Saturday, October 30, 2010

10 Most Fascinating Castles and Palaces

1. The Potala Palace: Tibet's greatest monumental structure



Originally built by King Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century, Potala Palace is located on the Red Hill of Lhasa, Tibet. Destroyed by lightning and war, Potala Palace had been rebuilt by the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1645. Since then, Potala Palace has become the seat of Dalai Lamas and also the political center of Tibet. The thirteenth Dalai Lama extended it to the present size, 117 meters (384 ft) in height and 360 meters (1,180 ft) in width, covering an area of more than 130, 000 sq meters (about 32 acres). Mainly comprised by the White Palace (administerial building) and the Red Palace (religious building), Potala Palace is famous for its grand buildings, complicated constructions, devotional atmosphere and splendid artworks.
Perched upon Marpo Ri hill, 130 meters above the Lhasa valley, the Potala Palace rises a further 170 meters and is the greatest monumental structure in all of Tibet. Early legends concerning the rocky hill tell of a sacred cave, considered to be the dwelling place of the Bodhisattva Chenresi (Avilokiteshvara), that was used as a meditation retreat by Emperor Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century AD. In 637 Songtsen Gampo built a palace on the hill. This structure stood until the seventeenth century, when it was incorporated into the foundations of the greater buildings still standing today. Construction of the present palace began in 1645 during the reign of the fifth Dalai Lama and by 1648 the Potrang Karpo, or White Palace, was completed. The Potrang Marpo, or Red Palace, was added between 1690 and 1694; its construction required the labors of more than 7000 workers and 1500 artists and craftsman. In 1922 the 13th Dalai Lama renovated many chapels and assembly halls in the White Palace and added two stories to the Red Palace. The Potala Palace was only slightly damaged during the Tibetan uprising against the invading Chinese in 1959. Unlike most other Tibetan religious structures, it was not sacked by the Red Guards during the 1960s and 1970s, apparently through the personal intervention of Chou En Lai. As a result, all the chapels and their artifacts are very well preserved.

2. Mont Saint-Michel: a Medieval Castle on a Small Island



Le Mont-Saint-Michel (English: Saint Michael's Mount) is a rocky tidal island and a commune in Normandy, France. It is located approximately one kilometre off the country's north coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. The population of the island is 41.

Formation

In prehistoric times the bay was land. As sea levels rose erosion shaped the coastal landscape over millions of years. Several blocks of granite or granulite emerged in the bay, having resisted the wear and tear of the ocean better than the surrounding rocks. These included Lillemer, the Mont-Dol, Tombelaine and Mont Tombe, later called Mont-Saint-Michel.

Tidal island
Mont-Saint-Michel seen from Spot Satellite

Mont-Saint-Michel was previously connected to the mainland via a thin natural land bridge, which before modernization was covered at high tide and revealed at low tide. This has been compromised by several developments. Over the centuries, the coastal flats have been polderised to create pasture. Thus the distance between the shore and the south coast of Mont-Saint-Michel has decreased. The Couesnon River has been canalised, reducing the flow of water and thereby encouraging a silting-up of the bay. In 1879, the land bridge was fortified into a true causeway. This prevented the tide from scouring the silt round the mount.
At low tide surrounded by mud flats - seen from the air

On 16 June 2006, the French prime minister and regional authorities announced a €164 million project (Projet Mont-Saint-Michel) to build a hydraulic dam using the waters of the river Couesnon and of tides that will help remove the accumulated silt deposited by the uprising tides, and to make Mont-Saint-Michel an island again. It is expected to be completed by 2012.

The construction of the dam is now complete (it was inaugurated in 2009), but the project also includes the destruction of the causeway that was built on top of the small land bridge and enlarged, to join the island to the continent, but also used as a parking for visitors. It will be replaced by an elevated light bridge, under which the waters will flow more freely, and that will improve the efficiency of the now operational dam, and the construction of another parking on the continent. Visitors will have to use small shuttles to cross the future bridge which will be still open to walking people and unmotorized cycles.


3 Predjamski Castle: Integrated in a Cave


llama Castle' (Slovene: Predjamski grad or Grad Predjama, German: Höhlenburg Lueg, Italian: Castel Lueghi) is a Renaissance castle built within a cave mouth in southwestern Slovenia. It is located approximately 11 kilometres from Postojna.

History of the castle

The castle was first mentioned in the year 1274 with the German name Luegg, when the Patriarch of Aquileia built the castle in Gothic style. The castle was built under a natural rocky arch high in the stone wall to make access to it difficult. It was later acquired and expanded by the Luegg noble family, also known as the Knights of Adelsberg (the German name of Postojna).

The legend of Erazem of Predjama

The castle became known as the seat of Knight Erazem Lueger (or Luegger), owner of the castle in 15th century, and a renowned robber baron. He was the son of the Imperial Governor of Trieste, Nikolaj Lueger. According to legend, Erazem came into conflict with the Habsburg establishment, when he killed the commander of the Imperial army Marshall Pappencheim, who had offended the honour of Erazem's deceased friend, Andrej Baumkircher of Vipava. Fleeing from the revenge of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, Erazem settled in the family fortress of Predjama. He allied himself with the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus, and started to attack Habsburg estates and towns in Carniola, turning into some kind of local Robin Hood.

The Imperial forces sent the Governor of Trieste, Andrej Ravbar, to siege the castle. After a long siege, Erazem was betrayed by one of his men and killed.



4. Neuschwanstein Castle: the Classic Fairytale's Castle


Neuschwanstein Castle (German: Schloss Neuschwanstein, lit. New Swan Stone palace, pronounced [n??'?va?n?ta??n]) is a 19th-century Bavarian palace on a rugged hill near Hohenschwangau and Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as an homage to Richard Wagner, the King's inspiring muse. Although public photography of the interior is not permitted, it is the most photographed building in Germany and is one of the country's most popular tourist destinations. Ludwig himself named it Neue Hohenschwangau; the name Neuschwanstein was coined after his death.

The reclusive Ludwig did not allow visitors to his castles, which he intended as personal refuges, but after his death in 1886 the castle was opened to the public (in part due to the need to pay off the debts Ludwig incurred financing its construction).[citation needed] Since that time over 50 million people have visited the Neuschwanstein Castle. About 1.3 million people visit annually, with up to 6,000 per day in the summer. The palace has appeared in several movies, and was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle (1955) at both Disneyland Park and Hong Kong Disneyland.

In 1923 Crown Prince Rupprecht gave the palace to the state of Bavaria, unlike nearby Hohenschwangau Castle which was transferred to the private Wittelsbach Trust (Wittelsbacher Ausgleichfonds), which is administered on behalf of the head of the house of Wittelsbach, currently Franz, Duke of Bavaria. The Free State of Bavaria has spent more than €14.5 million on Neuschwanstein's maintenance, renovation and visitor services since 1990.


5 Matsumoto Castle: Japan's most fascinating castle



Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan's finest historic castles. It is located in the city of Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture and is within easy reach of Tokyo by road or rail. The keep (tenshukaku), which was completed in the late 16th century, maintains its original wooden interiors and external stonework. It is listed as a National Treasure of Japan.

Matsumoto Castle is a flatland castle (hirajiro) because it is not built on a hilltop or amid rivers, but on a plain. Its complete defences would have included an extensive system of inter-connecting walls, moats and gatehouses. In 1872, following the Meiji Restoration, the site, like many former daimyos' castles, was sold at auction for redevelopment. However, when news broke that the keep was going to be demolished, an influential figure from Matsumoto, Ichikawa Ryozo, along with residents from Matsumoto started a campaign to save the building. Their efforts were rewarded when the tower was acquired by the city government. In the late Meiji period the keep started to lean to one side due to neglect coupled with a structural defect. ( But rumour said that it was because of the curse Tada Kasuke had put on more than two hundred years before with his last breath on the execution pole.) A local high school principal, Kobayashi Unari, decided to renovate the castle and appealed for funds. The castle underwent "the great Meiji renovation"(1903-1913) thanks to Kobayashi and others. Half a century later, it underwent another renovation "the great Showa renovation"(1950-1955). In 1990, the Kuromon-Ninomon (second gate of the Black Gate) and sodebei (side wall) were reconstructed. The square drum gate was reconstructed in 1999. There is a plan for restoring the soto-bori(outer moat) which was reclaimed for a residential zone.

6. Hunyad Castle: were Dracula was held prisoner


The Hunyad Castle (Romanian: Castelul Huniazilor or Castelul Corvinestilor, Hungarian: Vajdahunyad vára) is a castle in Transylvanian Hunedoara, present-day Romania. Until 1541 it was part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and after the Principality of Transylvania.

It is believed to be the place where Vlad III of Wallachia (commonly known as Vlad the Impaler) was held prisoner for 7 years after he was deposed in 1462.

The castle is a relic of the Hunyadi dynasty. In the 14th century, the castle was given to John Hunyadi Serb, or Sorb by Sigismund king of Hungary as severance. The castle was restored between 1446 and 1453 by his grandson John Hunyadi. It was built mainly in Gothic style, but has Renaissance architectural elements. It features tall and strong defense towers, an interior yard and a drawbridge. Built over the site of an older fortification and on a rock above the small river Zlasti, the castle is a large and imposing building with tall and diversely colored roofs, towers and myriad windows and balconies adorned with stone carvings.

As one of the most important properties of John Hunyadi, the castle was transformed during his reign. It became a sumptuous home, not only a strategically enforced point. With the passing of the years, the masters of the castle had modified its look, adding towers, halls and guest rooms. The gallery and the keep - the last defense tower (called "Ne boisa" = Do not be afraid), which remained unchanged from Iancu de Hunedoara's time, and the Capistrano Tower (named after the Franciscan monk from the castle court) are some of the most significant parts of the construction. Other significant parts of the building are the Knights' Hall (a great reception hall), the Club Tower, the White bastion, which served as a food storage room, and the Diet Hall, on whose walls medallions are painted (among them there are the portraits of Matei Basarab, ruler from Wallachia, and Vasile Lupu, ruler of Moldavia). In the wing of the castle called the Mantle, a painting can be seen which portrays the legend of the raven from which the name of the descendants of John Hunyadi, Corvinus came.

In the castle yard, near the chapel built also during Vlad The Third's ruling, is a well 30 meters deep. The legend says that this fountain was dug by twelve Turkish prisoners to whom liberty was promised if they reached water. After 15 years they completed the well, but their captors did not keep their promise. It is said that the inscription on a wall of the well means "you have water, but not soul". Specialists, however, have translated the inscription as "he who wrote this inscription is Hasan, who lives as slave of the giaours, in the fortress near the church".

In February 2007, Hunyad Castle played host to the British paranormal television program Most Haunted Live! for a three-night live investigation into the spirits reported to be haunting the castle.

7. Malbork Castle: World's Largest Brick Gothic Castle



The Castle in Malbork (German: Die Marienburg, Polish: Zamek w Malborku) was built in Prussia by the Teutonic Order as an Ordensburg. The Order named it Marienburg, literally "Mary's Castle". The town which grew around it was also named Marienburg, but since 1945 it is again, after 173 years, part of Poland and known as Malbork.

The castle is a classic example of a medieval fortress, and is the world’s largest brick gothic castle. UNESCO listed the castle and its museum as World Heritage Sites in December 1997 as Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork. It is one of two World Heritage Sites in the region with origins in the Teutonic Order. The other is the Medieval Town of Torun, founded in 1231 as the site of the castle Thorn (Torun).
The castle was founded in 1274 by the Teutonic Order during their government of Prussia and is located on the Southeastern bank of the river Nogat. It was named Marienburg after the Virgin Mary, patron saint of the Order.

The Order had been based in Acre, but when this last stronghold of the Crusades fell, the Order had to move its headquarters to Venice. In 1309, in the wake of both the papal persecution of the Knights Templar as well as the Teutonic takeover of Danzig, the Order under Siegfried von Feuchtwangen moved its headquarters into the Prussian part of their monastic state. They chose the Marienburg, conveniently located on the Nogat, in the Vistula Delta, which allows access by ship.

The castle was expanded several time to host the growing number of Knights, and became the largest fortified Gothic building in Europe, featuring several sections and walls. It consists of three separate sections - the High, Middle and Lower Castles, separated by multiple dry moats and towers. The castle once housed approximately 3,000 "brothers in arms", and the outermost castle walls enclose 52 acres (210,000 m²), four times larger than the enclosed space of Windsor Castle.

The favourable position of the castle on the river Nogat and its relatively flat surrounding allowed for easy access by barges and trading ships, from the Vistula and the Baltic Sea. During their governance, the Teutonic Knights collected river tolls on passing ships, as did other castles along the rivers, imposing a monopoly on the trade of amber. When the city became a member of the Hanseatic League, many Hanseatic meetings were held at Marienburg castle.

8. Palacio da Pena: Oldest Palace inspired by European Romanticism



The Pena National Palace (Portuguese: Palácio Nacional da Pena) is the oldest palace inspired by European Romanticism. It is located in the civil parish of São Pedro de Penaferrim, municipality of Sintra, Portugal. The palace stands on the top of a hill above the town of Sintra, and on a clear day it can be easily seen from Lisbon and much of its metropolitan area. It is a national monument and constitutes one of the major expressions of 19th century Romanticism in the world. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is also used for state occasions by the President of the Portuguese Republic and other government officials.

9. Lowenburg Castle: The Disneyland of the 18th century



Within the Wilhelmshöhe Hill Park which sits on one end of the city of Kassel, there stands what appears to be a medieval castle. However, the Löwenburg or “Lion’s Castle” was ordered to be built by the Landgrave Wilhelm IX from Hessen Kassel (1743 -1821) (later he gained the higher title of Elector Wilhelm I - Kurfürst Wilhelm I), the Walt Disney of his era, over a period of eight years between 1793 and 1801 as a romantic ruin. It was carfelully designed by his royal court building inspector Heinrich Christoph Jussow (1754 – 1825) who had been trained as an architect and construction project manager in France, Italy, and England, and who had gone to England specifically to study romantic English ruins and draw up a plan for the Landgrave’s garden folly. Today scholars regard Löwenburg Castle ruins as one of the most significant buildings of its genre, in addition to being one of the first major neo-Gothic buildings in Germany.
What the Landgrave did here was the eighteenth century equivalent of Disney World Tokyo. It is a central element of the Wilhlemshöhe castle park which, starting in 1785, the Landgrave transformed into a landscaped garden modeled on the English pattern, and filled with themed areas – fake Roman aquaducts, fake English Castle Ruins, fake Grecian temples, and even a fake Chinese Village. In terms of sheer monumental size, however, the fake monumental castle ruin of the Löwenburg stands apart from the numerous antiquated and pseudo-medieval constructions that served as decorative motifs for landscaped parks in other parts of Europe.


10. Prague Castle: World's Largest Ancient Castle


Prague Castle (Czech: Pražský hrad) is a castle in Prague where the Czech kings, Holy Roman Emperors and presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic have had their offices. The Czech Crown Jewels are kept here. Prague Castle is one of the biggest castles in the world (according to Guinness Book of Records the biggest ancient castle [1]) at about 570 meters in length and an average of about 130 meters wide.

History

The history of the castle stretches back to the 9th century (870). The first walled building was the church of Our Lady[2]. The Basilica of Saint George and the Basilica of St. Vitus were founded in the first half of the 10th century. The first convent in Bohemia was founded in the castle, next to the church of St. George. A Romanesque palace was erected here during the 12th century. In the 14th century, under the reign of Charles IV the royal palace was rebuilt in Gothic style and the castle fortifications were strengthened. In place of rotunda and basilica of St. Vitus began building of a vast Gothic church, that have been completed almost six centuries later. During the Hussite Wars and the following decades the Castle was not inhabited. In 1485, King Ladislaus II Jagello began to rebuild the castle. The massive Vladislav Hall (built by Benedikt Rejt) was added to the Royal Palace. There were also built new defence towers on the northern side of the castle. A large fire in 1541 destroyed large parts of the castle. Under the Habsburgs some new buildings in renaissance style appeared here. Ferdinand I built Belvedere, summer palace for his wife Anne. Rudolph II used Prague Castle as his main residence. He founded the northern wing of the palace, with the Spanish Hall, where his precious artistic collections were exhibited. The Second Prague defenestration in 1618 began the Bohemian Revolt. During the subsequent wars the Castle was damaged and dilapidated. Many works from the collection of Rudolph II were looted by Swedes in 1648, in the course of the Thirty Years' War. The last major rebuilding of the castle was carried out by Queen Maria Theresa in the second half of the 18th century. Ferdinand V, after abdication in 1848, chose Prague Castle as his home.

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