Top 5 castles to visit in the Balkans

by By Hector Tan (htan@sph.com.sg)
published on 22 June 2016

With its rich and varied history, Europe is home to some of the world’s most majestic medieval castles. Many of them can be found in the Balkans.

Used for military, residential and administrative purposes, these architectural marvels once served as the strongholds of lords and kings, and are well worth a visit if you are into culture and antiquity.

Here are some of the best ones to see in the Balkans.

1. ROZAFA CASTLE

Situated in north western Albania, the Rozafa Castle is a fortress has been the site of various sieges throughout history, during wars waged by the Ottomans and Montenegrins. The architectural fortifications here are mainly of Venetian origin. It was built by the Illyrians, a group of Indo-European tribes that occupied part of Europe during pre-Roman times.

2. PELES CASTLE

Unlike most castles that served as fortresses for military defence, the Peles Castle in Romania was built during the 19th century, when more peaceful times existed throughout the European continent.

This Neo-Renaissance castle has 160 rooms filled with art and exquisite fabrics. Each room is decorated according to a theme, such as armouries, art galleries, offices, and more.

3. BELOGRADCHIK FORTRESS

A remarkable display of man’s ingenuity, the Belogradchik Fortress is an imposing castle that has been built into the Belogradchik Rocks on the western slopes of the Balkan Mountains. The rock formations here tower up to 70 metres in height, providing a natural and formidable defence against Roman and Ottoman invaders. The fortress served as one of the most important defence points in the region during the 14th century.

4. TSAREVETS

An iconic landmark that dominates the skyline of Veliko Tarnovo, a city in northern Bulgaria, this strategically located medieval stronghold was built sometime during the fourth and fifth centuries.

It served many functions. The Thracians, Romans and Bulgarians used it as a primary fortress for military defence. It was also the home of medieval tsars. Within its 3.6 metre thick stone walls are 400 houses, 18 churches, royal palaces, and more.

5. VARAZDIN CASTLE

Croatia's Varazdin Castle, or Old Castle, is known by many names. It is located in the heart of the Old Town of Varazdin, where gridded streets, and squares lined with noble baroque palaces and medieval-renaissance-baroque buildings, can be found.

The castle was initially built as a military fortress in the 15th century. It was converted into a residence by the 18th century.