Today, thanks to our partnership with Sketchfab, we take you on a virtual tour of some of the most breathtaking historic fortresses across Europe. The design of castles and fortress complexes are particularly interesting because of their strategic siting and defense mechanisms. As strongholds of territorial claim, fortress complexes are meant to be self-sustaining in times of conflict and contain not only defense fortifications but a suite of supporting structures such as chapels, schools, and housing. This effectively turns fortress complexes into a village within a village. These richly detailed scans hosted on Sketchfab allow us to see in detail the urban planning strategies of different historic periods and places.
For a more immersive experience, all of these models can be viewed on a virtual reality headset such as Google Cardboard.
Portugal: Forte da Graça
Portugal’s King Joseph ordered the Fortress of Our Lady of Grace to be constructed in 1763, and it's considered to be a masterpiece of 18th century military architecture due to its multi-walled reinforcements. Located just a stone’s throw away from the Spanish border, the fortress occupies the highest hill in the region which may have been a contributing factor to its various military victories in the 1800s. The hill was once the site of the ancient Chapel of Our Lady of Grace which is the namesake for the fortress. The star-shaped structure has recently been appointed UNESCO World Heritage status.
Romania: Râșnov Fortress
Located on a rocky hilltop of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, the Râșnov Fortress sits 650 feet above an adjoining town. Dating as far back as the 12th century, the fortress was designed as a place of refuge for extended periods of time, containing nine towers, two bastions and a drawbridge. Having been used as a defensive fortress as late as the Revolution of 1848, the fortress was only ever forced to surrender once, in 1612.
Romania: Corvin Castle
Castelul Corvilinor, as it is known in Romanian, is considered to be the most beautiful Gothic-style castle in Romania. The structure was originally built as a medieval keep on a former Roman Camp. It served as a fortress until the mid-14th century when it was transformed as the castle residence for Iancu of Hunedoara, Transylvania's ruler at the time. The castle is well appointed with iconic Gothic elements such as high buttresses. It also contained rich inner courtyards and an impressive drawbridge. The infamous Vlad the Impaler is rumored to have been imprisoned in this castle.
France: Château de Commarque
The castle is part of a large complex in the Dordogne region of France. Beginning as a simple wooden tower in the 12th century, the site gradually grew into a vast complex over multiple phases of building. Strategically located at the intersection of two important thoroughfares, the Château was occupied during multiple wars in French history including the Hundred Years’ War. However, the complex came to be abandoned by the early 17th century. Thanks to its location in the Vezere valley, home of the world-famous Lascaux Caves, the Château coincidentally also sits above a cave containing a prehistoric painting.
Slovenia: Predjama Castle
The most impressive aspect of this castle is its strategic sighting within a cave mouth, in its location in modern-day South Central Slovenia. Seemingly lodged into rock, the castle was reportedly difficult to access and easy to defend from attacking troops. The castle's most famous resident is Erazam of Predjama, a knight and member of nobility who came into conflict with the powerful Habsburgs in the 15th century. The meandering tunnels and cavities of the cave proved useful to Erazam; one passage leads to a secret exit at the top of the cliff, which was used to bring supplies into the castle during a siege which lasted for a full year.
Belgium: Château de Reinhardstein
The castle, which was built in 1354, is believed to have been built atop a much older preexisting Gallo-Celtic structure. The Burg Metternich, as it is alternatively known, has a long history of multiple contested changes of ownership between noble families in the region. However, the castle was in dismal state until its private owner began rehabilitation in the 1970s.