Crumbling walls, half collapsed towers reaching towards the sky and rubble everywhere – this is how many of the formerly imposing pre-modern era castles are today. They were built to protect lords and armies, but also to exercise control over a territory. Without them, administrating a kingdom or an empire would have been impossible. Prior to the introduction of gunpowder, some of these fortresses were essentially impenetrable, making them a valued possession.
With developments in ammunition and armaments, the effectiveness of castles diminished. For some states the destruction of certain fortifications was crucial to allow central power to take control over the formerly feudal lands. Whatever the reason, the result stays the same – stunning ruins that are left to be admired by us.
Come and explore 10 of the best abandoned castles across the world.
Located in southern France, the Château d’Aguilar is an impressive 12th-century fortification, which survived the brutal Albigensian Crusade in the very early 13th century.
The castle consists of an inner keep built in the 12th century, surrounded by an outer pentagonal fortification from the 13th century. This fortification is oriented such that its point guards the side most favourable to attackers. The keep and the inner hexagonal fortification is flanked at each corner with semi-circular guard towers, each equipped with archery outlooks.
The Citadel of Salah Ed-Din, also known as Saladin Castle and Saone, is a partly-preserved fortress in Syria which is an interesting example of Crusader-era fortifications.
The site has been used as a fortification for many centuries, and is thought to have first been occupied by the Phoenicians and later by Alexander the Great. The current site was built by the Byzantines and became a Crusader stronghold until its capture by Saladin in 1188.
The Citadel of Salah Ed-Din was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.
Corfe Castle is a stunning 11th century castle in Dorset, that has fulfilled a number of roles throughout its thousand-year history – from royal residence to military stronghold. The current incarnation of the fortification was built by William the Conqueror in around 1066, although even before this the site was of great historical importance.
Today Corfe Castle provides an atmospheric look into Britain’s medieval past, with its picturesque views and imposing structure attracting visitors from far and wide.
In late antiquity the site was part of the Limes Romanus (or ‘limits or borders’) of the Roman Empire. In the 9th century the prince Rastislav built a fort on the site in service of the kingdom of Great Moravia. The Upper Castle dates from the 13th century, with palace buildings following in the 15th to 17th centuries. Napoleon’s troops destroyed much of the castle in 1809.
Devin Castle became a National Heritage Site in 1961. Because Austria was just across the river, the site was heavily guarded to prevent citizens from escaping into the free west before the fall of Communism in 1989. The Maiden Tower, Devin Castle’s most famous sight, was depicted on the Slovak 50 halier coin before the adoption of the euro in 2009.
Described by a contemporary adventurer as “the most marvellous, most inaccessible and most celebrated of castles”, the site of Kerak is mentioned in the Bible, where it was said to have been besieged by the King of Israel.
The structure which is visible today took on its current guise during the Crusades in the 12th century. Initially a Crusader stronghold, the castle is situated within the city walls of Kerak and was located in an area of great strategic importance, 900 metres above sea level.
The Château de Roquefixade is a ruined castle built on a cliff overlooking the village of Roquefixade, in the département of Ariège, France. There are records of a castle on the site going back to 1180, though the present ruins are more modern.
The castle survived until 1632 when the French king Louis XIII rested in the area on his way to Toulouse for the execution of the Henri II, Duke of Montmorency who had risen against Richelieu. Louis took the opportunity to order the destruction of Roquefixade as it served no purpose and was costly to maintain.
As with so many castles in Ireland, the land was granted by King Henry II to his loyal supporters – in this case, Hugh de Lacy. Shortly after de Lacy left Ireland, entrusting the castle and lands to one of his chief lieutenants, the last High King of Ireland, Ruaidrí Ua Canannáin, destroyed it.
Most of the existing structures were completed between 1200 and 1220, by Hugh de Lacy’s son, Walter, who succeeded him as Lord of Meath. There’s a traditional moat, ditch and 450m long, very thick outer curtain wall to protect the castle. Built to be all-but impregnable, Trim Castle survived as a stronghold until the 17th century, when it gradually began to fall into decline.
Van Castle was an Iron Age castle which now stands as a stunning ruin on the rocks to the west of the modern city of Van, Turkey. It was constructed as part of the Urartu Kingdom in the 9th century BC. Upon the fall of this kingdom in the 7th century BC, Van Castle was taken by the Assyrians.
The site of Van Castle bears the marks of these two civilisations as well as others, such as the Ottoman Empire. In particular, it is home to the remains of a mosque built by the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566).
As Rome expanded eastwards, so did the empire’s need for defences along the Arabian frontier, a line known as Limes Arabicus. Built at the beginning of the 4th century AD and known as Mobene, the walls of Qasr Bashir still stand intact, at a height of up to 20 feet in places, while the main entrance remains to this day. The huge corner towers still rise up two stories from the ground.
For lovers of well-preserved Roman architecture Qasr Bashir is certainly a hidden gem. Standing within the solid walls of Qasr Bashir, you will certainly be able to feel the living history of life on the edge of the Roman Empire.
The 14th century Tantallon Castle was the imposing medieval stronghold of the influential Douglas Earls of Angus for around three centuries, and was the last truly great castle built in Scotland.
In 1944, the Castle played a role in preparations for the Normandy invasion. A few weeks before D-Day, captured German radars (used by the Germans defending the French coast), were moved to the Castle and used in the training of RAF bomber crews (including 617 Squadron, the famous “Dambusters”). These bomber crews were part of a large effort to deceive the Germans about the actual location of the Allied invasion.