Top Historic Sites in Europe, Part 6

Welcome to Part 6 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 50 countries in Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 and today you’ll get to see the last three countries along with seven bonus sites! 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.

Monaco – Monaco Palace

Monaco Palace is formally known as the Prince’s Palace in Monaco and was first built as a Genoese fortress in 1191. In 1297, the Grimaldi family captured the fortress through the deception of Francois Grimaldi and made it their stronghold as feudal lords. In the 17th century, the Grimaldi family became sovereign rulers.

Before becoming sovereign rulers, the Grimaldi family had to go through a series of the usual hardships of the era. During the 1330s, Charles Grimaldi the First strengthened the fortress and made it strong enough to withstand over 100 years worth of attacks from Genoa, Pisa, Venice, Naples, France, Spain, Germany, England and Provence. Between the 1340s and 1370s, the fortress frequently changed hands between the Grimaldi family and the Genoese and in the end, the Grimaldi family was able to retain ownership of the property. In the 15th century, the fortress was expanded enough to accommodate roughly 400 soldiers as well as the addition of several buildings and a large new wing that signified the beginning of the fortress becoming a palace.

While Monaco Palace has been the seat of the Grimaldi family, they have not always resided there. The Grimaldi family were absentee rulers from 1662 through the mid 1700s, choosing instead to live in France at Versailles. In 1793, the family lost the Palace for a short period during the French Revolution while they were placed in exile. In 1814, the Treaty of Paris saw Monaco returned to the Grimaldi family, where it has remained ever since, though not always as a primary residence. Various descendants of the Grimaldi family have chosen to live either at the family estate of Le Marchais outside Paris or in Germany. Prince Rainier III began extensive renovations on the palace starting in 1949 and the family once again returned to the palace that has been their seat of power for over 700 years.

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.

Wales – Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle was built in the late 11th century by Norman invaders on top of a 3rd-century Roman fort. The castle was originally built with wood and stone, but in the 12th century it was rebuilt completely in stone. These stones were strong enough to withstand multiple attacks by the Anglo-Normans and the Welsh. In 1423, Richard de Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, conducted extensive renovations and added the main range on the west side of the castle along with the tall octagonal tower that is seen there today. Around the 1490s, Cardiff Castle began to have less significance as a military outpost, though it wasn’t until the 1550s that the castle began being transformed into a residential property. 1642 saw the castle change hands when Parliamentary forces overran the grounds during the English Civil War, though Royalists regained the property in 1645. The castle was again fought over during the Second English Civil War in 1648 and was almost destroyed by Parliament after the war, but it was eventually decided to garrison troops on the grounds as protection against the Scottish.

In the 18th century, the Marquess of Bute. John Stuart, received the castle when he married Charlotte Jane Windsor, daughter of Thomas, Viscount Windsor.  After receiving the newly created peerage title of Marquess in the mid-1770s, John Stuart began renovating Cardiff Castle. Several stone walls were removed, a hall and the knights’ houses were demolished, and the grounds were flattened to allow for turf. The main part of the castle had sections removed, two new wings added, and various features updated. The grounds had trees and greenery removed, the moat was filled, and a summer house was built.

The castle remained the same until 1868 when the third Marquess of Bute decoded to remodel the castle. It had sat mostly empty since 1814 with only occasional occupants, leading to a low level of disrepair. The third Marquess of Bute added a 150-foot clock tower that contained a lavishly decorated bedroom, servant’s quarters, and smoking rooms. Various other rooms were added to the castle at this time, including the Guest Tower, Arab Room, Chaucer Room, nursery, library, roof garden, Banqueting Hall and bedrooms. All of these rooms were heavily gilded with elaborate carvings, paintings, accents, and stained glass. The grounds were also heavily altered to remove any trace of medieval or Roman times and reinstall the trees and shrubberies which were previously removed.

In 1921, the fourth Marquess of Bute restored the masonry to what it was in medieval times and rebuilt various gates and towers that had been part of the original castle. He allowed archaeological investigations of the property to discover Roman walls, which led to the redesign of other buildings which were restored. He also tore out the grand staircase that had been added in the 19th century. Further restorations were carried out after 1947 when the castle was handed over to the city of Cardiff.

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.

Ukraine – Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Kiev Pechersk Lavra is also known as the Monastery of the Caves. It is a historic Orthodox Christian monastery which gave its name to one of the city districts where it is located in Kiev. This Monastery was founded in 1051 by an Orthodox monk named Anthony who hailed from an Esphigmenon monastery on Mount Athos. He chose a cave in the Besetov Mountains overlooking the Dnieper River and was eventually granted the entire mountain by Prince Iziaslav I, at which point the monastery was built by architects from Constantinople. This monastery became the preeminent center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe.  In conjunction with the nearby Saint Sophia Cathedral, this monastery has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The main church of the monastery of Dormition Cathedral. The original monastery was built in the 11th century, but was unfortunately destroyed in 1941 when German Nazis occupied the city. There is debate about whether the Germans destroyed the monastery while taking over the city or if the Russians were responsible while enacting the Khreshchatyk explosions to blow up all the bridges in Kiev. While we many never know who was truly responsible for destroying an ancient masterpiece, the structure has been reconstructed to fit its original design.

Along with the beautiful monastery, Pechersk Lavra boasts several other architectural marvels. The All Saints Church erected between 1696–1698 is a stunning example of Ukrainian Baroque architecture. Characteristic of the church facades are rich architectural embellishments. In 1905 students of the Lavra art school painted the interior walls of the church. The carved wooden iconostasis is multi-tiered and was made for the All Saints church in the early 18th century.

The Gate Church of the Trinity is located atop the Holy Gates, which houses the entrance to the monastery. According to a legend, this church was founded by the Chernihiv Prince Sviatoslav II. It was built atop an ancient stone church which used to stand in its place. In 1718, a fire destroyed the church, but it was quickly rebuilt, its facades and interior walls decorated with ornate stucco work made by V. Stefaovych. In the 18th century, a new gilded pear-shaped dome was built, the facade and exterior walls were decorated with stucco-moulded plant ornaments, and a vestibule built of stone attached to the north end. In the early 20th, century the front and the walls flanking the entrance were painted by icon painters under the guidance of V. Sonin. The interior of the church also contains murals by the early 18th century painter Alimpy Galik.

The Great Lavra Bell Tower was designed by Johann Gottfried Schädel. This structure is 96.5 meters in height and was the tallest free-standing bell tower at the time of its construction in 1731–1745.

The refectory chambers with the Church of the Saints Anthony and Theodosius is the third in a series of temples. The original temple was built in the 12th century and no drawings or visual depictions of it remain. The second temple was built at the time of the Cossack Hetmanate and was disassembled by the Russian authorities in the 19th century. It was replaced with the current temple, often referred to as the Refectory Church of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.

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.

BONUS SITES

We’ve hit all the countries in Europe and given some history about the top site for each country, but it’s always hard to pick just one. Here are 7 more sites you won’t want to miss.

Romania – Bran Castle

Bran Castle is famously known as Dracula’s Castle. It is located on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia in Romania. The first structure to sit on this site was the castle of Dietrichstein, which Teutonic Knights built out of wood in 1212. This castle was destroyed by Mongols in 1242. In 1377, Louis I of Hungary gave Saxons permission to build a stone castle on the site, which was eventually used in defense against the Ottoman Turks in 1438-1442. When it wasn’t being used defensively, the castle was a customs post for those who traveled the mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia. In 1533, the City of Brasov took possession of the castle as payment for outstanding loans made to King Vladislas of Hungary. From that time forward, the castle played a militarily strategic role up to the mid-18th century.

The next notable event in the castle’s history was in 1920 when the Treaty of Trianon granted Transylvania to Romania, along with Bran Castle, which became the royal residence in Romania. Queen Marie ordered extensive restoration work on the castle to bring it back to its medieval splendor. During WWII, the castle was used as a hospital before it was seized by the communist regime in 1948. At this time the royal family was exiled from Romania. It wasn’t until 2005 that the castle was returned to the Habsburg family who then carried out further restorations before opening the castle as the first private museum in Romania in 2009.

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.

Greece – Erechtheion

The Erechtheion (also called Erechtheumis) an ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis of Athens in Greece. The Persians had destroyed much of the city during an invasion, so Pericles, the general of Athens from 461-429 BC, commissioned two men to restore the damaged buildings atop the Acropolis. Along with restoring the sacred religious building the Persians had destroyed, Pericles also requested that they build another building, The Erechtheion.

The purpose for the Erechtheion is lightly debated. Some scholars believe it was built in honor of the mythical King Erechtheus while others believe it to have been built in honor of Athena and Poseidon. It is also believed that this building was a replacement for the Peisistratid temple of Athena Polias destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC.

An interesting feature of this temple is that it was built on a slope. One side is 9 feet lower than the other. It was also built entirely out of marble quarried from Mount Pentelikon and adorned with friezes made of black limestone from the town of Eleusis. The building was decorated with carved doorways and windows, ornately decorated columns, and white marble reliefs. Three porches were also built, the most famous being the South Porch, also known as the “Porch of the Maidens.”

While the North and East Porches were adorned with six Ionic columns each, it was the South Porch that received the crowning jewel of the temple. Built by Mnesicles, an architect, and Phidias, a sculptor and mason, The Caryatid of the Erechtheion were created to hide 15-foot support beams. If you want to know more about the Caryatids, check out my artistic analysis of these beautiful statues.

Erectheum was first built as a temple and housed the holy relics of Athens. Among these were the Palladion, a wooden effigy of Athena said to have fallen from heaven; marks made by Poseidon’s trident and a salt water well that came from the trident’s strike; an olive tree that grew when Athena struck the ground with her spear after winning the city from Poseidon; the burial location of two mythical kings: Kekrops and Erechtheus; and the sacred precincts of Kekrops three daughters as well as two tribal heroes.

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.

Germany – Bremen Rathaus

Bremen Rathaus is also known as Bremen City Hall. The first city hall was built prior to 1229 and is thought to have been built of stone in the Romanesque style. It housed courts on the main floor and various cloth shops in the basement. Around 1400, a new town hall was constructed in Bremen Market Square to overshadow the cathedral and archbishop’s palace which had once been the focal point of the Square.

Bremen Rathaus was built in a Gothic style with 16 large sculptures of emperors and price-electors. The building was also fortified with wall-walks, towers, and thick walls. The building contained an upper hall, a lower hall, a gallery for court trials, city council rooms, and offices.

In 1545, a three-story extension was built with new council chambers and offices just down the street from the city hall. 50 years later, Bremen Rathaus was renovated in a Renaissance style with the pointed arch windows being replaced with more rectangular windows. 1608 saw the addition of an exterior porch pavilion with pillars, columns, and large windows. The pavilion was decorated with reliefs while the wall-walks were replaced with decorative balustrades.

Aside from the enlargement of the city hall offices in 1682, no other major changes were carried out until the 19th century when structural damage was detected and repaired. At this time, the Renaissance facade on the eastern side was replaced with a more simple design. 1909 saw the extension of the Rathaus and the discovery of ancient Gothic relics.

Arzo runs the travel blog Arzo Travels – a website that focuses on the best things to do and see in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, which she also shared on her Instagram page. She is from Bremen, Germany, and truly believes it is the most beautiful city in Germany.

Ireland – Poulnabrone Dolmen

Not far from the famous Cliffs of Moher, you will find the Burren Geopark, a glacio-karst landscape that is the result of glacial activity and rainwater dissolution. Here you will find Poulnabrone Dolmen, one of Ireland’s most iconic archeological monuments and the oldest dated megalithic monument in the country. This structure is one of roughly 172 portal tombs in Ireland and is located in Burren, County Clare, Ireland. It dates back to the Neolithic period, most likely between 4200 BC and 2900 BC.

But what is a dolmen? A dolmen is a portal tomb that has at least two large portal stones standing on either side of an entrance capped with a massive capstone, creating a chamber-like structure called a cairn. Poulnabrone is a dolmen that was built on limestone and surrounded by a low mound of rocks. It consists of a twelve-foot, thin, slab-like, tabular capstone supported by two sets of upright portal stones, which support the capstone roughly 6 feet from the ground, creating a chamber in a 30-foot pile of stones. The cairn helped stabilize the tomb chamber, and would have been no higher during the Neolithic Period. The entrance faces north and is crossed by a low sill stone.

The meaning of Poulnabrone has been endlessly debated – some say it means “the hole of the quern stones,” but the more popular translation of the original Irish is “The Hole of the Sorrows.” This, together with the dramatic site on the karstic limestone pavement in which it is located, gives the tomb a bit of an eerie feel.  The site was excavated in 1986 and 1988 after a partial collapse of the dolmen due to a cracked stone. The excavations revealed that 33 partial skeletons of adults and children were buried under the stone along with a polished stone axe, a bone pendant, quartz crystals, weapons and pottery. These items were removed and taken to Clare Museum in Ennis. These excavations also revealed that the tomb was in continual use for a period of roughly 600 years between 5,200 and 5,800 years ago.

There are about seventy other tombs in the area, but none as spectacular as Poulnabrone. Despite this, the site remains largely unblemished by tourist traps. A few signposts detail the site’s history and a low rope surrounds the dolmen itself. And given the site’s remote location and the absence of light pollution, the nearby car park has made Poulnabrone a favourite spot for stargazers.

Teresa of Brogan Abroad is a travel blogger and photographer on a mission to explore world through deeper travel and more meaningful local experiences and inspire people to do the same. Lover of adventure, the outdoors and everything food related, which she shared on her Instagram page.

United Kingdom – Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England. It consists of a ring of standing stones, with each standing stone around 13 feet high, 7 feet wide and weighing around 25 tons. It is believed this monument was constructed between 3000BC-2000BC. A circular earthen mound and ditch surrounding the site has been dated to 3100BC. Theories abound as to what this site was used for, but the most prevailing theory is that Stonehenge is a burial site, as human remains dating as far back as 3000BC have been found at the site and in surrounding areas. Scholars have also suggested the site was also used for astronomy, religious observances, ancestral worship ceremonies, a symbol of peace and unity, or healing.

The first construction of the monument is believed to have been begun about 3100BC. This was the circular bank and ditch surrounding the stones. The bank was made of Late Cretaceous (Santonian Age) Seaford Chalk dug out from the bank and measures about 360 feet (110 metres) in diameter. There are two entrances in this mound, one on the north side and one on the south-east side. At the base of the mound has been found deer and oxen bones along with flint tools. Along the inner side of the mound were found over 25 holes named Aubrey Holes after being discovered by 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey. These holes are through to have originally held bluestones and later timbers. It is thought that the stones served as grave markers as each of the holes held the remains of individual men, women, and children.

The second phase of Stonehenge was a no-longer-standing timber structure. Irregularly spaced post holes found at the site are the only evidence that some form of wooden building used to stand within the confines of the earthen bank. While the holes may have originally been dug for other purposes, during this phase they were used for burial. It is also believed that during this period, the earthen bank was reduced in height and the ditch received heavy deposits of silt.

Over the next several hundred years, stones were brought in, arranged, rearranged, removed, more brought in, and several more series of rearranging. The last known construction at Stonehenge took place around 1600 BC and the last known use of the site is thought to have taken place between the 8th and 6th centuries BC.

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.

France – Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame is one of the most famous sites in the world and is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. Construction started in 1160 and continued through 1260. The site chosen for this cathedral is believed to have once held a pagan temple and is known to have once been hom to a Romanesque church called the Basilica of Saint Étienne, which occupied the site from the 4th century until it was torn down by Bishop Maurice de Sully in 1160 to make way for a cultural monument at the bequest of King Louis VII.

The cornerstone was laid in 1163 in the presence of Pope Alexander III. The design followed the traditional plan, with the ambulatory and choir, where the altar was located, to the east, and the entrance, to the west. By long tradition, the choir, where the altar was located, was constructed first, so that the church could be consecrated and used long before it was completed. The original plan was for a long nave, four levels high, with no transept. The flying buttress was not yet in use, so the walls were thick and reinforced by solid stone abutments placed against them on the outside, and later by chapels placed between the abutments.

The roof of the nave was constructed using the rib vaulting, which was a fairly new technology at the time. The roof of the nave was supported by crossed ribs which divided each vault into six compartments. Construction of the choir took from 1163 until around 1177. The High Altar was consecrated in 1182. Between 1182 and 1190 the first three traverses of the nave were built up to the level of tribunes. Beginning in 1190, the bases of the facade were put in place, and the first traverses were completed.

During construction, it was decided to add a transept to the choir to allow for more light. The transept utilized 4-part rib vaulting, allowing the roof to be higher. 1250 saw the north transept remodelled to the Rayonnant style, which added a gabled portal and the famous rose window. The south transept was remodelled around 1260 with its own gabled portal and rose window. There is a third rose window on the west facade that was first created around 1225.

One of the most prominent features of the cathedral was added during the 13th century: flying buttresses. These allowed the rose windows in the north and south transepts to be larger than the original west rose window. The original buttresses did no last long and were replaced on the apse and choir in the 14th century.

Since the 14th century, many changes have come to Notre-Dame. In 1548, a riot by local Huguenots resulted in damage to many statues around the cathedral. Kings Louis XIV and Louis XV ordered remodels to add more classical elements to the cathedral, bringing it more in line with the current style. The sanctuary was re-arranged; the choir was largely rebuilt in marble, and many of the stained glass windows from the 12th and 13th century were removed and replaced with white glass windows to bring more light into the church. A  statue of St Christopher standing against a pillar near the western entrance and dating from 1413 was destroyed in 1786. The spire, which had been damaged by the wind, was removed in the second part of the 18th century. In 1793, during the French Revolution, many of the treasures of the cathedral were either destroyed or plundered. The twenty-eight statues of biblical kings located at the west facade, mistaken for statues of French kings, were beheaded.

The cathedral was functioning in the early 19th century, but was half-ruined inside and battered without. The 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo, published in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame had an enormous success, and brought the cathedral new attention. In 1844, King Louis Philippe ordered that the church be restored.

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 – Sagrada Família

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família is an unfinished Roman Catholic church in Barcelona. Sagrada Família was first conceptualized by Josep Maria Bocabella after he visited the Vatican in 1872 and was inspired by the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto. He solicited donations for his project and construction began under the design of diocese architect Francisco de Paula del Villar on March 18, 1882. The apse was finished quickly and constructed in the Gothic Revival style. Antoni Gaudí took over construction in 1883 and redesigned the basilica to be a combination of Gothic and Art Nouveau. When Gaudí died in 1926, Sagrada Família was less than 1/4 of the way complete.

After Gaudí’s death, construction was overseen by Domènec Sugrañes i Gras until it was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The original plans and designs created by Gaudí were destroyed in a fire, but were reconstructed and adapted to account for modern designs.  Construction was resumed in 1940 and a 2015 estimate completion to be about 70%. Due to the basilica being funded by private donations and visitor entrance fees, progress has been slow and unsteady. It is estimated the project should be completed between 2026-2032.

One of the claims to fame this basilica holds is of being one of the few churches to survive the Spanish Civil War. During that time, many churches were heavily damaged or entirely destroyed. Sagrada Família received minor damage during this time, which was seen as a miracle by those involved with construction.

Sagrada Família is in the shape of a Latin cross and has three façades: the Nativity Façade on the east, the Passion Façade on the west, and the unfinished Glory Façade on the south. The Façade of the Nativity was completed before work was interrupted in 1935 and bears the most direct Gaudí influence.  The Passion façade was built according to the design that Gaudi created in 1917. The Glory façade, which was begun in 2002, will be the largest and most monumental of the three and will represent ones ascension to God.

Along with the awe-inspiring and astounding detail put into the exterior of the basilica, the interior is just as impressive. The interior of Sagrada Familia is based on the classical construction of a five-aisled basilica. The central nave vaults reach 148 feet while the side nave vaults are only 98 feet. For the transept, there are three aisles with columns on a 25 ft grid. However, the columns of the apse, resting on del Villar’s foundation, do not adhere to the grid, requiring a section of columns of the ambulatory to transition to the grid thus creating a horseshoe pattern to the layout of those columns. The crossing rests on the four central columns of porphyry supporting a great hyperboloid surrounded by two rings of twelve hyperboloids which are currently under construction. The central vault reaches sixty 200 feet and the apse vault reaches 246 feet. Gaudí intended that a visitor standing at the main entrance be able to see the vaults of the nave, crossing, and apse; thus the graduated increase in vault loft.

One of the more unique features of this basilica is the use of skylights and colored glass. Gaudí incorporated skylights between columns to both create a lighter roof and allow for more light inside. He had this vision that the inside of the basilica should give visitors the idea they are in the woods and thus allow a more peaceful environment suited for introspection. As such, the skylights have been built with bits of green and gold glass and colored tiles. The stained glass around the apse is designed with graduated tones with the same intent of allowed for greater introspection.

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.

 

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 you would have liked to have seen included?

Want to see more historic sites in Europe? Check out Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 of the series!

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