With many of its countries joining the EU, and budget airlines being on the rise, visiting Eastern Europe is now easier than ever. In addition, a number of fantastic tours to Eastern Europe are available nowadays. A major highlight of one such tour is the castles! Some stand proudly in the city centers, others rest in the countryside. Some became ruins, and others museums, or are still privately owned. Still, these castles are at the center of their countries’ histories.
Here are just a few of the many castles in Eastern Europe worth your visit.
Malbork Castle, Poland
The Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork is a wonderful example of a medieval fortress. Completed in 1406, in Prussia, it is the largest brick castle. It was originally built by the Teutonic Knights, a German Roman Catholic religious order of crusaders, who named it Marienburg (Mary’s Castle). Heavily damaged during WWII, Malbork was renovated in the 20th century and again in 2016. Today, it’s home to the Malbork Castle Museum and it hosts exhibitions. In 1997, UNESCO designated the castle with its museum a World Heritage Site.
Spiš Castle, Slovakia
Built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier castle, Spiš Castle is one of the largest European castle sites by area. Originally, it was a Romanesque stone castle with fortifications, but in the 13th century, a Romanesque palace and a Romanesque-Gothic basilica were also constructed. Additional extramural settlements and a late Gothic chapel were added too. In 1993, the castle and the surrounding locations were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the northwest slope below the castle, one can find The Dark Cave where, in 2003, the bones of a merchant with his silver Roman coin collection were discovered.
Castle of Eger, Hungary
This 13th-century edifice is famous for the 1552 battle, when around 2000 soldiers, led by István Dobó, defended the castle against 40,000 Ottoman soldiers. The first castle on the hill near Eger was ruined during the Mongol invasion, so it was rebuilt on a hill in the city of Eger, where it thrived. The castle was badly damaged many times. Nowadays, however, it is home to museums and periodic exhibitions. One can visit the István Dobó Castle Museum and many ruins, including its 13th-century cathedral and 15th-century Gothic Episcopal Palace.
Bran Castle and Sighisoara, Romania
Bran Castle is a Romanian national monument. This Saxon fortress is situated along the border of Transylvania and Wallachia. The stunning fortified medieval citadel is a World Heritage Site and includes the castle with its secret passages, a medieval clock tower, churches, and other historic buildings. While in Romania, one should also visit Sighisoara, a small Transylvanian town northwest of Bran Castle and the oldest fortified medieval village that is still inhabited, for which it has been listed as a World Heritage Site. It is also the place of birth of Vlad Dracula.
Built on a rock overlooking a canyon, Kamyanets-Podilsky is known as the Stone Flower on the Rock. Being so impressive, it was said to have been built by God. Constructed in the 12th century, many forces attempted to lay siege to it. Only two succeeded: the Lithuanians and the Ottomans. Later, the Russians turned the fortress into a prison.
It is said that the canyon probably served as a source of inspiration for novelist Mikhail Bulgakov’s description of Jerusalem in “The Master and Margarita.” In 1928, the Castle complex was declared a historical-cultural preserve, and one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine in 2007.
The 12th-century strategic fortress Tsarevets is situated on a hill in Veliko Tarnovo. The region was first settled 5000 years ago, and Veliko Tarnovo became the historical capital of the Bulgarian Empire, protecting the rulers living on the site. Because of its influence, it was known as the Third Rome. Visitors can now explore the castle complex, enjoy the Changing of the Guard ceremony, and watch The Sound and Light show that uses lasers, variegated lights, music, and church bells to tell Bulgarian history.
The mountain fortress of Krujë played a key role in preventing Ottoman expansion into Western Europe. The castle was ruled by Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, aka Dragon of Albania, Albania’s national hero. Only after his death, the Ottomans managed to conquer Krujë. Inside the castle, one can find the Teqe of Dollme (a Bektashi / Islamic Sufi order temple), the National Skanderbeg Museum, the remains of the Fatih Sultan Mehmed mosque and its minaret, the National Ethnographic Museum, and a Turkish bath.
Existing since the Illyrian times, the fortifications of Kotor included battlements, towers, citadels, gates, bastions, reservoirs, and auxiliary buildings – all incorporating the architectures of Illyria, Byzantium, Venice, Austria, etc. Built in 535CE, the mountain fortress overlooks the walled city and the fjord. The fortifications, the old town, and its natural surroundings were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. After all the rules and occupations this city went through, the inscription near its gate states: “What belongs to others we don’t want, what is ours we will not surrender.”