By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
One of my favorite things to do in Europe is visit the old walled cities of Europe. A walled city is a fortification used to protect a city or settlement from potential aggressors. From ancient to modern times, they have been used to enclose settlements and provide protection for those living in the city. Almost every town in medieval times that could built defensive walls did so—they were essential to survive the harsh times of yesteryear. Today, walled cities have become obsolete due to improved weapons and aircraft used in modern warfare. The good news is that the cities that did not destroy their old walls now usually are special places where you can enjoy a bygone era that survives in today’s modern world. Here are 5 of my favorite walled cities.
- Tallinn, Estonia. Tallinn Estonia old town is a great place to visit. It is the oldest capital city in Northern Europe. With 1.9 km of its original city wall still standing, Tallinn has one of Europe’s best preserved medieval fortifications—it has cool gates and 20 defensive towers. A large part of what gives Old Town its fairytale charm is the system of walls and towers that surrounds it. The old town is divided into lower and upper towns—and it is just a charming, fun place to explore. We have been there 2 times and are ready to go back soon.
- York, England. York has been defended by walls since Roman times. It has the most intact walls of any city in England. We walked some of the walls and it was great to see this old town from the large walls. Inside the walls, the York Cathedral is especially impressive and there are other medieval half-timbered buildings and areas that are neat to visit. The walls had 4 main gates which restricted entrance into the town, provided protection and were also used to collect tolls. In our opinion, York is a good place to visit.
- Carcassonne, France. Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. It is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defenses encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, the narrow streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. The walls have 53 towers and 5 barbicans (A barbican is a fortified outpost or gateway or any tower situated over a gate or bridge). There is a castle inside the walled city complete with a drawbridge. It is the largest walled city in Europe. We stayed inside this walled city, really enjoyed the sights and got to eat cassoulet—a regional specialty dish of beans, duck and sausage—great food—Anne now makes it at home for us.
- Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany. This may be the best known walled city in Europe and is very popular as a tourist destination. Rothenburg is Germany’s best-preserved walled city. Part of the walls have covered walled walkways and can be walked and provide great views of the city. The wall is about 2.5 km (1.5 mi) long and covered, with several towers and entrances at the gates. Rothenburg is usually very crowded during the day but if you stay overnight, it is awesome place to visit. We stayed overnight and really enjoyed our time here.
- Dubrovnik, Croatia. Dubrovnik is known as the pearl of the Adriatic. This walled city is considered to be among the great fortification systems of the Middle Ages. The walls are about 1.940 meters long and 25 meters high (82 feet) at some points. It has 17 towers, 5 bastions and 2 angular fortification and a fort all incorporated into the walls. There was even a moat around the land portions. The city at one time was defended by 120 cannons. These fortifications were never breached, but diplomacy skills of its leaders rather than military might was probably the reason Dubrovnik never fell to its enemies, according to some historians. We have walked portions and the views are stunning. There is a lot to see inside the walls and good restaurants—this should be a place you go to also.
Probably the hardest thing about writing this post, is trying to decide which walled cities to include—there are some other well preserved, awesome cities with complete walls or just portions or gates remaining. We hope this will inspire you to give us a call (Hank 713-397-0188) or send me an email (email@example.com) so we can help you visit Europe and:
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