All across the globe, the largest castles in the world all shared a common purpose – to project power, withstand a determined enemy and secure the region in which they dominated. Symbols of might and power, the world’s biggest castles are today among the most visited historical places on the planet.
Yet today’s mighty castles can trace their roots back to less illustrious predecessors. Fortified settlements first appeared in Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East around 6,000 years ago. Britain and Northern Europe followed with raised hillforts throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages.
However, it wasn’t until the 9th century, when the empire of Charlemagne fell, that the more fairy-tale-traditional castles that came to symbolise the classic European design became common.
Local lords – and later kings and queens – needed to protect their holdings, establish administrative centres and demonstrate their power. Their solution was to build castles worthy of their status. Today, these grand fortresses evoke images of epic battles, royal romances, murder mysteries, intrigue, sacrifices and rebellions, but what are the largest fortresses in the world?
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland, UK | Built: 11th century | Size: 8.8 acres
Dominating the skyline of Scotland’s capital city, one of the world’s biggest fortresses is also one of Europe’s oldest fortified castles and Britain’s most besieged. Its long and brutal history as a royal residence, prison and military citadel is an integral part of Scotland’s history. The castle’s final siege was in 1745 during the Jacobite Rising. As a jail, it housed prisoners from the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
Citadel of Aleppo
Location: Aleppo, Syria | Built: 12th – 13th century | Size: Approx. 10 acres
One of the largest castles in the world, the Citadel of Aleppo was built to protect one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. Built on a limestone outcrop 40 metres above the surrounding plain, the majority of the structures – characteristically Medieval Islamic military architecture – were constructed by the Ayyubids. The hill on which it stands has served as a strategically important position for many thousands of years for civilisations including the Armenians, Byzantines, Greeks, Ayyubids, Mamluks and Ottomans.
Location: Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan | Built: 14th – 17th century | Size: Approx. 10.2 acres
Strategically positioned on the western approaches to Japan’s former capital city of Kyoto, Himeji Castle is described by UNESCO as the ‘finest surviving example of early 17th century Japanese castle architecture’. Due to its elegance and resemblance of a bird in flight, it is often referred to as Shirasagi-jo, or White Heron Castle. One of the biggest castles in the world, its 83 buildings are surrounded by defensive walls and a double moat and it is the largest and best-preserved samurai fortification in Japan.
Location: Budapest, Hungary | Built: 13th century | Size: Approx. 11 acres
Overlooking the Danube on the Buda side of Hungary’s capital, Buda Castle was first completed in the 1260s to defend the city from Mongol invaders. The Baroque masterpiece that stands today was completed in the mid-eighteenth century. One of the biggest castles in the world, it has been besieged over 30 times in its long and brutal history and today the castle is home to the Hungarian National Gallery.
Location: Berkshire, UK | Built: 11th century | Size: Approx. 13 acres
Built by William the Conqueror over a thousand years ago to defend the south-western approaches to London, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. Originally a classic motte-and-bailey castle, it has been used by the reigning monarch since the reign of Henry I (1100 – 1135). It is the preferred weekend retreat of HM The Queen and is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. By way of comparison, Windsor Castle could fit on two flight decks of the USS Gerald R Ford, the world’s largest aircraft carrier!
Location: Salzburg, Austria | Built: 11th century | Size: Approx. 13.5 acres
One of the largest fortresses in the world and perhaps the best preserved medieval castle in Europe, Hohensalzburg was built by a succession of the city’s archbishops beginning with Gebhard von Helfenstein in 1077. It has the distinction of never having fallen to enemy invaders in its thousand year history (it came under siege during the German Peasants’ War in 1525 but was not taken). Dominating the Salzburg skyline with views all the way to the Austrian Alps, the castle was used as a prison for Italian POWs during World War I.
Location: Prague, Czech Republic | Built: 9th century | Size: Approx: 17.2 acres
Prague Castle is considered to be the largest ancient castle in the world and remains one of the world’s biggest castles. The first walled building was constructed in 870 and over the years has been the seat of power of Holy Roman emperors and the kings of Bohemia. Today, it is the office of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle is home to a stunning array of Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque architecture and the Bohemian Crown Jewels, including the Crown of St Wenceslas, are kept in a hidden room deep within.
Location: Jodhpur, India | Built: 15th century | Size: Approx. 20 acres
Mehrangarh Fort sits atop a hill known as Bhakurcheeria, or ‘the mountain of birds’ 122 metres above the surrounding plain in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan. Built by illustrious military leader Rao Jodha Rathore, one of the largest castles in the world and perhaps the most imposing was described by Rudyard Kipling as ‘the work of giants.’ Each of the seven entrance gates was built by a different ruler and it has the rare distinction of having never been captured.
Location: Malbork, Poland | Built: 13th century | Size: Approx. 52 acres
Built by the Teutonic Knights, a German order of religious Catholic crusaders, Malbork Castle on the banks of the River Nogat in northern Poland is top of the list of the world’s biggest castles by land area. Unusually for the age it was constructed entirely of local red brick instead of stone. What was the largest fortified Gothic building in Europe, It was almost entirely destroyed during World War II but has been mostly restored and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Fantastic Forts: Majestic & Military Might
The largest castles in the world with their towers, walls, battlements and keeps and rich and often brutal histories document the stories – true, fictional and embellished – of their cities and nations. These awe-inspiring structures stand as prominent and important landmarks as well as symbols of royal and military power and grandeur. Even today, their magnificent status remains in both UNESCO recognition and popularity with visitors the world over.