s no wonder that Sleeping Beauty’s cast in Disneyland was modelled on it. The castle was also extremely revolutionary at the time, equipped with all kinds of technical conveniences, including running water on all floors, automatic flushing toilets on every floor and a heating system for the entire building.
Matsumoto Castle, Japan
Matsumoto Castle, locally named Matsumotojo, is one of the most complete and beautiful in all of Japan and its origins go back to the Sengoku period (1500s). The castle is an example of ‘hirajiro’, in that it was built on a plain rather than on a hill.
Hunyad Castle, Romania
Although today located in what is known as Hunedoara, Romania, the Hunyad Castle was originally part of Transylvania, and is believed to be the place where Vlad III of Wallachia (aka Dracula) was held prisoner for seven years after he was overthrown in 1462. The castle is the most impressive relic of the Hunyadi dynasty, built in a Gothic style, with Baroque and Renaissance elements. Understandably intimidating, considering its history, the castle’s appearance is equally eerie; a large and imposing building makes up the castle, complete with tall, coloured roofs and myriad towers, windows and balconies, each decorated with stone carvings.
Pena Nationa, Portugal
The oldest palace inspired by European Romanticism, Pena National Palace in Portugal is perched on the top of a hill above the town of Sintra. First built in the fifteenth century as a palace, the building was later reconstructed and donated to the church as a monastery. The style of the palace is a diverse combination of the original and subsequent architectural styles, including Romantic, Bavarian, and Moorish.