Top Historic Sites in Europe, Part 5

Welcome to Part 5 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 40 countries in Part 1Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 and today you’ll get to see 10 more in Part 5! 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.

Austria – Melk Abbey

Courtesy of Thomas Ledl on Wikimedia

Melk Abbey is a Benedictine abbey that was founded in 1089 when Leopold II gave one of his castles to a monk from Lambach Abbey. It was used as an abbey until the 12th century when it was converted to a monastic school. Over the centuries, Melk Abbey became renowned for the extensive manuscript collection housed there and for the monastery’s production of manuscripts. This abbey is also known for being the center of the Melk Reform movement in the 15th century.

Unfortunately, the original Melk Abbey no longer stands. Sometime in the 16th century, the abbey was torn down and in 1702, the current Baroque structure was built. It took 34 years to finish the abbey and adorn it with medieval frescoes, after which it was filled with the current collection of medieval manuscripts.

In the late 1780s, Austria underwent a period when the Emperor begane dissolving abbeys around the country. Because of its notoriety and academic standing, the abbey was spared. Melk Abbey was also threatened during the Napoleonic Wars, but it wasn’t until the Anschluss in 1938 that the abbey was ever taken over. The Austrian State closed the school at Melk Abbey and took over several buildings in the complex. It wasn’t until after WWII that the school returned to the abbey, where it still resides today.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of 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 Instagram, and Twitter pages.

Cyprus – Stavrovouni Monastery

Courtesy of Pixabay

Stavrovouni Monastery was founded by Saint Helena, the mother of Byzantine Emperor Constantine I, around 327–329 AD and is one of the oldest monasteries in the world. During Saint Helena’s pilgrimage to find the cross Jesus Christ was crucified on, as told in the Stavelot Triptych, she is said to have found the three crosses Jesus Christ and the two thieves had been hung on. After excavating them and beginning her journey back to Constantinople, she was shipwrecked in Cyprus and the Holy Cross miraculously transported to the top of the mountain where a bright light was being emitted. Saint Helena attempted to remove the Holy Cross several times, but it would not come out. Once she decided to leave a piece of it there and build a chapel around it, the Holy Cross removed from the mountain.

After the chapel was built, a group of Orthodox monks began living there. They were the caretakers of the Holy Cross until it disappeared during the 1500s. It is assumed the Ottoman Turks took it or destroyed it during their occupation of the island, with it being noted the cross was gone in 1598. The Turks took control of Cyprus and banned the monks from the monastery from the 16th to the 19th centuries. A fire almost destroyed the church, iconostasis, and monks’ cells during a fire in 1888 when it was reinhabited, but it took less than a year to repair the damage and get the monastery up and running again. Unfortunately, the only ancient relic that still exists is a silver cross that houses a small sliver of the Holy Cross that once stood there.

Since the 1890s, Stavrovouni Monastery has become the spiritual center of Cyprus. Monks are trained at Stavrovouni Monastery and then sent to struggling monasteries in the region to help them grow. Because of its popularity and success, the monastery was restored in the 20th century and is now adorned with frescoes and icons that tell the legend of its founding.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of 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 Instagram, and Twitter pages.

Poland – Auschwitz

Courtesy of Bec Wyld

Auschwitz-Birkenau has to be one of the saddest places we have even been. What was once a Polish Army Barracks was turned into one of the most notorious Nazi Concentration Camps of WWII. Auschwitz I was originally constructed to house Polish political prisoners before becoming one of the biggest extermination camps with the building of Auschwitz II-Birkenau a few kilometres away.

The first trains carrying Jewish men, women and children arrived at Birkenau in September 1941 where they were unloaded and selected for either work at the camp or where sent to the gas chambers that were onsite. The Auschwitz I barracks or ‘blocks’ were also used to do medical experiments on some of the prisoners that came through the camps. Dr Joseph Mengele was one doctor that did hideous experiments on people especially twins while he was at the camp.

It is believed that over 1.3 million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau from its opening until late 1944 where the remaining prisoners were left to either starve at the camp or led on a death march as the liberating armies approached. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was finally liberated by the Red Army on the afternoon of the 27th of January, 1945 with Auschwitz one being reached a few hours later.

I believe visiting here gives you a greater sense of the loss and the scale in which it was reached. The barracks are now places that tell the stories of the camp, the unspeakable things that happened there. It is a home to some peoples possessions that were left at the camp when it was liberated and a reminder that it should never, ever happen again.

Bec Wyld of Wyld Family Travel and her family are from a small country town in Victoria, Australia. They juggle full-time jobs, school, a mortgage, and life with fitting as much travel and day trips in as possible, all of which they share on their Facebook page along with fun, affordable attractions and destinations.

Czech Republic – Prague Astronomical Clock

Courtesy of Pixabay

In Prague’s Old Town Square stands one of the most unique clocks in the world. It is made of three parts: an astronomical dial, a set of clockwork figures called “The Walk of the Apostles,” and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months of the year. A popular legend in the city says that if the clock is neglected and is unable to operate well, the city will suffer, but it is unknown if the city did suffer during the many times the clock stopped working.

The first part of the clock created was the mechanical clock and astronomical dial in 1410. It is believed the calendar dial was added in 1490 and the gothic sculpture facade was added around the same time. Another legend surrounding the clock tells that the Prague Councillors ordered that the clockmaker, Hanus, be blinded so he couldn’t repeat his work. As revenge, he disabled the clock and it took over a hundred years for anyone to figure out how to fix what he’d done.

The next change after the clock was repaired in 1552 came in 1629 when wooden statues were added to the clock. Major repair work was carried out from 1787 to 1791 and that was when the figures of the Apostles were added. Later, during repair work in 1865, the golden rooster was added.  In May 1945, during WWII, the Germans fired on Czechs who were resisting the occupation and damaged the clock. Buildings in the square were burned as well as the wooden sculptures on the clock and the original calendar dial face from 1490. It took three years to repair the damage and restore wooden Apostle sculptures on the clock.

Since 1948, the clock has only stopped working twice. The first time was in 2005 when the statues and lower calendar ring were restored and nets were added to keep the pigeons off the clock. The second time ws in July 2017 when additional renovations were carried out on the tower.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of 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 Instagram, and Twitter pages.

Iceland – Hólar í Hjaltadal

Hólar Cathedral is a small and well-known church high up in the mountains of Iceland. While this is one of the oldest churches in Iceland, it isn’t the first church to sit on this site. Six previous churches stood in its place and none were fated to last very long. The first church on this site built in 1050. That one was destroyed a few decades after it was finished and another was built in the late 11th century. The second church fared no better and was rebuilt in the early 12th century. This church lasted until the end of the 13th century and the fourth was built in 1300. That church lasted around 90 years and was rebuilt around 1394. The sixth, and final church, was erected in 1757. Once the present church was completed in 1763, it was consecrated a cathedral. Hólar lost its standing in 1801 when the Diocese of Hólar was dissolved and combined with the Diocese of Iceland. This was short-lived and the church was once again consecrated a cathedral in 1909 when the Diocese of Hólar was reestablished.

While the red stone church may seem small and unassuming, it is very interesting and important to the people of Iceland. Hólar is the oldest stone church in the country and one of the best known historic sites in Iceland. The red color of the stones used to build the church were mined from the mountains above the city. Another item of note is that a copy of the first Icelandic Bible from 1584 is on display inside the church. As for the tower beside the church, this free-standing tower was built in 1950 in honor of Bishop Jon Arason, the last Catholic bishop of Iceland. He and his sons were beheaded in 1550 when the nation changed the national religion from Catholicism to Lutheranism.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of 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 Instagram, and Twitter pages.

Luxembourg – Vianden Castle

Courtesy of Pixabay

The site where Vianden Castle stands was first inhabited in the late 10th century. The castle was built in the early 11th century on the site of an ancient Roman watchtower and is one of the largest fortified castles west of the Rhine. The first structures built were a keep, a kitchen, a chapel, and residential rooms, which indicate an aristocratic family lived there. During the early 12 century, modifications were carried out. A new residential tower and a decagonal chapel were added while the palace keep was extended. In the 13th century, the palace keep was demolished and a new, two-story, structure was added along with a lavish gallery that attached it to the church. These renovations were made because the Count of Vianden wished to rival the House of Luxembourg in power and prestige. Having a grand palace and impressive castle fortress were one of the ways the Count of Vianden chose to do this.

Over the years, Vianden Castle was renovated and modified, but the last great change took place in the mid 13th century when the entire castle was redone in the Gothic style. Later, in 1621, a residence with banqueting hall and bedroom were added in a Renaissance style to replace a damaged wing of the castle.

In the early 16th century, Vianden Castle was abandoned after the current Count of Vianden gained the additional title of House of Nassau-Orange. This did not last long and in 1564, William, Prince of Orange, Count of Nassau and Vianden, built the first blast furnace in Luxembourg at Vianden Castle. He then left the castle to lead a revolt against the King of Spain, which caused the King of Spain the seize the castle and give it to the governor of Luxembourg, in whose hands it stayed until 1820, when it was sold to an alderman. The alderman began dismantling the castle and selling pieces of it.

After the alderman tore the castle apart, the king of Luxembourg, a Count of Vianden, purchased the castle and began restoring it. Due to the Belgian War in 1830, he was unable to finish the renovations. In 1851, Prince Henry of the Netherlands paid to have the chapel restored. Later, in 1890, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg began another restoration effort, but this was also interrupted by war, this time World War One and then by World War Two. The castle proved to be a valuable defensive outpost against the Nazis during WWII and was used extensively by the Luxembourgish anti-Nazi resistance.

Finally, in 1962, an in-depth restoration work was carried out on the castle. Work was slow and hampered by questions of ownership, but work finally finished in 1990. The castle is now open to the public and offers guided tours to show off the magnificent restoration work and share the fascinating history of this beautiful castle.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of 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 Instagram, and Twitter pages.

Macedonia – Ancient Theatre of Ohrid

This ancient piece of Hellenistic handiwork dates from 200 BC and is the only Hellenistic theater in the entire country. There are three other theaters like this in Macedonia, but they date from the Roman era.

Because of the ruined state of this open-air theater and the fact that only the lower section remains, it is unknown how many people the theater used to seat, but it is known that this site was once used for gladiatorial games and the execution of Christians by the Romans. Due to the executions carried out here, Macedonians quickly began to dislike the theater. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, citizens of Ohrid buried the theater to forget the horrors that happened here.

Due to the site being buried, it has been preserved remarkably well. It was discovered by accident in the 1980s when construction was being carried out around the houses nearby. The first items found were stone blocks with carving of the Greek god Dyonisius and the muses. This led archaeologists to believe a Greek theater must be nearby and excavation work was carried out.

Once the theater was uncovered, it again became a site of joy and happiness. This theater is now used during the Ohrid Summer festival for annual performances of Greek tragedies and comedies.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of 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 Instagram, and Twitter pages.

Netherlands – Het Loo Palace

Courtesy of Zairon on Wikimedia

Het Loo Palace was originally built as a hunting lodge by the House of Orange-Nassau in 1684 for chief magistrate Willem III and Mary Stuart. Willem III wished to create an impressive palace complex that would compete with the other grand palaces of Europe, so they expanded the palace and grounds to include an extensive symmetrical Dutch Baroque palace complex with sculptures and symmetrical garden. This palace took two years to complete. Three years after the palace and gardens were completed, Willem III and Mary Stuart ascended the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland as William III and Mary II. With their new status, they believed they needed an even more grand palace, so they ordered an expansion to the garden and added four pavilions to the palace which connected the middle sections of the east and west wings.

Het Loo Palace remained in the hands of William III and Mary II until William III’s death in 1702 when it transferred to Johan Willem Friso of the House of Nassau-Dietz. The King Prussia contested this transfer and claimed Het Loo Palace as his own. This was due to his being a descendant of the House of Orange and that the House of Orange and the Prussians had made an inheritance contract generations before, effectively making William III’s will void. Het Loo was then transferred to the Hohenzollerns, who chose not to reside in the palace. Eventually, Johan Willem Friso’s son was awarded Het Loo Palace from the Frederick William I of Prussia in 1732, so William III’s will was eventually followed.

The palace eventually left the House of Orange after Willem V fled to England in 1795, at which point the palace was abandoned and fell into disrepair. When Napoleon Bonaparte conquered the Netherlands in 1806, he made his brother, Louis Napoleon, King of Holland and gave the palace to him. Louis Napoleon radically changed the exterior of the palace, plastering it grey-white, and replaced the 17th century baroque gardens with a romantic-styled landscaped park. It wasn’t until 1813 when Willem V returned to the Netherlands from his exile that the palace changed hands again. Willem V was crowned King Willem I in 1815 and declared Het Loo Palace as the summer residence for the head of state.

In 1911, further modifications to the palace were carried out by Queen Wilhelmina. She added an additional storey to the middle section of the palace and several buildings on the east side of the palace. These office buildings effectively destroyed the perfect symmetry of the palace complex.

During WWII, Het Loo was occupied by the Nazis for a short period of time, after which Queen Wilhelmina reclaimed it for her family. She used it as a summer residence until her abdication in 1948 when she moved there permanently. Het Loo Palace remained a private residence of the younger House of Orange-Nassau until Queen Wilhelmina died in 1962. Queen Wilhelmina willed Het Loo Palace to the state of the Netherlands under the condition that the palace be returned to her family if the Dutch monarchy was ever abolished. After Queen Wilhelmina’s death, her granddaughter, Princess Margriet, and her family lived in the east wing from 1967 until 1975.

In 1977, extensive renovations were carried out on the palace to restore it to its original condition, including the 17th century style baroque gardens. The white plaster layer added by Louis Napoleon was removed, as were the additional storey to the middle section of the palace and the office buildings added by Queen Wilhelmina. Once renovations were completed in 1984, the palace was opened to the public for tours

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of 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 Instagram, and Twitter pages.

Russia – St. Basil’s Cathedral

Courtesy of Pixabay

St. Basil’s Cathedral was built in 1552 by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of Kazan from the Mongols. The cathedral took eight years to finish and was completed in 1560. While the cathedral is commonly known as St. Basil’s there are a variety of claims as to its official name. Some of those include The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat, the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, and Pokrovsky Cathedral. The name of St. Basil’s is derived from a Muscovite ‘holy fool’ named Basil the Blessed who was buried at the site a few years before the cathedral was built. There is a legend that states the architects, Barma and Postnik Yakovlev, were blinded once the cathedral was finished, but historians claim this is just rumor and that there is no proof it ever happened.

The original church built on the site was known as Trinity Church and was later changed to Trinity Cathedral. The church was comprised of a group of small churches arranged around a larger church. Trinity Church burned down in 1583 and was rebuilt in 1593, including eight small churches around a large central church.

Over the years, various changes have been done to the church. A sanctuary was added in 1588 over the grave of St Basil. One of the unique characteristics of this cathedral is that is is shaped like a bonfire reaching into the sky, a design that is unmatched in Russian architecture. During the 1680s, the churches were renovated and expanded. There were additions made to the ground-floor arcade and the first-floor platforms, making the entire church appear as if it had been redone. In 1737, a fire damaged the church, which required major restoration work to repair. This was when the figurative murals were added inside and the floral ornaments were added both inside and outside. The arches over the arcade were also covered, turning what was once a group of nine churches into one large cathedral.

During the early 1800s, the French occupied Moscow and used St. Basil’s as a stable after removing everything of value from the cathedral. Napoleon ordered the cathedral to be blown up in 1812, but the troops disobeyed that order. The interior of the cathedral was repaired in 1813 and the exterior in 1816. Restoration work was carried out in 1896 and a heating system was first added in 1908.

Through the quick succession of leadership changes that took place of the following 40 years, St. Basil’s Cathedral alternated between being a museum, an active cathedral, registered as a heritage monument, removed as a heritage monument, ordered demolished, ordered spared, and boarded up to prevent use. Starting in 1947, major restoration work was carried out to bring St. Basil’s Cathedral back to what it once was. The arcades and pillars were repaired and modern artwork was removed. The 1950s and 1960s saw the restoration of the paint as well as the roof. The last bit of restoration took place in 2008 when one of the sanctuaries was opened to the public.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of 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 Instagram, and Twitter pages.

San Marino – Fortress of Guaita

Courtesy of Pixabay

The Fortress of Guaita is one of three towers that sit on Monte Titano around the city of San Marino. The other two towers are called Cesta and Montale. Cesta was built in the 13th century over the top of an old Roman fort on the highest peak of Monte Titano. Montale was built on the smallest peak in Monte Titano and was built in the 14th century. Montale was used as a prison and is the only one of the three that is not open to the public.

Guaita was built in the 11th century and is the oldest of the three fortresses. While it is the most famous and most visited, not much is known about it, other than it was a prison for a short period of time and was rebuilt several times between the 11th and 15th centuries. The fortress was registered as a World Heritage Site in 2008 and is shown on both San Marino’s national flag and coat of arms.

Erin Tracy is the owner and author of 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 Instagram, and Twitter pages.

 

Want to see more historic sites in Europe? Check out Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4 of the series!

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