1. The Potala Palace: Tibet’s Greatest Monumental Building
Built at an altitude of 3,700 m, on the side of Marpo Ri in the center of Lhasa Valley, the Potala Palace is Tibet’s greatest monumental structure. The palace is named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical abode of Chenresig or Avalokitesvara. Lozang Gyatso, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, started its construction in 1645 after one of his spiritual advisers, Konchog Chophel (died 1646), pointed out that the site was ideal as a seat of government, situated as it is between Drepung and Sera monasteries and the old city of Lhasa. It may overlay the remains of an earlier fortress, called the White or Red Palace, on the site built by Songtsen Gampo in 637. The building measures 400 metres east-west and 350 metres north-south, with sloping stone walls averaging 3 m. thick, and 5 m. (more than 16 ft) thick at the base, and with copper poured into the foundations to help proof it against earthquakes. Thirteen stories of buildings – containing over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues – soar 117 metres (384 ft) on top of Marpo Ri, the “Red Hill”, rising more than 300 m (about 1,000 ft) in total above the valley floor.
2. Neuschwanstein Castle: the Classic Fairytale’s Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle is a nineteenth-century Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as a homage to Richard Wagner. Ludwig paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and by means of extensive borrowing, rather than Bavarian public funds.
The palace was intended as a personal refuge for the reclusive king, but it was opened to the paying public immediately after his death in 1886. Since then more than 61 million people have visited Neuschwanstein Castle. More than 1.3 million people visit annually, with as many as 6,000 per day in the summer. The palace has appeared prominently in several movies and was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and later, similar structures.
3. Malbork Castle: World’s Largest Brick Gothic Castle
The Castle in Malbork was built in Prussia by the Teutonic Order as an Ordensburg. The Order named it Marienburg, literally “Mary’s Castle”. The town which grew around it was also named Marienburg, but since 1945 it is again, after 173 years, part of Poland and known as Malbork. The castle is a classic example of a medieval fortress, and is the world’s largest brick gothic castle. UNESCO listed the castle and its museum as World Heritage Sites in December 1997.
4. Prague Castle: World’s Largest Ancient Castle
Located in the Hradčany district of Prague and dating back to the ninth century, Prague Castle is the official residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle has been a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it. The Guinness Book of Records lists Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world.
5. Predjamski Castle: Integrated in a Cave
Every castle in the world is unique in some way. And Predjamski Castle, though rather small and humble compared to some, is probably the only one in the world that is integrated in a cave, precisely the second largest cave system in Slovenia.
The castle was built under a natural rocky arch high in the stone wall to make access to it difficult. It was later acquired and expanded by the Luegg noble family, also known as the Knights of Adelsberg. After the siege and destruction of the original castle, its ruins were acquired by the Oberburg noble family. In 1511, the second castle, built by the Purgstall family in the first decade of the 16th century, was destroyed in an earthquake. In the year 1567, Archduke Charles of Austria leased the castle to baron Philipp von Cobenzl, who paid it off after 20 years. In 1570, the current castle was built in the Renaissance style, pressed next to a vertical cliff under the original Medieval fortification. The castle has remained in this form, virtually unchanged, to the present day.