Castles in the sky
Castles conjure up images of a romantic medieval past, the stuff of legends and fairy tales. But what exactly makes a castle, well, a castle? Usually built for royalty or nobility, castles are magnificent residences that are fortified, so they can be defended if attacked. Tall towers allow for lookouts, moats and drawbridges make it hard to get in, and battlements have gaps for shooting through.
When we think of medieval castles, we’re thinking of ones built during the Middles Ages, which lasted roughly 1000 years from 500 to 1500 CE. Although that period usually refers to Europe, there are a surprising number of medieval castles in Africa and Asia, as well. Castles in the Americas, though, usually date from after the age of European exploration, which came later. In addition, some of the most famous castles in Europe, such as Neuschwenstein, were actually built much later in a revival style to look like the castles of yore. Dotting the countryside, true medieval fortifications like the ones on this list are often imposing yet have an awe-inspiring beauty we still admire a millennium later.
Eltz Castle, Germany
Some countries have more than their fair share of gorgeous medieval castles, and Germany is one of them. Eltz Castle is one of the finest examples of a German knights’ castle, and it has remained in the same family since its construction began in 1157. Surrounded on three sides by a small river, Eltz Castle’s foundation follows the shape of the 70-metre-high rock it sits on – which makes some of its interior rooms oddly shaped.
Although it was involved in some small skirmishes, the castle was luckily never destroyed in battle, so it never had to be rebuilt. But additions were made over several centuries, with restorations in the 19th and 20th centuries helping to preserve the stunning architecture. The present owner of the castle, Dr Karl Graf von und zu Eltz-Kempenich, restored the castle again between 2009 and 2012. Eltz Castle’s surrounding nature reserve also helps maintain its ’frozen in time’ appearance.
Bran Castle, Romania
This hauntingly beautiful castle set high on its perch is said to be the inspiration for the castle in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (although Vlad the Impaler, the supposed inspiration for Dracula himself, was never the lord of Bran). Built in 1388, the castle’s lord was in charge of collecting tariffs and keeping the Ottoman Empire at bay with the help of professional soldiers. Later inhabited by Transylvanian princes, Bran Castle eventually became less strategically important and fell into disrepair in the late 19th century. But after Transylvania became part of Romania in 1918, the last queen of Romania, Queen Maria, restored the castle, and it became one of her favourite royal residences. Today the castle is owned by her heirs, the Archduke and Archduchesses.