Throughout history city walls were made as protection from the enemy. From very early history to modern times, they have been a near necessity for almost every city. The walled cities could only be entered through city gates which were often closed after a certain curfew each night. Today well preserved walls bring tourist from the whole world to wonder around these medieval walled cities.
York is an ancient city in the north of England. The city was founded by the Romans, taken over by the Angles, captured by the Vikings and finally incorporated in the Kingdom of England in 954. It boasts the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe. Since Roman times, the city has been defended by walls of one form or another. The majority of the remaining walls, which encircle the whole of the medieval city, date from the 12th – 14th century.
Harar is an ancient walled city in eastern Ethiopia. For centuries, Harar has been a major commercial center, linked by the trade routes with Africa and Arabia. With 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, and 102 shrines it is one of the most important cities of Islam. Harar was part of the Adal Sultanate, a medieval muslim state located in the Horn of Africa. In the 16th century the city was encircled with a wall including five gates. This wall, called Jugol, is still intact, and has become the symbol of the city.
Taroudant is a fascinating and authentic Berber town in the heart of the Souss Valley, with the best preserved city walls in Morocco. It is often called the “Grandmother of Marrakech” because it is a scaled down, slowed down town that resembles Marrakech with its surrounding city walls. The walls were constructed in the 16th century under the Saadi Dynasty. Today the town is a market town and has a souk near each of its two main squares.
An often overlooked gem, Toledo is one of the former capitals of the Spanish Empire. The history of Toledo dates back to Roman times. Roman occupation was followed by Visigothic rule, Muslim rule and finally the Reconquista of Toledo in 1085 AD. It was the capital of the Spanish empire until the mid 1500’s when the royal court moved to Madrid. The city is surrounded by the River Tajo on three sides and two medieval walls on the fourth side.
Pingyao is a small Chinese city renowned for its well-preserved ancient city wall. The majestic wall, which includes six major gates and 72 watchtowers, encircles an old city which has little changed architecturally over the past 300 years. In 2004, part of the southern walls collapsed but were reconstructed. However, the rest of the city walls are still largely intact and Pingyao is considered to be one of best-preserved walled cities in the world.
The town of Óbidos is located on a hill and is encircled by a fortified wall. In the 8th century the Moors established a fortification on top of the hill. It was taken from the Moors by the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, in 1148. The castle of Óbidos and the walls of the village were remodeled in the 14th century. The walls are made out of local limestone and marble. The village was also enlarged around this time, with settlements created outside the city walls. The well-preserved mediaeval look of its streets, squares, walls and its massive castle have turned the picturesque village into a popular tourist attraction in Portugal.
Xi’an one of the oldest cities in China, with a history of more than 3,100 years. For 1,000 years, the city was the capital for 13 dynasties, and a total of 73 emperors ruled here. Xi’an is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army. A well-preserved city wall, which was re-constructed in the 14th century during the early Ming Dynasty, surrounds the city. One of the world’s largest city walls, it is wide enough to easily ride 5 bikes across.
Itchan Kala is the walled inner town of the city of Khiva in Uzbekistan. The old town retains many historic monuments and old houses, dating primarily from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. The most spectacular features of Itchan Kala are its sun-dried brick walls and four gates at each side of the rectangular fortress. The city walls were destroyed several times, but they were always rebuilt.
Located in western Spain, the medieval city of Ávila is built on the flat summit of a rocky hill, which rises abruptly in the midst of a veritable wilderness. Ávila has a magnificently well-preserved city wall which encircles the entire old town. The ramparts have nine gates and 88 towers many topped with stork nests. The city walls were primarily constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries.
The French city of Carcassonne is one of the most perfectly preserved walled cities of the world and the largest walled city in Europe. The fortification consists of two outer walls, towers and barbicans built over a long period of time. One section is Roman and is notably different from the medieval walls with the red brick layers and the terracotta tile roofs. One of these towers housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th Century and is still known as ‘The Inquisition Tower’. Portions of the 1991 film ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ were shot in and around Carcassonne.
Jerusalem is a holy city to three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, whilst being the modern capital of the State of Israel and the country’s largest city. It is a fascinatingly unique place where the first century rubs shoulders with the twenty-first century, and where picturesque old neighborhoods nestle against glistening office towers and high-rise apartments.
The walled city of Jerusalem, which until the late nineteenth century formed the entire city, is now called the Old City. It is divided into four quarters: The Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters. Jerusalem has been surrounded by walls for its defense since ancient times. In the 16th century, during the reign of the Ottoman empire in the region, it was decided to fully rebuild the city walls on the remains of the ancient walls. The construction lasted from 1535-1538 and these walls are the walls that exist today.
Dubrovnik is a walled city on the Adriatic Sea coast in the extreme south of Croatia. Nicknamed “Pearl of the Adriatic”, it is one of the most prominent tourist destinations of the Mediterranean. The walled city was built on maritime trade. In the Middle Ages it became the only city-state in the Adriatic to rival Venice and achieved a remarkable level of development during the 15th and 16th centuries. The world famous walls surround the old city. Constructed mainly during the 12th–17th centuries, they have been well preserved to the present day.