Nowadays cities are surrounded by motorways and suburbs, but at one time any city worth its salt was ringed in a protective layer of walls intended to keep out all but the most committed of invaders. From the mighty city-states of Italy to the fiefdoms of England, city fathers built bigger and better walls, trying to out-do the other in civic grandeur and military might. Here is a guide to some of the best walled cities still in existence.
A well preserved example of Qing and Ming dynasty urban development, the historic architecture at Pingyao is some of the most important in Asia, and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Especially significant are the towering brick walls encircling the city; reaching up to 40 feet in height and dating from the 14th century, the barricades feature 72 massive bastions and 6 impressively decorated gates. Of interest elsewhere in the city is the lavish Market Tower dating from the 1500s as well as numerous examples of merchant architecture, dating from the time a few hundred years ago when Pingyao was the silver and banking capital of China, equivalent to modern day Shanghai or Hong Kong.
With 88 round towers of remarkable solidity, the mile long city walls at Avila in Spain are arguably the most impressive city walls in Europe. Lit up at night, the walls together make up the largest floodlit installation in the world, and provide a stunning, luminescent sight from miles around. With some sections of the wall dating back to 1090, and even the most recent parts of the walls being finished in the 14th century, this is one of oldest existing fortifications in Spain. The old city behind the walls is no less impressive, with convents and churches dedicated to Teresa of Avila, the patron saint of the city and one of the most important figures in the Catholic Counter-Reformation.
In the dry, dusty foothills of the High Atlas mountains an ancient capital boasts North Africa’s finest ancient walls. Dating from the 16th century, the four and a half mile long ramparts of Taroudant shield a medieval market town with souks and Kasbahs that is referred to in Morocco as the Grandmother of Marrakech, on account of the city’s impressive history. Due to the fact that the majority of Taroudant’s walls stand in good condition, visitors to the town still need to enter the city through one of its nine gate-houses, proving something of an obstacle for large vehicles. For much of the wall’s winding length it is lined with palm trees and a pleasant promenade, making the walk here one of the most peaceful and evocative in Morocco.
From the air Neuf-Brisach looks like a perfect hexagon, with eight equal sides surrounded by a network of star-shaped fortifications. These star-forts were a fairly common sight in the late 17th century, providing adequate defensives against invading armies, but most have since been torn down in the name of progress. So it is to this small corner of Alsace where you should head to see the finest single remaining example. The city walls here were designed by the Marquis de Vauban, the foremost military engineer of his time, and employ what were then considered to be state of the art defensive architecture such as ravelins, tenailles, reduits, bastions, counter-guards, flanks and scarps, ensuring that every square inch surrounding the town was protected.
The ancient city of Khiva, lying amidst the cotton plantations and potato fields of Xorazm province in Uzbekistan, offers a walled-city with enough grandeur and history to rival its more famous counterparts Bukhara and Samarkand. Crenellated adobe brick walls, reaching some 32 feet in height, completely enclose the Itchan Kala, or walled city, of Khiva, protecting architectural jewels such as the Djuma Mosque with its Greek Hypostyle hall and ancient wooden columns. Also hidden behind these vast walls is the Sheikh Muhktar-Vali Complex, a rotund turquoise tower that was originally intended to be a soaring minaret. Clad in majolica and glazed strap work, construction of the tower was halted in 1855 after the reigning Sheikh at the time discovered it would give the muezzin unimpeded views into his private harem.Write a Comment
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