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Conwy Castle, Wales

Conwy Castle, Wales
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It was built in just four years between 1283 and 1287 by the English King Edward I, this castle in Wales was originally ‘limed,’ so it would appear shining white from a distance. Surrounded by a stone wall and strengthened with huge round towers, Conwy Castle was actually meant to act as a defence against the local Welsh people, who weren’t too happy about their occupation by the English. They were so unhappy, in fact, that they rebelled, and during the uprising, poor Edward was trapped in the castle with only one barrel of wine; he never stayed there again. But the castle’s setting is also picturesque; it overlooks a quaint harbour and is framed by the romantically named Snowdonia Mountains in the background.

Guaita Castle, San Marino

Guaita Castle, San Marino
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The microstate of San Marino is its own country, but it’s completely surrounded by Italy. Keeping watch over its capital, also called San Marino, is Guaita Castle, one of the ‘three towers of San Marino,’ the oldest and arguably the most famous. Guaita is also called the ‘First Tower,’ and it dates back to the 11th century, although it was rebuilt in the 15th. The trio of citadels and a series of walls were used to protect the tiny city on Mount Titano – and it worked, as San Marino is one of the world’s oldest republics and the last remaining Italian city-state that was not incorporated into Italy itself. Guaita was also later used as a prison – and still contains some recently uncovered, 200-year-old prison graffiti.

Kasbah of the Udayas, Morocco

Kasbah of the Udayas, Morocco
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Situated in the city of Rabat at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River leading to the Atlantic Ocean, this 12th-century Moroccan castle, or ‘kasbah,’ was home to the sultans who ruled the area. Perfectly situated to defend against invaders or pirates, it commands a gorgeous view over the ocean beyond. The Kasbah of the Udayas also contains the intricately carved medieval gateway called Bab Oudaia and a 12th-century mosque. Several centuries later, the kasbah became a refuge for Muslims fleeing Spain, as well as a hideout for pirates. Today, the kasbah contains a museum and the lovely Andalusian gardens.

Gravensteen Castle, Belgium

Gravensteen Castle, Belgium
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A true medieval gem, this limestone castle’s exact date is known by the Latin inscription on the entrance, which proclaims that Count Philip of Alsace – or as the inscription most grandly announces, ‘Philip, Count of Flanders and of Vermandois, son of Count Theoderic and Sibylla’ – built it in 1180. The ‘Castle of the Counts,’ located in the city of Ghent, was held by the counts of Flanders until it later became a courthouse and prison – complete with dungeons and a torture chamber. Because of its horrid reputation, the crumbling castle was almost razed in the 19th century, but it was saved by preservationists and reopened as a tourist attraction in 1913.

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Kilkenny Castle, Ireland

Kilkenny Castle, Ireland
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Many of Ireland’s castles are in ruins – romantic ruins, but ruins nonetheless. Kilkenny Castle, however, is one of the oldest intact medieval castles in the country. It dates back to the 13th century and was constructed on the site of a previous wooden structure built by the legendary ruler Strongbow. The stone castle was later owned by the earls of the Butler family for nearly 600 years, hosting kings, queens, and other colourful characters. Lady Margaret Butler, the grandmother of English queen Anne Boleyn, was born here, and her ghost is said to haunt the castle. The Butlers left the castle in 1935, leaving it to stand empty until handing it over to the Irish government in 1967 for the small price of 50 pounds.

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Hochosterwitz Castle, Austria

Hochosterwitz Castle, Austria
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Austria has many majestic medieval castles, but Hochosterwitz Castle holds a striking position atop a rocky mount, standing sentinel over the surrounding countryside and the hills beyond. The castle was first mentioned in the year 860, although much of the current castle dates from the late medieval period. Noted for its 14 castle gates and five drawbridges invaders would have to breach before getting to the main stronghold – not to mention the long climb up a series of switchbacks – the castle was nearly impossible to reach, and it was never conquered. It’s been owned by the same family, the Khevehüllers, since the 16th century.

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Mehrangarh Fort, India

Mehrangarh Fort, India
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One of the most imposing ‘hill forts’ in India from the late medieval period, Mehrangarh Fort is also one of the largest and best-preserved, with ramparts towering 122 metres above the city of Jodhpur in northwest India. The interior palaces and temples are filled with colourful decoration and intricate stonework. Built by a branch of the ruling Rajput clan called the Rathores in the 15th century, the fort was named Mehrangarh, or ‘fort of the sun,’ because the clan was said to have descended from the sun god Surya. The various rulers who lived there continually added to the complex for more than 500 years and the fort is still run by the current head of the Rathore clan, Maharaja Gaj Singh II.

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Topkapi Palace, Turkey

Topkapi Palace, Turkey
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This late-medieval walled palace in Istanbul was built around 1453 for the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The sultans ruled from the Topkapi Palace complex for 400 years, and the imperial treasury and library were also housed here. Inside a massive gate flanked by two tours, courtyards lead to the inner buildings, including ‘the harem,’ the private residences where the sultan’s wives, concubines, and children lived. The interior of the castle is richly decorated, with colourful tiles and peaceful gardens. It also holds a striking position at the tip of a peninsula overlooking the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus River.

Alcázar de Segovia, Spain

Alcázar de Segovia, Spain
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The boat-like shape of this 13th-century castle in central Spain makes it look like it’s about to sail off into the sky. Sticking out above the meeting of two rivers, Alcázar de Segovia was the home of Spanish kings, complete with secret passageways leading to the water and to other palaces in the city. This fairy-tale castle, with its graceful slate spires, is also said to have been one of the inspirations for Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle. The real castle’s highest point, the massive Tower of Juan II, can only be reached by a 152-step spiral staircase. The interior of the castle is ornately decorated, with elaborate ceilings including that of the ‘Pine Cone Room,’ which gets its nickname from its carved, gold-coloured ceiling. You’ll also find some of the world’s most beautiful cities in Spain.

Ksiaz Castle, Poland

Ksiaz Castle, Poland
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This stunning castle looks like a mash-up of different styles – and that’s because it is. Built in the 13th century, Ksiaz Castle was expanded later by the noble Hochberg family. The story of the castle’s origins is the stuff of fairy tales: A young prince wandering in the forest had an “enchanted feeling” when coming upon the site and presented a black rock he had found there to the king, who granted him permission to build the castle, called the “Prince’s Stone.”

But perhaps one of the most bizarre legends attached to this medieval castle has a more modern history. Ksiaz Castle was taken over by the Nazis during World War II, and they had a huge system of tunnels built underneath the castle. Legend has it that somewhere in the caverns, there are hidden Nazi ‘gold trains’ filled with stolen loot, just waiting to be found by the many treasure hunters who still go looking for it today.

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