Spectacular abandoned castles around the world

An abandoned castle always cuts an impressive figure — a blast from the past submerged behind ruined walls.

Says author Kieron Connolly, whose new book “Abandoned Castles” explores the world’s most spectacular forgotten fortresses, they’re also windows on long gone civilizations.

“Societies are like a body: centuries go by and the body decays,” he tells.

“The castle’s like the skull or like the teeth, in fact they even look a bit like teeth, sticking out, out of the ground. They give us some clues, some entries into the past.”

Connolly’s book features castles from around the world and across the ages — including 19th century military forts in the French Alps, 13th century castles in the Scottish Highlands and a medieval fortress in Syria.

Questions with no answers

It’s been published by Amber Books to accompany earlier successful books, “Abandoned Places” and “Abandoned Wrecks.”

The pictures were sourced by Amber’s Terry Forshaw.

Connolly traces his own interest in abandoned places back to his childhood.

“As a kid we would go on long walks and often it would be along a disused railway line,” he recalls.

“These places had an air of mystery: ‘Why’s it closed down, where does it go, what does it look like when it’s closed down, how quickly do branches grow through the tracks, stations start to crumble?'”

Layers of history

Many of the castles in the book have histories spanning centuries.

Over the years different owners and different conflicts put their stamp on the castles’ architecture.

“I love that you get this idea of layers of history,” says Connolly. “You can see how a castle was built and then rebuilt and expanded, how the walls changed, how it passed back and forth and finally became obsolete.”

Peeling back the layers offers a captivating peek into the past.

Take Spis Castle, in Slovakia. It started life as a Romanesque fort in the 12th century, before taking on a Gothic turn a century later.

In the 15th century, the castle was completely rebuilt. Later, new owners transformed it into a Renaissance family residence. It eventually burnt down in 1780, but remains a relic of these different architectural styles.

Worldwide influence

Connolly’s favorite story concerns Mortella Tower in Corsica.

“It was built in the 16th century, when Corsica was part of the Republic of Genoa, to defend against pirates,” he explains.

“It was later blown up by the British during the Napoleonic Wars, but the structure and design of the tower impressed the British.”

The design includes a circular tower with a flat roof, ideal for mounting artillery.
“They took that design and it became the Martello Tower, which is seen all across the British empire,” Connolly says.

“So even though they destroyed the first one they ever found, they liked the idea of it and it became known all across the British empire. The fact that the spelling is different is apparently, I understand, simply a misspelling by the British.”

Arresting ruins

Other highlights in the book include Ballycarbery Castle in County Kerry, Ireland.
Situated on a dramatic location on the edge of the North Atlantic Ocean, all that remains of this 16th century fort are the stone walls.

The castle was damaged by English Civil War militarian Oliver Cromwell’s troops, during his infamous Irish conquest.

Now this atmospheric fortress is being slowly absorbed into the natural landscape. The walls are clad in ivy and the first floor is covered in grass.

“It’s an interesting idea, how nature reclaims these things,” remarks Connolly.

Built in the 16th century by the Qutb Shahi dynasty, the fort formerly housed the infamous Koh-i-Noor diamond — later owned by Queen Victoria and now on display in Britain’s Tower of London.

The citadel once included four individual forts, mosques, temples, royal apartments and gardens, now it’s an arresting ruin.

Worlds went by

So why are photographers around the world so fascinated by ruins?

Connolly thinks it’s because abandoned places are a meeting place for the past and the present.

“Abandoned places touch a nerve with people,” Connolly says. “We’re interested in worlds gone by, forgotten worlds.”

Rome in a day – See Italy’s capital in 24 hours

It’s taken more than 2,700 years to build the city of Rome as it is now, so is it possible to see it in less than 24 hours? Yes … but you’ll need a foot massage at the end of one crazy, jam-packed day.

From its ancient monuments to Renaissance masterpieces, traditional cuisine, and buzzing Piazza life, here’s what makes up the beautiful chaos that is Rome.

From its ancient monuments to Renaissance masterpieces, traditional cuisine and buzzing Piazza life, here’s what makes up the beautiful chaos that is Rome.

7:30 a.m. Caffeine kick-start

It’s a superb bar-pasticcio that has been awarded the highest accolade by Gambero Rosso and simply has to be done if you’re serious about our plans for Rome. There are smaller branches across the city.

8:30 a.m. St Peter’s Basilica

You’ll have more time to admire Michaelangelo’s famed dome and the Pietà, his marble sculpture of Mary holding the body of Christ.

When he’s in Rome, the Pope speaks on Sunday at midday at one of the windows in the building to the right of the Basilica. In July and August he resides outside Rome at Castel Gandolfo.

10 a.m. Vatican Museums

At which point, it’s a quick march around the walls of Vatican City to the entrance of the Vatican Museums. Savvy visitors book ahead online to avoid the queues.

Highlights of this vast collection of artistic and historic wealth include Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the Raphael rooms and the ancient Greek sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons dating from the first century BC.

12 p.m. Ice-cream pit stop

This is Zaha Hadid’s award-winning modern-art space — take bus 32 from via Ottaviano and get off at Ponte della Musica; tram 19 will also take you close to the MAXXI. Afterward, get a No. 2 tram back to Piazza del Popolo and from there walk up via del Corso, where you can pick up the trail at the Pantheon.

1 p.m. Three Squares

From the Vatican Museums, walk back toward St Peter’s Basilica and up via della Conciliazione for a photo opportunity by Castel Sant Angel (Lungotevere Castello, 50; +39 06 6896 003). And don’t miss the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian, now a museum and art gallery.

Walk over the pedestrian Ponte Sant Angelo and along via dei Banchi Nuovi and then via del Governo Vecchio. This will bring you into the area of three of Rome’s most atmospheric public squares: Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori and the Pantheon, all are within a five-minute walk of each other.

Here, you can peruse Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s dramatic Fountain of the Four Rivers (top marks if you can name them: the Danube, the Ganges, Rio de la Plata and the Nile) and Borromini’s Baroque church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona.

2 p.m. Lunch

Campo de’ Fiori has a market most mornings and is a good place for lunch — Forno Campo de’ Fiori does delicious pizza to go. Lunch can be rounded off with a coffee near the Pantheon.

A peek inside the Pantheon (piazza della Rotonda) is a must, if only to wonder why Hadrian never had that hole in the roof covered up.

Short answer: it’s part of the architectural ingenuity that means this concrete Roman dome is still standing after almost 2,000 years.

The church is home to three of Caravaggio’s Biblical paintings. Both sites are free to enter.

3:30 p.m. Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

For an idea of how one of Renaissance Rome’s premier dynasties lived, Palazzo Doria Pamphilj gives a delightful and not-too-long tour of grand ballrooms and galleries housing works by Jan Brueghel, Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio and Garofalo.

It’s a gem of Renaissance architecture near Piazza Navona, housing impressive Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures.

Highlights include the iconic Colossus of Constantine, as well as famous bronzes, including Marcus Aurelius on horseback, the Boy with Thorn and the emblem of Rome: a bronze she-wolf suckling the abandoned twins Romulus and Remus.

If you can’t face any more museums, you’re within striking distance of two of Rome’s most overrated and overcrowded tourist sites: the Trevi Fountain (Piazza di Trevi) and the so-called Spanish steps (Trinità dei Monti, Piazza di Spagna).

See them if you must, avoid if you can, or come back later when everyone else is in bed. The designer boutiques of via dei Condotti also provide some retail relief. Look out for a good variety of stores around Campo de’ Fiori, via di Campo Marzio or via del Governo Vecchio for a more affordable and diverse shopping experience.

5 p.m. The Colosseum

After dodging the traffic in piazza Venezia (check out the mammoth wedding-cake-like Vittorio Emanuele II monument), you can make your way down via dei Fori Imperiali and see the Roman Forum on your right and, in front of you, the Colosseum.

It’s been standing there since 80AD and, although it’s not in the best of health it has so far managed to survive the creep of urban development and the near-constant rattle of taxis, buses and scooters that flow past on their daily business.

A single ticket gets you into the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, a great viewpoint from which to admire Circus Maximus, the Capitoline Hill and Rome’s many church domes and bell towers in the late afternoon sun.

Options: Happy to get a passing glimpse of the Colosseum? There are other activities that could fill the hours until it’s aperitivo time.

Visit the city on a Segway (hire them at Rome by Segway) or rent pedal cars and bikes in Villa Borghese, Rome’s city-center park.

8 p.m. Pizza or pasta?

You’ve seen the major sites of modern and ancient Rome: the last decision of the day is where to eat.

The ivy-draped buildings and cobbled streets of Monti (around via dei Serpenti and Viminale) come alive at sundown with cosmopolitan Romans and an international crowd clunking ice in their glasses.

To feel right at home, try asking for an Aperol-spritz, Campari-spritz or prosecco before dinner.

11 p.m. After hours

If you’ve made it this far, we make that around 18 hours of soaking up this fantastic city — time to sleep. You’ve earned it.

Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.