Top Historic Sites in Europe, Part 4

Welcome to Part 4 of my Top Historic Sites in Europe series! I’m glad you came back to check out some more fantastic sites. So far we’ve done the top historic sites from 30 countries in Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 and today you’ll get to see 10 more in Part 4! I have really loved learning more about these countries along with the significance of some of their historic sites and I’m so excited to share this with you.

With a recorded history going back over 37,000 years, there are just way too many fascinating places to see them all. That’s why I’ve partnered with other travel bloggers to find out which sites are of the most historic and significant importance for each of these countries. I hope you’ll enjoy what we’ve put together today.

Norway – Akershus Fortress

Courtesy of Pixabay

Akershus Fortress was once one of the most important castles in Norway.  Built by King Haakon V during the 1290s after Earl Alv Erlingsson of Sarpsborg attacked Oslo in 1287, it was a stronghold that was able to withstand battles and sieges for hundreds of years. The fortress changed hands a few times during battles, but was strong enough and well-stocked enough to survive every siege laid at the door.

The first battle Akershus saw, and won, was in 1308 when Duke Eric of Södermanland of Sweden laid siege and battled the Norwegian army. After this successful standoff, Akershus Fortress wasn’t besieged again until 1449 when King Karl Knutsson Bonde of Sweden decided to give it a go. He, too, was unsuccessful. Sometime between 1450 and 1502, the fortress was lost to the Norwegian nobleman Knut Alysson, who won a siege by combined forces of the Danish and Scottish.

The next siege was in 1523 by Swedish soldiers. Residents of Oslo burned down their own homes in order to get the Swedes to leave, which was a successful maneuver. Another siege, this time by King Christian II of Denmark, took place from 1531 to 1532. It, too, was unsuccessful. Due to damage sustained during the recent sieges, the castle fortress underwent repairs, improvements, and additional fortification during this time.

1567 brought another siege be Swedish forces. At this time, Akershus had been given to Danish Lord and Statue Officer Christian Munk, who was serving in Norway.

The next notable event involving Akershus Fortress took place in 1624 when the city of Oslo was uprooted and moved closer to the fortress after the city was decimated by a fire. At this time, the castle fortress was remodeled to look more like an Italian Renaissance castle instead of a medieval fortress castle. Over time, new towers, halls, chambers, and gateways were added. A section of the fortress was designed as a prison where many notable rebels, criminals, and political idealists were held and executed.

There were various other skirmishes and battles that took place over the years, but the fortress remained in Norwegian hands until 1940 when the government decided to evacuate Oslo when Nazi Germany attacked Norway and Denmark. It wasn’t until May 11, 1945, that Oslo was liberated from the Germans. Currently, the fortress is used as a military training center, defense bastion, museum, defense headquarters, and Royal Mausoleum. Visitors can enter between the hours of 6:00am and 9:00pm daily.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of this blog, Traveling Thru History, which she uses to share her love of history, culture, and travel with her readers. You can also find stories and pictures of her travels on her Facebook page.

Spain – Plaza Mayor

Courtesy of Sebastian Dubiel on Wikimedia

If you’re looking for the epicenter of traditional Spanish history, look no further than Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, which celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2017. Nearly every Spanish town has a Plaza Mayor – the main plaza where the townspeople come together for all manner of events. In the past, these would have been bullfights, though now they’re more often filled with markets and outdoor cafes. Madrid’s Plaza Mayor has perhaps the most notorious history of them all, as it was here that people deemed heretics during the Spanish Inquisition were condemned and executed. Madrid’s Plaza Mayor witnessed hangings, burnings at the stake, and beheadings during this time, so it’s no surprise that the plaza is supposedly haunted. Still, it wasn’t all morbid goings-on, as coronations and marketplaces also took place in Plaza Mayor throughout history.

The plaza that stands today has undergone many reconstructions due to no less than three fires that burned through the original wooden structures in the 17th and 18th centuries. Juan de Herrera designed the previous plaza, Plaza del Arrabal, in 1560 and was asked by King Philip II to design a remodel in 1577.  Construction on what was to become Plaza Mayor started in 1617, and finished in 1619. In 1790, Juan de Villanueva designed the current plaza after the three fires destroyed the previous one.

Interestingly, in honor of the Constitution of 1812, Spain put out a decree that all major plazas were to be renamed Plaza de la Constitución. The Borbóns regained the throne in 1814 and renamed the plaza Plaza Real. Between 1820 to 1873, the plaza bounced between Plaza de la Constitución and Plaza Real. In 1873, it became Plaza de la República and then Plaza de la Constitución from 1876 to 1922. The Second Spanish Republic once again named the plaza Plaza de la Constitución, which lasted until the end of the Spanish Civil War. At that time, the plaza was named Plaza Mayor.

The reconstructed Plaza Mayor is one of the most touristy places in Madrid, but it’s without a doubt still worth a visit. Simply stroll through the stone arches and envision all of the history that took place right where you’re standing. There are many events still held in Plaza Mayor, but luckily of a more benign kind, such as jazz concerts and the annual Christmas market, which was first started back in 1860. When you visit, be sure not to miss the unique street performers, like Fat Spiderman and Tinsel Goat. If you’re looking for more tips about the rest of your stay in Madrid, the tourism office is also located right in Plaza Mayor. Free walking tours also leave from in front of it twice a day.

Sam and Veren are New Yorkers now living in Madrid. Read more tips on free and cheap things to do in Madrid on their blog, Alternative Travelers, where they also write about sustainable vegan travel and expat life in Spain. Find them also on Instagram.

Andorra – Church of Santa Coloma d’Andorra

Courtesy of Queralt jqmj on Wikimedia

The Church of Santa Coloma d’Andorra is the oldest church in Andorra and is located in Santa Coloma, Andorra la Vella Parish. It is believed the church was originally built during the late 8th or early 9th centuries and underwent modifications during the 12th century. During these modifications, the four-floor Lombardian bell tower was added. This circular bell tower is one of the few that exists in the Pyrenees.

In 1730, the windows on the bell tower were covered to reduce the amount of wind that came into the church, but they have since been uncovered. During the 1740s, the interior of the church was modified to add the current altarpiece. The interior was once covered in Romanesque murals. Most of these murals were taken by the Germans in 1930 and showcased in Berlin until 2007 when they were returned to Andorra.

In 1933, new Romanesque mural paintings were discovered around the nave and restoration work was done. These fragments can still be seen today. In 1976, a large campaign was undertaken to restore the church to its original design. As it stands now, the Church of Santa Coloma d’Andorra looks as it did after the modifications of the 12th century and the addition of the 1740 baroque altarpiece.

Another item of note is the 11th century Romanesque statue Mare de Déu de Santa Coloma found in the church. It is no longer housed there, but can be found with the murals at the Andorran Government Exhibition Hall.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of this blog, Traveling Thru History, which she uses to share her love of history, culture, and travel with her readers. You can also find stories and pictures of her travels on her Facebook page.

Azerbaijan – Palace of the Shirvanshahs

The Palace of the Shirvanshahs is a 15th century palace in Baku and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. The main part of the palace is two stories with three winding staircases. Construction started in 1411 by order of Shirvanshah Sheykh Ibrahim I after the capital was moved to Baku from Shemakha when an earthquake decimated the city. Built on the highest hill in the city, the limestone palace complex boasts nine buildings in three courtyards on different levels: the palace, the Courtroom, the Dervish´s Tomb, the Eastern Gate, the Shah Mosque, the Keygubad Mosque, the palace tomb, the bathhouse and the reservoir.

To keep his palace safe, Ibrahim I paid a tribute to Timur of the Mongols. Even so, when war broke out between the Shirvanshahs and the Safavids in 1500, the palace was looted and damaged. Later, while the Iranians and Ottomans were fighting for control of the South Caucasus, the state of Shirvan was attacked multiple times due to their proximity to a heavily traveled trade route between the two regions. Shirvanshah Palace was damaged several times during these attacks.

In 1828, the Russians stepped in and occupied Shirvan State and much of what is now Azerbaijan. They turned Shirvanshah Palace into a military headquarters and destroyed many of the palace buildings. The palace was renamed Complex of the Palace of the Shirvanshahs in 1954 amd made a State Historic-Architectural Reserve and Museum. In 1960, the palace was designated an architectural monument.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of this blog, Traveling Thru History, which she uses to share her love of history, culture, and travel with her readers. You can also find stories and pictures of her travels on her Facebook page.

Liechtenstein – Gutenberg Castle

Courtesy of Norbert Aepli on Wikimedia

The hill where Gutenberg Castle stands has been inhabited since the Neolithic Period. The castle that stands there now first started out as a medieval church. During the 12th century, the church was converted to a keep and the attached cemetery was removed. Walls were built around the keep and a tower was added to the keep. Records show the structure was called Gutenberg Castle in 1296, but it’s possible the name was given earlier.

Ownership of the castle was held by the Lords of Frauenberg during the 12th and 13th centuries, but it transferred to the House of Habsburg in 1314. The Habsburgs used Gutenberg Castle as a fortification to guard the borders of their territories from the Swiss.

Since 1314, Gutenberg Castle has gone through a myriad of changes. In 1499, the castle was damaged by a siege during the Swabian War. Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I began an initiative to repair the damage and improve fortifications. Later, in 1537, the drawbridge to the castle was destroyed during a storm and was dismantled. It was never replaced. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the castle was damaged by a series of fires. It was during the time the castle was also deemed no longer a military necessity, though residents still inhabited the castle until around 1750.

In 1795, a fire damaged a great part of the nearby city of Balzers and the residents used materials from the now-abandoned castle to rebuild their city. The town purchased the castle in 1824 and attempted to do repairs, but not much was done and it was eventually sold to Princess Franziska von Liechtenstein, who then sold it to Egon Rheinberger, an architect from Vaduz. He undertook an extensive restoration project between 1905 and 1912 to add nes buildings to the lower part of the castle. After he died in 1936, the castle was rented out for events until it was sold again in 1951.

It wasn’t until 1979 that the Principality of Liechtenstein purchased Gutenberg Castle to restore it and create a museum. The castle wasn’t fully opened to the public until 2001 since the former owners still held inherited rights to reside in the castle until the last descendant died, which was in 2001.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of this blog, Traveling Thru History, which she uses to share her love of history, culture, and travel with her readers. You can also find stories and pictures of her travels on her Facebook page.

Denmark – Kronborg

Courtesy of CucombreLibre on Wikimedia

Kronborg Castle is a Renaissance castle and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. It sits on a small island in Øresund Sound between Denmark and Sweden. Due to its placement at the narrowest part of the sound and the fact that the sound is only 2.5 miles wide, this castle is one of the most strategically important fortifications on the Baltic Sea.

The Kronborg was built as a fortress in the 1420s by King Eric VII and was called Krogen Fortress. It sits across the sound from Kärnan Fortress and together they control the entrance to the Baltic Sea. King Eric wanted to tax ships going through Øresund Sound and used the Kronborg to enforce this tax. In 1574, King Frederick II began an 11-year project which would transform the fortress into a large Renaissance castle, at which time it was renamed Kronborg Castle. It was made taller, stronger, and more opulent. A ballroom was added, new royal chambers were outfitted, the chapel was remodeled, and fortifications were strengthened. This new structure, completed in 1585, was very large and very grand, making it one of the most unique in Europe at that time, in terms of size and appearance.

In 1629, only 44 years after the transformation was completed, most of the castle was destroyed by fire. Only the chapel survived. King Christian IV rebuilt the castle, though it never regained its former glory. The exterior was created exactly as it had been before, but the interior was not as resplendent as it once had been. Instead of the same Flemish style, the interior was modernized and created in the Baroque fashion.

1658 was a bad year for Denmark, as the Swedish besieged Kronborg Castle and eventually captured it. The Queen of Sweden and the king’s sister lived at Kronborg Castle during the Swedish occupation and when they left, Swedish forces ransacked the castle and took as many art treasures as they could, including the courtyard fountain, bed canopies, and the large ceiling paintings from the ballroom.

After the Swedish left and the Danes moved back in, they spent two years doing repairs and refitting the castle with stronger fortifications. When they were finished, Kronborg Castle was considered the strongest fortress in Europe.

Since the Kronborg was the strongest fortress in Europe, Denmark began using it as a prison. This lasted from 1739 until the early 1900s. One of the most famous prisoners at the Kronborg was Queen Caroline Mathilde (Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain), sister of George III, following her affair with Johann Friedrich Struensee. Her imprisonment lasted just over three months in 1772.

In 1758, the royal family moved out entirely and converted the castle into an army barracks. The army only stayed until 1923, at which point the castle was thoroughly renovated and opened to the public in 1938.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of this blog, Traveling Thru History, which she uses to share her love of history, culture, and travel with her readers. You can also find stories and pictures of her travels on her Facebook page.

Estonia – Patarei Sea Fortress

Courtesy of Patrick Muntzinger

Patarei Sea Fortress is a former Soviet Prison in Tallinn that is a unique place to visit with its interesting history. Originally named Defence Barracks, the fortress was built on Russian territory in 1828 by Emperor Nicholas I and was to be used as an artillery battery. By the time it was completed in 1840, the Russian warfare strategy had changed and the fortress was instead used as a barracks.

In 1917, after the October Revolution that saw the collapse of the Tsars, the country of Estonia was born and the capital was named Tallinn. In 1920, after the region had calmed down, the fortress was converted into a prison that was used by several parties, including the German Nazis during World War 2, and afterwards the Soviet regime, where thousands of prisoners got jailed before they were deported into Siberia. The prison was known for its horrible conditions for inmates, with tiny cells full of bunk beds, shabby facilities and only a tiny courtyard. This was a place there prisoners were subjected to subhuman living conditions, torture, and execution until it was finally closed in 2005 after Estonia joined the EU. From that point on, the prison was basically untouched. Belongings of the inmates and employees are still in the bedraggled rooms, giving you the feeling like you’ve walked into a ghost town.

In recent years, the prison became an interesting spot for off-the-path tourists who are looking for a different “dark tourism” experience compared to the charming and medieval city center of Tallinn. There’s a lot of politically-oriented graffiti and art on the walls inside of the prison. In the last years, it was possible for tourists to visit the inside of the museum for a couple of Euros. I visited the place as part of a tour, where a guide explained a lot of historical and cultural backgrounds. I highly recommend this as a place to visit when in Tallinn since it was certainly one of my big highlights while visiting Estonia.

Patrick is a world traveller and travel blogger from Germany. Follow his backpacking adventures around the world on his blog, German Backpacker, and on Instagram!

Moldova – Soroca Fort

Courtesy of Baptiste Dauphin on Wikimedia

Soroca Fort was originally a wooden fort which defended a crossing over the Dniester River. It was built in 1499 as a Genoese trading post by Prince Stephen the Great of Moldova and was an important part of the fortifications along the northern border of the country. In 1543, Petru Rareș ordered the fortress be rebuilt using stone. The fortress is a perfect circle with five bastions set at equal distance from each other.

The most notable event in the life of Soroca Fort was during the Great Turkish War of 1683 when Moldovan forces were able to fight off the Ottoman Turks at Soroca Fort. Later, Moldova met with and combined forces with the Russian army at Soroca Fort during the Russo-Ottoman War of 1710–11 against the Turks, which turned out to be a bad move. The combined Russian-Moldovan army lost and eventually signed a peace treaty with the Turks. Moldova was a feudal state to the Ottoman Empire and they did not look kindly upon Moldova siding with the Russians. The Ottomans revoked Moldova’s right to choose their own princes and instead appointed rulers of their own. Later, in an ironic twist, the Russians attacked and defeated Soroca Fort during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735-1739.

Soroca Fort is very important to the Moldovan people and it has been preserved in its original state.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of this blog, Traveling Thru History, which she uses to share her love of history, culture, and travel with her readers. You can also find stories and pictures of her travels on her Facebook page.

Montenegro – Monastery of Ostrog

Courtesy of William Hall on Wikimedia

The Monastery of Ostrog was founded by the Metropolitan Bishop of Herzegovina in the 17th century. It is a monastery of the Serbian Orthodox Church and was built high up on the rock of Ostroška Greda and is comprised of two parts: the upper monastery and the lower monastery. The original monastery was mostly destroyed by fire in the early 1900s and was rebuilt during 1923-1926. The only parts of the original upper monastery left standing are two little cave churches: the Church of the Presentation and the Church of the Holy Cross. Both of these churches are still adorned with the original frescoes they were painted with in the late 17th century. The third church, the Church of the Holy Trinity, was built in 1824 in the lower monastery.

The Monastery of Ostrog has not had an eventful history, aside from a tragic occurrence during WWII. The Yugoslav Partisan Army trapped a detachment of Yugoslav Chetniks in the monastery on October 1943. The Chetniks were supposed to be a Yugoslav resistance force against the Germans, but they eventually began working with the Germans and fighting against the Yugoslav Partisan Army. During a battle with the Partisan Army, the Chetniks took refuge in the monastery. The Partisans promised to spare the Chetniks’ lives if they surrendered, but when they did, the Partisans executed them.

Some items of note at the Monastery are that relics of Saint Basil of Ostrog, the patron saint of the city, are housed in the Church of the Presentation. There is also a vine that grows out of the rock around the monastery that locals believe is miraculous as nothing else grows out of the rock.

When visiting the monastery, it is traditional for pilgrims to walk barefooted from the lower monastery to the upper monastery, a distance of about 1.8 miles, and then make a donation of blankets, clothing, or toiletries for the monks. Pilgrims may then stay in one of the dorms that are available in the lower monastery.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of this blog, Traveling Thru History, which she uses to share her love of history, culture, and travel with her readers. You can also find stories and pictures of her travels on her Facebook page.

Lithuania – Vilnius TV Tower

Courtesy of Wikimedia

There are lots of older historic sites within Lithuania, but the one that really touched me was the TV Tower in Vilnius. To understand why, I will give you a quick Lithuanian history lesson. First off, the TV Tower took six and a half years to construct, starting in May 1974 and finishing in December 1980. It was then, and is now, the tallest structure in Lithuania and became a rallying point for the Lithuanian people after the Republic declared independence from the Soviet Union on March 11, 1990.

When the Lithuanian government made their announcement, it created a lot of unrest across the Republic. The Soviet Union did not agree to grant independence to Lithuania and began a series of actions to regain control of the country. Mikhail Gorbachev, then leader of the USSR, demanded the declaration be revoked and instituted sanctions and economic blockades against Lithuania. Moldova recognized Lithuania’s independence in May 1990, the first country to do so. When sanctions and economic blockades did not bring about the results the USSR desired, they began to use force.

By January 11, 1991, Soviet Union special military units were flown into Vilnius and they refused to guarantee non military action upon the Republic of Lithuania. Barricades were then set up around the city’s key buildings by independence supporters thus starting the ‘January Events’. Soviet military starting seizing the buildings in Vilnius one by one over the next two days with civilians desperately trying to protect their freedom.

On the 13th of January the Soviet military and their tanks succeeded in taking control of the Parliament building and then began moving towards the TV Tower, the last remaining civilian controlled building and the last remaining Lithuanian-only news channel for the independence supporters. Panic spread throughout the city, who then tried to contact leaders of the world to send help.

As the civilians built and defended the barricades around the TV tower, all without weapons. By the end of the conflict, 14 unarmed civilians died, either from gunshots or being run over by the moving tanks. Some 700 other civilians were injured during these events. It was this tragedy that spurred the rest of the world to stand up and recognize Lithuanian independence from the USSR.

Over time, the Vilnius TV Tower has come to be a symbol of Lithuania’s independence and the events of January 13, 1991. Alongside the Fight for Freedom museum at the base of the TV tower, there are memorials to remember the events of that day. Next to the Seimas building (Parliament) in the centre of Vilnius, you will find the barricades that were erected during the struggle. It is a touching site to see those memorials and view the barricades defended by those who died for their independence. It may be an unusual historic site as it’s not very old or seemingly important, but once you learn the history of this tower, you realize how important it really is to the Lithuanian people.

Verity have been chased by a giant mechanical elephant in France, seen Usain Bolt break world records in Beijing and been proposed to on a rooftop in Iceland. She is a travel blogger sharing experiences and giving advice on places she’s visited on her blog, Veritru, and her Instagram page.

Thank you for checking out my Top Historic Sites in Europe Series. It has been a lot of fun learning about and sharing these sites with you. Which one is your favorite? Are there any sites I should have included?

Want to see more historic sites in Europe? Check out Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 5, and Part 6 of the series!


    • Erin

      I feel the same way. The more I learn about Europe and see what it has to offer, the more I add to my bucket list. Norway would be a great place to go. Any particular reason why you chose that one?

    • Erin

      Most of the sites on the list double as castles and fortresses. The strongest fortresses were usually where the royal family resided since there were a lot of territory wars in Europe. Still are, actually, but it’s less about invading by force now. As the region became less contentious and borders more solid, that’s when royal families started building grand castles without the fortifications and left the fortresses to just be fortresses.

      As far as architecture goes, everyone wanted their fortresses to be secure and imposing to discourage attacks, which makes them so large. The actual style comes from the era. The Gothic style of architecture was popular during the Middle Ages. Renaissance architecture was very popular during the 1300-1600s, which is the era most historic castles and fortresses come from, and then Baroque architecture took over until the late 1700s. Europeans began colonizing North America in the early 1500s, but didn’t have the means, skill, or materials to make the grand Renaissance buildings they were used to, so their architectural style remained simple for a long time and is referred to as Colonial. Architecture in the US deviates from the style in Europe because of the way of life here during the early years and also the mixture of architectural interpretations from different regions.

      Sorry for the lecture. I just love this stuff. It’s actually pretty fascinating to learn about. I wish the US had castles and amazing architecture. We do have some pretty neat buildings back east, but nothing compared to Europe.

    • Erin

      Me, too! I’ve only been to England and Germany so far and making this list has made me want to go to so many more. Sometimes it feels like Europe has a castle on every corner. lol

  • bohemianbabushka

    Babushka has been to Europe, but not to any sites listed here. BB’s the kind of traveler who likes to visit one place at a time, not the usual 20 cities in 7 days tours… bella fotos on the post. BB2U

    • Erin

      Thank you! And thank you for your comment. I have a hard time with the super fast and short tours, too. I like to take my time and really explore a place. Most places I spend about 2-3 days in order to get a better feel for the people and the culture.

    • Erin

      I really like those two, as well. That little church in Andorra just seems like it would have fascinating things to find hidden around the grounds. And Denmark. Man, that fortress is beautiful! It would be so wonderful to wander around the halls and see if the inside is as grand as the outside.

  • Sandy N Vyjay

    These are really fascinating sites in Europe, history has always fascinated me and I loved reading this post.Montenegro – Monastery of Ostrog, is my favourite among these sites.

    • Erin

      The Monastery of Ostrog is pretty fascinating, isn’t it? I love how they just built it into the side of a mountain and use caves for the chapels.

    • Erin

      Gosh, Europe has so many historic sites and places of interest. It’s insane. If you could only go to one place in Europe, where would you go?

  • Emily, Our house now a home

    This is a great list! It is not the typical European places, which is great. My husbands family has a lots of roots in Norway and many relatives that speak the language, also all of the yummy foods past down from previous generations. I know he would love to visit Norway one day and meet a few distant relatives he knows that live there.

    • Erin

      Thank you for your comment! I’m glad you like the list. It sounds like Norway is definitely the place for you to go. I hope you are able to get there and meet up with your husband’s relatives. That would be such a neat experience.

  • Lisa

    Someday I will go to Europe. There are so many different places I want to see before I die. Now, I have a few more to add to my list.

    • Erin

      I hope you get to see some of the places you want to go. Europe is a pretty amazing place. Do you have a top place you just absolutely want to see?

  • Amber

    I just love history, so I’d want to check out all of these places. My kids love history too, so they’d also be intrigued.

  • Alli Rutherford Smith

    I would love to visit the historic sites in Norway. We have good friends who live in Norway and they are always asking us to come visit. These are all great historic sites in Europe and I’d love to visit them all.

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