Ancient, Military

Top 10 Formidable Castles of Europe

Europe has been a top travel-worthy destination for decades – if not centuries. It is famous for its lively cities, magnificent architecture, and beautiful landscapes. But apart from that, the continent has always garnered a reputation for its remarkable castles.

The extravagant architecture of these majestic buildings portrays royalty. The ambiance takes one back to times of magnificent royal lifestyles. Regardless of what they were built for, either defence or simply royal residences, these structures serve as a testament to the creativity, skill, and resources of the people who constructed them.

These forts served as an excellent defence during medieval times. Some formidable castles remained almost impenetrable during wars, standing tall to this day, reminding us of the incredible architectural achievements of our past. 

Here are the top 10 most formidable castles in Europe:

Alcazar of Toledo, Spain

Alcazar (Arabic for castle) of Toledo dates back to the 3rd century Roman era. It was used as a palace and became a fort in the 10th century. 

Alcazar was the first fort with a square design and towers on the four corners. The castle underwent modification in 1535 under the reign of Charles V, which added an element of the Renaissance. 

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The Alcazar has always been the military and political centre of Toledo city. During the Spanish Civil War, it even acted as an army base. The castle was also a focal point of the infamous “Siege of Alcazar.” In 1936, the nationalists barricaded within the fort and defended it from the republicans for two months. Thus, the site has become a symbol of Spanish nationalism.

This majestic castle has witnessed many wars, leading to its restoration several times. Today, it is used as army offices and a museum.

The Tower of London, England

The Tower of London was established first by “William the Conqueror” after conquering Hasting in 1066. However, it took around 20 years to finish its construction. After that, Henry III and Edward I expanded it by adding defensive walls and several smaller towers.

White Tower
The Tower of London is several castle keeps in one. The White Tower dates from the 11th century.

Originally built as a royal residence and fortress, the Tower soon took other roles. King John expanded it into a Royal menagerie and the Royal mint by 1204. Later, Edward I established a repository in the Tower for documenting government records.

However, its most fascinating role is that of a dreadful prison. During the medieval era, the words “sent to the Tower” would send people into despair. The Tower has been home to many royal tragedies like the murder of Henry VI, the disappearance of the two Princes in the Tower, and the execution of Anne Boleyn.

The magnificent fort has seen so much throughout history. Today, it is one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions.

Fort Douaumont, France 

Fort de Douaumont was one of 19 similar buildings constructed to protect the city of Verdun, France. The fort, dating back to the 1890s, stands almost 388m above sea level near the Douaumont valley. Its Castle shows a very archaic design because of the masonry built walls are covered with thick layers of concrete.

The fort underwent an upgrade in the 1900s to increase its defensive capabilities. Despite the modification, the castle could not withstand the German Army’s heavy bombardment during World War One. 

In February 1916, a small raiding German party took hold of Fort Douaumont from the French during the Battle of Verdun. It took the French troops nine months and an enormous number of human lives to recapture it.

The ruins of Fort Douaumont are covered with woods and vegetation today. The site hides the dreadful events that took place during the Great War.

Spis Castle, Slovakia

This formidable medieval fort is one of the largest castles in Central Europe. 

Present in the village of Zehra, the Spis Castle stands over a 200-meter rock. The fort dates back to the 12th century. Back then, it was considered the political, cultural, and administrative centre of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Spis Castle
This amazing view of Spis Castle is actually a reconstruction of how it would have looked before it fell into disrepair.

Initially, the castle had Romanesque stone architecture. However, it has been modified several times. For instance, in the 15th century, Štefan Zápoľský, the new owner of the Spis Castle, reformed the fort into an aristocratic state residence.

His son Jan Zápoľský was born there and went on to become the King of Hungary.

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It is a legacy of the Mongolian invasion of Hungary in 1285–1286. Additionally, the Spis Castle has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. Despite its rich history, the castle stands in ruins because of a fire outbreak in 1780. 

Malbork Castle, Poland

Malbork Castle, known as the “Castle of Teutonic Order,” is the largest castle in the world by land area. It was previously called the Marienburg Castle. 

The Castle is located North of Poland by River Nogat. It was built and used as a headquarters by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. Throughout its history, the fort has seen several expansions to create more living space for the soldiers.

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Malbork also served as the royal residence and office of several Polish kings until the partition of Poland in 1772. Post-partition, the construction fell under German rule for over 170 years till 1945. However, at the end of World War Two, the Castle and Malbork city became part of Poland again. The authorities restored the wrecked castle to a great extent using detailed information collected by early conservators. 

Conway Castle, Wales

The Conway Castle dates back to the rule of Edward I and his invasion of Wales. Its construction occurred between 1283-1287. It was a significant part of Edwards I’s plan to surround Wales with an iron wall of castles.

The Castle, present in North Wales, consists of eight massive towers and a thick wall that surrounds it. Both the castle and the walls are well preserved to this day.

Conwy Castle
Old meets new. Conwy Castle (1283) and the railway bridge (1848) that leads past.

This intimidating fortress was a constant target of the Welsh upheavals against the English. Finally, the head of these rebellions, Owain Glyndwr, captured it in 1403.

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In the 1642 civil war, the Royalist regimes used the castle as headquarters till the parliamentary forces took it. Despite witnessing many consecutive bloody battles, this formidable castle stands firm. It also found a place on the World Heritage Site list in 1986. According to UNESCO, this fort is one of the finest military structures in Europe from medieval times.

Acropolis of Athens, Greece

The Acropolis was built strategically to strengthen the defence system of Athens.

It was constructed in the 5th century and served many roles. The Castle was a protective fortress, a royal residence, and a religious centre – all at the same time. This fort survived centuries of war, fires, explosions, and interventions.

The castle is steeped in a rich history that spans several civilizations, including the Romans, Persians, Ottomans, and Venetians, each of which has left an indelible mark.

In addition, the Turkish rulers used it to store ammunition. During the Morean War, a large part of the Acropolis was destroyed due to the heavy bombardment of Venetians in 1687.

The Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis of Athens in Greece was constructed in the 5th Century.

Nevertheless, the Acropolis was returned to Greece by the end of the Greek War of Independence in 1822. A restoration project began in 1975 to preserve and restore the Acropolis to its former glory.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

This mighty fortress is one of the world’s most impenetrable castles. It is on top of Castle Rock, 443 feet above sea level. The Scottish monarchs frequently used it as a royal residence and military headquarters.

Furthermore, the oldest structure of the castle is St. Margaret’s Chapel built between 1130-1140. However, the authorities of the time made numerous modifications to it. The Castle’s defence was strengthened after the destructive siege of 1571-1573. By the end, the castle had its own defensive gate. Interestingly, the Castle also served as a prison between 1757-1814.

Edinburgh Castle
Every year Edinburgh Castle plays host to a Military Tattoo.

According to historical records, Edinburgh Castle saw as many as 25 invasions. However, the enemy managed to capture it only twice, and that too for a brief period. Today, the Castle is a top tourist site, attracting thousands every year.

It also received a place on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1995.

Hohensalzburg Fortress-Salzburg, Austria

Hohensalzburg Fortress is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. It is also the largest completely preserved castle in Central Europe. The Hohensalzburg stands 506 meters above sea level, on top of Mount Festungburg, Salzburg, Austria.

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The construction of the castle began in the early 11th century. However, most of its towers and walls date back to the 15th century. The fortress has several wings, chambers, courtyards, chapel, and a magnificent hall.

In its long-standing history, the Hohensalzburg was besieged only once in 1525, during the German Peasants War. After that, most attacking forces avoided it because of its impenetrable defences.

Interestingly, the castle was the base for Nazi activists and a prison during World War Two.

With its 1000-year history and the remarkable view of the whole city, Hohensalzburg is Salzburg’s most famous tourist site today.

Alhambra-Granada, Spain

Alhambra is one of Spain’s most impenetrable castles. Additionally, it’s the most significant remaining relic of Islamic reign in the Iberian Peninsula. Alhambra’s construction occurred between 1238-1358. It served as a palace and a fortress during the Moorish Nasrid Dynasty.

Moreover, the fort stayed the last stronghold of the Moors during the Catholic Reconquista until 1492. After defeating the Moorish rulers, the castle fell to Spanish rule.

After the departure of the Nasrid Dynasty, many of the original structures were destroyed. Later, the Castle saw several modifications under Spanish rule, which included a large Renaissance Palace inside the castle walls. 

During the Peninsular War, the French forces used the Alhambra as a fortified post. On their evacuation from Granada, they caused substantial damage, destroying most of its eight towers.

Alhambra Castle
Panoramic view of the Castle at Alhambra. The castle has Moorish architecture.

Despite the obliteration and reconstruction, much of the fortress preserves its Moorish air. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Undoubtedly, these castles project a fascinating area of study – providing a window into the past, allowing us to understand the cultures, traditions, and lifestyles of our ancestors. From the grandeur of their architecture to the stories of the battles and sieges they witnessed, these castles offer a unique glimpse into an era many have forgotten.