World-famous medieval castles
The castle as we know it today was introduced into England in 1066 during the Norman invasion led by William the Conqueror. After their victory at the Battle of Hastings, the Normans settled in England. They constructed castles all over the country in order to control their newly-won territory, and to pacify the Anglo-Saxon population. These early castles were mainly of motte and bailey type.
These timber castles were quite cheap and very quick to build. However, the timber castles did have disadvantages. They were very vulnerable to attacks using fire and the wood would eventually start to rot. Due to these disadvantages, King William ordered that castles should be built in stone.
Over time, stone castles were built in different architectural styles as builders experimented with castle-building techniques. In their infancy, castles were primarily military fortifications used to defend conquered territories from attack.
They were also used by powerful lords to display their wealth and power through lavish architectural styles and decoration. Castles were not only built and used by the crown. In fact, the majority of castles were granted by the king to his loyal lords and nobles along with large areas of land. In return for these grants, the king expected his nobles to control and administer these lands on his behalf.
Around the world, palaces and castles play a compelling role in telling the rich history of a region. Their fabled halls and sky-high towers reveal the triumphs (and tragedies) of their rulers. In addition, they provide in-depth architectural lessons thanks to their ornate and timeless designs. Evoking legends, lore, and full-blown fantasy, castles possess a certain magic that draws in modern travelers. The soaring structures and bountiful gardens of royal dwellings allow us to revisit those worlds of our childhood bedtime stories.
From a Danish palace rebuilt after a devastating fire to a Japanese fortress that echoes the beauty of nature, these enchanting estates hold bountiful tales to fill up volumes of storybooks. Thankfully though, even if you weren't born in direct line for the throne or haven't come across the opportunity to wed a prince (ahem, Meghan Markle), you can still feel like royalty on your wedding day with a castle wedding venue.
We pulled together some real-life castles. Many of these gorgeous venues are right here in the U.S.
Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst built this Julia Morgan-designed castle in San Simeon, California to serve as his private residence. Unfortunately, his failing health meant that he never saw it finished, as he moved out of the 165-room estate in 1947. It's currently a museum that's open to the public.
The owner of New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, George C. Boldt, built this 120-room castle on an island in the St. Lawrence River in Alexandria, New York for his wife, Louise, in 1900. Sadly, Louise died unexpectedly months before it was completed, so a heartbroken George stopped construction and it was left vacant for 73 years until the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority restored and opened it in 1977.
Smithsonian Institute Castle
Located near the center of the National Mall in Washington D.C. is this Norman-style castle. It was made from red sandstone in 1855 and served as the home and office of Joseph Henry (the first Secretary of the Smithsonian). However, today it's the visitor center for the Smithsonian Institute.
Oheka Castle - Huntington, New York
The beautifully restored Oheka Castle, also known as the Otto Kahn Estate, is located on the North Shore of Long Island in New York. Kahn ultimately abandoned his private estate in the late 1970s. It sustained extensive damage from vandals, fires and neglect, but after a two-decade renovation, it was transformed into a luxury hotel.
Biltmore Estate - Asheville, North Carolina
Biltmore Estate has never been officially named “castle,” but as the largest privately-owned home in the nation, it’s often referred to as such. This former mansion of George Washington Vanderbilt is so big that it even has its own winery along with spectacular, manicured gardens, especially brilliant in the spring, across the 8,000-acre estate.
Bishop Castle - Rye, Colorado
Bishop Castle, located in the San Isabel National Forest outside of Rye in southern Colorado, was started by Jim Bishop as a family cottage back in 1969. When neighbors commented that it looked like a castle, he decided to transform it into one and construction has continued ever since. The castle is open for visits daily during daylight hours and also includes a gift shop.
Matsumoto Castle in Matsumoto, Japan
Matsumoto castle, one of japans premier historic castles, along with himeji castle and kumamoto castle, its known as crow castle due to its black exterior. The origins of Matsumoto Castle date back to the 1504, when the Ogasawara clan started to build a fort to fend off other invaders. As the castle switched hands throughout history, its design evolved into a tall, three-towered structure with inky black walls and roofs that earned it the nickname “the Crow Castle.”
Windsor Castle in Windsor, England
The oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, Windsor Castle has acted as an official royal residence for the United Kingdom monarchy for more than 900 years. The castle has seen many renovations from the countless monarchs who have lived on the property, including Queen Victoria, who added her own private chapel.
Even Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip often escape to the quiet palace for restful weekends.
Schwerin Castle, Germany
The origins of Schwerin Castle date back as far as 942 when the first traces of a fortress can be found on the palace’s dreamy island. It wasn’t until 1847, when the Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II commissioned Georg Adolf Demmler to renovate the dated structure, that the castle took its final form. The Historist palace is now one of the most celebrated castles in Germany with 653 rooms including a throne room—outfitted with Carrara marble and gilded iron doors—and an ancestral gallery.
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