Since antiquity, mankind has understood that to defend a piece of land you need to fortify it. These 21 great fortresses are the natural evolution of this principle.
Mankind learned early on in our history that in order to protect a piece of land you needed to fortify it.From humble beginnings, the concept would evolve to produce some of the world’s Great Fortresses of all time.
The very word fortification, by extension fortress or fort, is derived from Latin fortis(“strong”) and facere (“do” or “to make”). To “make strong” would be a concept that would drive humans to build ever more complex and impressive defensive structures.
Starting out as simple earthworks and wooden walls, fortifications would evolve into the highly complex and imposing Citadels of the Middle Ages. Gunpowder and canons would render these monumental structures obsolete and force a change to low rise earthworks, e.g. star forts, commonly seen from the 18th century onwards.
The development of explosive shells once again revolutionized fortress design.
Spišský Hrad (Spiš Castle), one of the largest and most monumental medieval castles in the Central Europe, is the key historic and architectonic landmark of Spiš region of East Slovakia.
The ruins of Spiš Castle (Slovak: Spišský hrad; Hungarian: Szepesi vár; German: Zipser Burg) in NE Slovakia form one of the largest castle sites in Central Europe. The castle is situated above the town of Spišské Podhradie and the village of Žehra, in the region known as Spiš (Hungarian: Szepes, German: Zips, Polish: Spisz, Latin: Scepusium). It was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1993 (together with the adjacent locations of Spišská Kapitula, Spišské Podhradie and Žehra). This is one of the biggest European castles by area (41 426 m²).
Spiš Castle was built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier castle. It was the political, administrative, economic and cultural centre of Szepes County of the Kingdom of Hungary. Before 1464, it was owned by the kings of Hungary, afterwards (until 1528) by the Zápolya family, the Thurzó family (1531–1635), the Csáky family (1638–1945), and (since 1945) by the state of Czechoslovakia then Slovakia.
Quick Description: Romanesque-Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral (Katedrála svätého Martina) in Spišská Kapitula, seat of Roman Catholic diocese of Spiš, is one of the most valuable sacral structures in Spiš region of Slovakia and also a part of UNESCO World Heritage site.
Romanesque-Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral (Katedrála svätého Martina) in Spišská Kapitula, seat of Roman Catholic diocese of Spiš (Spišská diecéza), is one of the most valuable sacral structures in Spiš region of Slovakia and also a part of UNESCO World Heritage site.
The St. Martin’s Cathedral is a great example of the development of individual architectural styles. The first phase of construction of this church was the Romanesque phase of the 13th century (1245-1273), when the church ground plan was with three naves with transverse nave (transept).
Unique late Romanesque Church of the Holy Spirit (Kostel svatého Ducha), built in 1245–1275, is a separate and distant part of UNESCO World heritage site “Levoca, Spišský Hrad and the Associated Cultural Monuments”.
Village of Žehra hides one of the worlds most unique objects in the form of an enchanting late double-nave Romanesque church. Church, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, was built in 1245–1275. Only the Romanesque sanctuary vault remains from the original, single-nave church. The nave had a wooden, square-paneled ceiling, but it burned down during the second half of the 15th century. After the fire, another vault was constructed, supported by an octagonal pillar, and from that time the church has had a double nave. This architectonic peculiarity is typical of several churches in the Spiš region, and as such may be considered as being unique in the world.
Depicted reconstructed Renaissance-Classicist building, seat of Levoca Municipal Office (Mestský úrad), is located in town’s main public space – Námestie Majstra Pavla (Master Paul Square).
Thanks to the fact, that famous Renaissance building of historic Levoca Town Hall is occupied by Museum, the current Municipal Office (New Town Hall) you can find in this also interesting building. The Municipal Office building, built at the site of older Gothic houses in 1588, was originally Renaissance Waaghaus (Vážnica/The Old Weigh-House) – a storage warehouse where visiting merchants were required to register, weight (waage = weighing scale in German) and store their goods on the way through the town. Building, many times reubuilt and reconstructed, took its current almost Classicist appearance during reshapings in the 18/19th centuries.
The reverse side of this Slovak 20 € commemorative silver coin depicts key landmarks of UNESCO World Heritage Site town Levoca – Renaissance Old Town hall and Gothic Church of St. James.
The reverse features part of St. James’s Church (including the steeple) and the Old Town Hall. The composition is set in front of a Gothic window, below a trefoil at the top of the window and above altar decorations at the bottom of the window. To the left of the composition is the coat of arms of Levoca. Inscribed above the lower edge of the central field, on two lines at left, are the words “PAMIATKOVÁ REZERVÁCIA” (Heritage Site), and, at right, the town name “LEVOCA”.
The town of Levoca grew up at an intersection of trade routes below the Levoca Mountains in eastern Slovakia.
Quick Description: Gothic Basilica of St. James (Bazilika svätého Jakuba), with construction which begun in 1330, belongs among the most precious monuments of sacral architecture in Slovakia and is also a part of UNESCO World heritage site.
Long Description: Gothic Basilica of St. James (Bazilika svätého Jakuba), with construction which begun in 1330, belongs among the most precious monuments of sacral architecture in Slovakia and is also a part of UNESCO World heritage site “Levoca, Spišský Hrad and the Associated Cultural Monuments”. Church is not only one of the principal touristic attractions of Spiš region, but also of whole NE Slovakia.
The history and architectural development of the basilica is deeply connected with history of Free Royal Town of Levoca, which was also the capital of Province of 24 Spiš Saxon Towns in 1344-1412.
I always search for the road less touristed. Yet it was not without trepidation that I drove with my spouse across the Hungarian plain from Budapest into Kosice, Slovakia’s second-largest city. As the industrial outskirts gave way to a skyline dominated by Communist-era block apartment buildings, I grew convinced that I had made a terrible vacation choice.
The windowless entrance to our pension on a grimy block was equally discouraging. The room was unremarkable, with modular furniture that transformed twin beds into a double, but left metal bars protruding from the walls. When I reported to the concierge that our refrigerator was not working, she answered, “Most of them don’t.”
I couldn’t say I hadn’t been warned. A Europe-savvy friend advised me to skip Slovakia and head to Krakow.
These impressive fortresses were some of the most important buildings in medieval Europe, each with their own distinctive style and particular stories to tell…
1: Malbork Castle, Poland
Built in 1274 by a German Roman Catholic order of crusaders known as the Teutonic Knights, Malbork Castle in Poland is the largest castle in the world measured by land area. Built with distinctive red bricks in a Gothic style, the complex is actually made up of three castles and was extended numerous times over the course of its history.
The castle has served as the residence for several Polish royals and was, at one point, occupied by Swedish forces. It is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be easily reached from Gdansk, a city the Knights who built the castle once controlled.
This is my last day in Slovakia for this trip. After ten wonderful days in this small, beautiful Central European country, Slovakia is like someone I met and found enchanting and enriching to be around. And now I wonder if my travels and desires will ever allow us to meet again? Slovakia is a country I have adored. I am leaving today and wishing I had more time to hang around and absorb more of the beauty, more of the culture, more stories from the people and create more memories in a place I think will soon be recognized as a wonderful place for American tourism.