Among the red-roofed buildings of Prague stands the city's grandest structure and one of the largest castles in the world, the Prague Castle. The fort dates back to 880 when Czech Prince Borivoj ordered its construction. In the 10th century, the castle served as the epicenter of not only heads of state, but also the bishop of Prague. The first convent in Bohemia was established at the castle. While the castle was built principally for defense, its architecture is a symbol of the Renaissance movement's impact on Bohemian architecture. The crown jewels are kept in the Prague Castle along with other art and Christian treasures. With its churches, palaces, towers and gardens, the Prague Castle embodies various artistic styles, from Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance.
Mirrored perfectly in the Danube River, the 13th century Buda Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that exudes the magnificence of the Hungarian kings. The castle was transformed from a fort into a grand palace by the Renaissance king Matthias. The Baroque-style castle was destroyed in 1686 and then in World War II, but was later rebuilt on an even grander scale, complete with an extravagant ballroom, a large dome and lavish interior spaces. UNESCO dubs it among the "world's outstanding urban landscapes."
This Gothic French castle stands on its own -- in both grandeur and landscape. Located on the Gulf of Saint-Malo, the rocky, cone-shaped island castle is most famous for its Benedictine Abbey and unique Gothic architecture. The castle's origins as a church date back to 709, but it was French king Philip Augustus who sought to replace the Romanesque architecture with the Gothic style in the 13th century. Wars led the castle's residents to fortify it over time. The abbey, located 240 feet above sea level, has served numerous purposes -- its strong fortification provided resistance against the English in the Hundred Years' Wars, then served as prison walls in the French Revolution and presently serve as a historical monument. Mont Saint Michel is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle still has a very medieval feel to it, said TravelandLeisure.com's Beattie. When the tide goes far out, visitors can actually wander around on the seafloor but when the tide comes in, one has to swim to return to the castle, he added.
The historic city of Segovia near Madrid features the Alcazar Castle, encapsulated within fortified walls and 86 towers dating back to the 11th century. The castle was built in the 14th century and boasts a tower more than 345 feet high and topped by a cupola or a dome. Like many other castles, the fort was built for defense, with walls encapsulating the main structure. Historians believe the fortress was expanded by Alfonso VI after he captured the town of Segovia. His descendants, notably Alfonso X, expanded the castle to make it his private residence, decking the halls with art and grandeur.