Make sure you keep an eye out for these five citadels on your travels about Europe
I love castles. I always have. Ever since the time when I was a kid when my parents bought me a book about the Middle Ages that explained about knights, the code of chivalry, jousting, and the workings of a castle.
When my brother and I were small, no holiday was complete without a bit of a trek around a castle (or a church, which was less interesting but my mum loves the architecture).
Here, for your enjoyment, are five of the most jaw-dropping castles Europe has to offer. Imagine being the Lord or Lady of these…
Bodiam, East Sussex, England
Our first example is a symmetrical beauty; the kind of thing that kids draw when they want to draw a castle. Built in the 14th century to help defend the area from the French during the Hundred Years’ War, it was funded by one Edward Dalyngrigge.
Being a younger son, he would never inherit his father’s estate, and therefore had to make his own way in the world. This he did by a) marrying into a rich family and taking control of the manor of Bodiam, and b) going over to France and joining one of the so-called Free Companies. These were mercenaries who would fight for whoever paid them the most.
It was from that escapade that Dalyngrigge made the money to build Bodiam castle, which is more beautiful today than it has ever been. This is because, originally, all the sewage works would have drained into the moat (the water surrounding the castle), making the castle an island in the middle of what was basically an open sewer. Lovely.
Pernštejn, Moravia, Czech Republic
Built on a precipitous crag high up in a forest 40 kilometres north-east of Brno in the Czech Republic, Pernštejn is one of the most amazing examples of a central European castle.
From three sides it’s inaccessible because of the height of the ridge, while the entrance (on the northern side) is narrow enough to be easily defended. On top of this, there is access to a spring that sends a stream of fresh water through the rock within the castle itself.
Every element of this place was built with defence in mind, even as far as making every staircase spiral up clockwise. Why was this? Well, if you’re defending yourself against someone coming up the stairs as you retreat, the fact that most people are right handed will mean the attacker has far less room to manoeuvre than the defender. Clever, eh?
Hohenzollern, Swabia, Germany
This is one of the most visited castles in Germany, receiving 300,000 visitors every year, and you can see why. 855 metres up in the Swabian alps, there has been a fortress here since the 11th century.
However, the current castle didn’t hit its contemporary form until the middle of the 19th century. In fact, it’s actually the third castle on this site as, in a Monty Python-esque series of events, the first castle was destroyed by a besieging army, the second castle descended into ruin, and the current one was only built as a bit of a vanity project by Frederick William IV of Prussia.
Like the better-known Neuschwanstein, it is an example of German Romanticism in that it attempts to incorporate all the elements of a fairy-tale castle, such as soaring, needle-like towers, turrets upon turrets and large, vaulted gateways.
Corvin (Hunyad), Hunedoara, Romania
One of the Seven Wonders of Romania, this castle has many claims to fame (most of which are untrue) and is, like Hohenzollern, an idealised redesign of the original. 19th century architects rebuilt it after decades of neglect, in a style that can only be called: “Guessing how a Gothic castle should look”.
This doesn’t stop it being a big draw for tourists though, who are told that it was where Vlad III of Wallachia – Vlad the Impaler – was held prisoner, before entering into an alliance with his captor, John Hunyadi, who had ordered the castle to be built in the first place.
This is almost certainly true. What is not, however, is the myth that it was the inspiration for Castle Dracula. Bram Stoker’s own notes show he was thinking of a site on the Moldovan border. But hey, how many castles can also claim a place in video game history? Corvin castle featured in Age of Empires II: The Forgotten.
Scaliger, Lombardy, Italy
Most people think of castles as a northern- and central-European thing, and with good reason. These were the major castle-building people. But in Sirmione, Italy you can find the beautiful Scaliger Castle, which is, unusually, a land and a water fortification.
It was used to protect the Scaliger family (who were the Lords of Verona) from water-borne attackers, and also from the locals.
A medieval complex, it has been incredibly well-preserved; you enter via one of the two drawbridges and can climb the stairs in the towers before getting a stunning view of the harbour walls still standing in the clear, blue water. Even in a country where historical buildings are everywhere, this really is quite a sight.
So which of these castles would you like to call home?