The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many countries to issue shelter-in-place orders, compelling many folks who might otherwise be traveling to stay at home. Those with chronic wanderlust must now travel in their imagination and seek out virtual escapes.
One newly released digital project can transport viewers across both distance and time to witness some of Europe’s ancient castles as they originally were.
Award-winning insurance provider Budget Direct recently undertook to investigate the ruins of some of Europe’s most intriguing castles, curious what they might’ve looked like before innumerable conflicts over the centuries caused them to change hands, as ages passed and they fell into ruin.
Seven of the continent’s most captivating ruined castles were selected, and a team of architects and designers commissioned to research, and accurately restore them to their original glory via a series of renderings and animations.
Poenari Castle (Poenari Fortress), Valachia, Romania
High on a cliff (about 1,200 feet) above the Arges River and set into the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, Poenari Fortress was erected at the beginning of the 13th century by the first Wallachian rulers, and built directly into the rock using an old Byzantine technique.
1,480 concrete stairs must be scaled to reach the clifftop castle’s eagle’s-nest position. One particularly dramatic detail of its history is that, in the 15th century, Poenari belonged to the notorious Vlad “the Impaler”, Duke of Wallachia, who famously inspired Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.
Spis Castle, Spisske Podhradie, Slovakia
Spis Castle is one of the world’s largest castle compounds, spanning nearly ten acres, and is listed as a UNESCO site. Its Romanesque-style construction dates back to the early 12th century, when it served as a border fortress for the northern frontier of the feudal Hungarian Kingdom. The second half of the 15th century saw it rebuilt into an aristocratic residence, which changed hands several times. In 1780, the castle compound was destroyed by a fire and it gradually fell into ruin.
Olsztyn Castle, Olsztyn, Poland
Overlooking the Lyna River in northeastern Poland, it’s known only that Olsztyn Castle was constructed sometime before 1306, built into a bumpy hillside using white limestone underneath a brown-brick façade in the Gothic style. It was expanded by Casimir the Great between 1349-59 to defend against the Czechs. A military garrison was later added, and the castle was renovated in the Renaissance style in the 16th century. It was amid the 17th- and 18-century Swedish wars that Olsztyn began to fall into ruin.
Menlo Castle, Galway City, Ireland
Menlo Castle was the seat of a family of English nobles, the Blakes, since the 16th century before it was destroyed by fire in 1910. Since then, hanging, green ivy has been allowed to overtake its exterior. Menlo was designed primarily to serve as a domestic residence, rather than a military stronghold. In the late 17th century, a Jacobean mansion was added to the old tower house. Inhabitants were evidently safeguarded by large, round towers and a former pier that held a telescope and a cannon.
Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, Scotland
A promontory fort, perched on a ‘sea girt’ on Scotland’s east coast that 150 feet above the waters of the North Sea, this castle is believed to have been established in Pictish times between the 5th and 7th centuries, then invaded and destroyed by Vikings in the 9th century. The site went on to play a pivotal role in tensions between the English and the Scottish. William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace is said to have besieged and retaken Dunnottar Castle from the English in 1297 and is also famous as the place where the Scottish crown jewels were hidden from Oliver Cromwell’s invading army in the 17th century.
Chateau Gaillard, Les Andelys, France
England’s Richard I (“The Lionheart”) actually ordered the two-year construction of this massive castle in northern France, which would normally have taken ten years to complete. Built between 1196-1198, it quickly fell to Richard’s rivals, then changed hands several times during the Hundred Years’ War and, in 1449, was captured by the French king and remained under French ownership thereafter. Abandoned in 1573, its demolition was ordered by Henry IV of France in 1599 for use as a stone quarry. Architecturally speaking, Chateau Gaillard represents an early example of concentric fortification in castle design and machicolation (use of floor openings in battlements from which defenders could drop rocks or boiling oil on their attackers).
Samobor Castle, Samobor, Croatia
The Kingdom of Bohemia ruled over parts of what is now Germany and the Czech Republic from the end of the 12th century until the First World War. King Ottokar II of Bohemia initially constructed this stone fortress between 1260 to 1264 in the Romanic-Gothic style, though the structure evolved over time to reflect Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles. Samobar Castle sits atop a 660-foot hill, about a ten-minute walk from the modern-day town of Samobar. While evidence of the moat and some walls still stand, the only surviving original element is the guard tower.
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