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Castles are already pretty impressive, even when they're not perched atop a mountain. But put them at the edge of a cliff, and you've elevated their awe-inspiring beauty to a whole new level. Touting amazing architecture and great historical significance, these eight structures are sure to impress any traveler.
Swallow’s Nest—Crimea, Ukraine
Built out of wood in the late 19th century as the private quarters—and rumored love nest—for a retired Russian general, this romantic castle, situated on a 130-foot-tall cliff overlooking the Black Sea’s Ai-Todor cape, was modified to its current stone structure in 1912 by oil big-wig Baron von Steingel. Though threatened by an earthquake in later years, the landmark—which is surrounded by swallows and white-winged seagulls—now houses an Italian restaurant.
Aragonese Castle—Ischia, Italy
Built by Hiero I of Syracuse in 474 B.C., this castle, located on a volcanic rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Naples, was home to the citizens of Naples up until the 15th century. After fortified walls were erected around the castle to defend against pirates and a stone bridge was built connecting it to Ischia, the islet became part of the town and thrived through the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, this impressive structure (accessible through a tunnel) is the most visited attraction on Ischia.
To the best of historians’ knowledge, Alcazar was built as an Arab military fortress in the 12th century and over the years has acted as a nobleman's retreat, a prison and an artillery school. This “royal residence” is known for many of its architectural features, including its shape (like the bow of a ship), its largest tower (built by and named after King John II around 1260) and its sharp slate spires (added by King Phillip II around 1587). Now open to tourists year round, it is home to the Spanish General Military Archives.
Gyantse Fortress— Gyantse, Tibet
Constructed in the 14th century, this dzong (Buddhist-style fortress) is one of the best-preserved examples of this type of architecture in all of Tibet. Sitting high on gray-brown rock above Gyantse (the third-largest trade town at the time) and Lhasa (a spiritual epicenter where many Dalai Lamas have lived, including the current one until he went into exile), it was originally built to protect both towns from attack.
Gillette Castle—East Haddam, CT, United States
With local fieldstone, the Gillette Castle was built from 1914 to 1919 as a private residence for American actor William Gillette. Taken over by the state government in 1943 after Gillette failed to name an heir in his will, it was declared public property and renamed Gillette Castle State Park. Recently refurbished at the cost of $11 million, tourists can both wander the estate as well as tour the inside of the castle from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.
Peñafiel Castle—Valladolid Province, Spain
A once crucial point of military defense on the Duero river in north-central Spain, this fortress originally belonged to the Christians and then the Moors until it was usurped and renamed by Count Sancho Garcia during the Reconquista. At 600 feet long, 90 feet high and slightly off center, its unique architectural style has been called gran buque meaning “great ship.” Today it can be visited, but only by a guided tour that's in Spanish.
Dar Al Hajar (Rock Palace)—Wadi Dhahr, Yemen
Located in Sana’a, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, this five-story fortress-like mansion was built as a summer residence in the 1930s by Imam Yahya, who ruled the country until his 1948 assassination. Since he built the “Rock Palace” amidst prehistoric ruins, there is some debate whether he can be given full credit as the architectural mind behind it. Now open to the public, it has since become an identifying symbol of Yemen for travelers.
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