Marvels of Military Architecture


The 22 Most Impressive Walled Cities in the World

Walled cities have existed for thousands of years, with the earliest known walled settlements dating back over 9,000 years. Throughout history, city walls were built for defense, but they also came to symbolize power, wealth, and independence. Today, these ancient walled cities continue to mesmerize travelers with their grand architecture, intricate fortifications, and rich history.

If you’re fascinated by urban design and defensive planning, you’ll want to visit these 22 most impressive walled cities around the world. From medieval masterpieces to sprawling fortified complexes, each of these stunning cities is surrounded by imposing, centuries-old barriers that sheltered inhabitants and withstood attacks.

1. Ávila, Spain

Set on a hilltop in Spain’s Castile and León region, Ávila is surrounded by imposing medieval walls built in the 11th century. These 87 watchtowers and 9 gateways have protected Ávila from intrusion and warfare for over a thousand years, earning the city the nickname “City of Stones and Saints.”

Ávila’s defenses are considered the best conserved Renaissance walls in Spain. As you walk along the 2.5 km perimeter, visualizing archers perched on the adobe parapets and gazing across the plains, it’s easy to imagine you’ve stepped back to the Middle Ages. Don’t miss the opportunity to walk Ávila’s walls at night, when they’re beautifully illuminated below the stars.

2. York, England

The ancient city of York owes much of its preserving to its magnificent city walls. Built by the Romans in the 2nd century CE from local sandstone and brick, these fortifications are the largest remaining city walls in England today.

York’s four main gatehouses regulate visitors arriving in the bustling historic center: Micklegate Bar, Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, and Walmgate Bar. For scenic views over York Minster, stroll along the medieval battlements and look down on the city streets below. Parts of the ancient walls date back nearly 2,000 years, so a walk here is a true trip back in time.

3. Carcassonne, France

The fortified city of Carcassonne in southern France is the crown jewel of medieval military architecture. Its double-walled fortifications date back nearly 2,500 years. The castle sits high on a hill, guarded by a dizzying circle of towers, turrets, and battlements.

Beyond its imposing medieval La Cité with 53 watchtowers, Carcassonne also claims France’s longest city walls – nearly two miles of intricate ramparts and fortifications surround the lower city, known as La Ville Basse. Mounted knights and archers once guarded these heavy stone walls, protecting citizens from attack.

4. Tallinn, Estonia

Surrounded by majestic city walls and watchtowers, Estonia’s capital Tallinn offers one of Europe’s most well-preserved medieval landscapes. Most of Tallinn’s medieval fortifications were built in the 13th and 16th centuries from diorite, limestone, and dolomite – both to guard against invaders and showcase the city’s power.

Today, travelers come from around the world to explore the narrow, cobblestoned streets inside these formidable walls and towers. Two of the most visited are the 14th-century Nun Gate (Nunnavärav) and Viru Gate, which once controlled access to Toompea castle.

5. Xi’an, China

The fortified Chinese city of Xi’an stands out for its astounding history – it served as China’s capital for over 1,100 years. Xi’an was also the starting point of the famous Silk Road trading route. The existing city walls enclosing Xi’an were constructed in 1378 CE, under the first Ming emperor, replacing even earlier walls from the Tang dynasty.

These imposing fortifications are over 12 meters high and 12-18 meters thick at the base, enclosing a mammoth area of 14 square km – the largest city wall in the world. You can walk or cycle atop these 700-year-old walls for an unforgettable perspective on Xi’an’s Imperial past.

6. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Circled by remarkable medieval walls overlooking the sparkling Adriatic Sea, the beauty of Dubrovnik has captured visitors for centuries. Dubrovnik’s Old Town is entirely enclosed by imposing stone walls that run uninterrupted for nearly 2 km. Completed in the 13th century, these ramparts protected Dubrovnik from attacks by land and sea, bolstering the city’s role as an Adriatic port and center of shipbuilding and commerce.

Several round and rectangular towers reinforced the thick limestone walls, including the spectacular Minčeta Tower, the highest point of the wall with views across all of Old Town and Lokrum Island. While in Dubrovnik, walk the entire walled perimeter and visit the Maritime and Ethnographic Museum inside the walls to dive deeper into local history.

7. Taroudant, Morocco

In Morocco’s fertile Souss Valley, the walled city of Taroudant stands surrounded by ochre-hued ramparts that mirror the shade of surrounding cliffs and mountains. Its impressive defensive walls were constructed in the 16th century and measure nearly six miles around.

Taroudant was built as the new capital of the Saâdien dynasty, intended to rival Marrakech in magnificence, with splendid souks, palaces, mosque towers, and squares. Today, this fortified town offers a glimpse into historic Moroccan life. Visitors should stroll the walkways atop the walls, gazing down on vibrant markets selling handmade crafts, spices, woven goods, and more.

8. Kampong Ayer, Brunei

Known as the Venice of the East, Kampong Ayer in Brunei is the world’s largest water village – a sprawling town of wooden homes and buildings interconnected by stilted walkways and bridges spread across the Brunei River. This historic settlement has roots extending back over 1,000 years.

Surrounding and protecting Kampong Ayer in Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan is an ancient wall that once sheltered the village from seaborne attacks. While mostly in ruins, you can still view sections of the original stone and brick wall stretching along the waterfront today. Tracing this historic barrier offers an evocative glimpse into Kampong Ayer’s past as a well-fortified fishing village turned bustling water settlement.

9. Obidos, Portugal

The postcard-perfect Portuguese town of Óbidos is surrounded by medieval walls dating back to Moorish rule. When King Dinis gifted the walled city to his wife Queen Isabel in 1282, Óbidos became linked with romantic medieval legends. The fortifications were expanded to their current shape during the 17th and 18th centuries into a classic military defense system.

Today, painters and photographers flock to Obidos to capture the beautiful white houses and colorful bougainvillea cascading down the dramatic stone walls. For the best views, walk along the ramparts and enjoy vistas over terracotta roofs, church towers, and the coastal lagoon below.

10. Harar, Ethiopia

In the eastern highlands of Ethiopia, the ancient walled Muslim city of Harar Jugol is an enchanting labyrinth of narrow alleys wrapped in over 320 hectares of walls. The thick stone defensive walls surrounding the city were erected between the 13th and 16th centuries with five original gates. This is considered the fourth holiest Islamic city after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.

To soak up Harar’s magical atmosphere, wind through the historic gates and browse markets brimming with textiles, baskets, spices, and crafts. Make sure to visit the 16th century home of French poet Arthur Rimbaud, who lived in Harar in the late 1800s and introduced the first printing press to the city.

11. Lucca, Italy

Lucca’s splendid Renaissance-era city walls remain remarkably intact after six centuries, keeping the Tuscan town in a scenic time capsule. Built between 1504 and 1645, Lucca’s imposing tree-lined fortifications run 4.2 km, reach up to 18 meters wide, and include 11 bastions and six gates.

Locals adore spending leisurely evenings strolling or cycling atop the pathways lining these stone ramparts, enjoying views over Lucca’s terracotta roofs and church towers. Be sure to walk from Porta Santa Maria into town to experience Lucca’s walls just as medieval travelers once did.

12. Pingyao, China

The magnificent 14th century walls of Pingyao in central Shanxi province are some of the best-preserved city fortifications in China today. This trading hub grew prosperous during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Pingyao’s walls stretch 6 km, stand 12 meters high, and measure between 6-8 meters thick at the base, designed to defend against marauders.

During the Qing dynasty, Pingyao had 72 watchtowers and six majestic gatehouses regulating entry. Today you can climb these sturdy ramparts and roam between ancient sites like the City God Temple, Rishengchang Exchange, and Zhutong Temple – each offering windows into life centuries ago.

13. Cartagena, Colombia

The picturesque port city of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast is surrounded by the best-preserved colonial-era walls and fortifications in South America today. Construction of Cartagena’s defenses began in the 16th century as part of Spanish efforts to fortify major strategic port cities against pirates, corsairs, and enemy fleets.

These formidable gray ramparts were built from local coral and measure up to 25 feet thick, completely encircling Cartagena’s old town with watchtowers, batteries, and gatehouses. Strolling Las Murallas today admiring the bays and architecture, it’s easy to visualize conquistadors marching along the same paths.

14. Quebec City, Canada

Wandering the sole fortified city north of Mexico, visitors are transported back to Quebec’s 17th and 18th century colonial past. The historic upper and lower towns of Quebec City are encircled completely by this striking wall. Portions of the fortifications were constructed by French settlers beginning in 1620, later expanded significantly by British forces after the 1759 battle on the Plains of Abraham.

The most famous remains are the city gates – St. Louis and St. John’s. Walking portions of the wall line today, you have gorgeous views over Dufferin Terrace, Château Frontenac, and the St. Lawrence River – one of the most scenic walled city walks in North America.

15. Royal Fort of Kumbhalgarh, India

Soaring from a hilltop in Rajasthan, the monumental Kumbhalgarh fort’s 36 km perimeter wall is the second longest continuous wall on earth after the Great Wall of China. Constructed in the 15th century by Rana Kumbha, Kumbhalgarh protected the Mewar region for centuries. This magnificent complex contains over 360 temples inside its massive walls.

Walking along the wide ramparts, you’ll pass through seven immense gateways while enjoying breathtaking panoramas over the Aravalli Hills and Thar desert. Below, you can tour the lavish palaces, temples, and gardens within these medieval defenses.

16. Montepulciano, Italy

Perched atop a limestone ridge in Tuscany, the charming Renaissance town of Montepulciano is encircled by ancient walls offering stunning vistas over valleys and vineyards below. Dating from the 16th century, these defensive walls replaced Montepulciano’s earlier medieval fortifications.

Back then, the walls featured several gates and up to eight guard towers keeping watch over the surrounding valley. Parts of the walls were later converted into romantic walking paths. Strolling Montepulciano’s panoramic ramparts today, it’s easy to see why this is called the “jewel of Renaissance” Tuscany.

17. Corfe Castle, England

Dramatically crowning a hill in Dorset, the majestic ruins of 11th century Corfe Castle were once encircled by defensive outer walls nearly one mile around. While mostly destroyed after a 17th century siege, portions of Corfe Castle’s medieval walls still stand tall enough to offer insight into how impenetrable this fortress once was.

Paths lined by these weathered stone walls lead to the inner keep, where you can climb spiral staircases offering panoramic views. Below the ruins, locals sip tea in the quintessential English village of Corfe Castle, seemingly frozen in time under the shadow of these ancient walls that defended against Viking raids during England’s early medieval era.

18. Visby, Sweden

On the island of Gotland, Visby’s remarkably intact medieval walls circle seaside warehouses, churches, and cobblestoned lanes with an unmistakable Hanseatic aura. Built in the 13th century, Visby’s walls stretch 3.5 km and include 40-plus stone towers with visible battle damage, reminders of the fortifications’ tumultuous past defending against Viking and pirate attacks.

Strolling along the outer defensive walls here, you’ll also pass striking church ruins, tranquil gardens, and scenic seaside cliffs and beaches. The rich history is palpable at every turn in Visby, making it one of Europe’s most magical walled cities to explore.

19. Itchan Kala, Uzbekistan

In the ancient Silk Road city of Khiva, time seems frozen within the medieval mud-brick walls of Itchan Kala – Uzbekistan’s most intact walled city. Itchan Kala was the last stronghold of the Khorezm Khanate founded in the 10th century. Later Persian and Uzbek emirs expanded the walls reaching nearly 2 km long and 10 meters high.

Pass through imposing gates like Palvan Darvoza to discover classic Islamic architecture, intricate blue tilework, mosques, and bustling bazaars inside the walls. Climbing narrow stairs to the top of Itchan Kala’s ramparts, you’re awarded sweeping views over the flat Khorezm oasis.

20. Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe

The awe-inspiring stone ruins of mysterious Great Zimbabwe represent the largest medieval stone structures in sub-Saharan Africa. This vast 11th century stone-walled settlement spans over 720 hectares just outside Masvingo, Zimbabwe. The site’s towering walls reach up to 5 meters high and are constructed entirely from granite blocks perfectly balanced without mortar.

Walking among Great Zimbabwe’s curved stone walls, conical towers, secret passages, and chambers, one can only imagine what this settlement was used for nearly 1,000 years ago and the countless hands involved in building it. These monumental walls and ruins continue intriguing visitors from around the world.

21. Diyarbakir, Turkey

Encircled by over 5 km of imposing black basalt walls, atmospheric Diyarbakir is considered one of the Middle East’s best-preserved medieval walled cities. Urban life in Diyarbakir dates back over 3,000 years. The city’s first walls were constructed during Roman times. Rebuilt and expanded after an earthquake in 1115 CE, sections of Diyarbakir’s walls today date back over 1,000 years.

Many conquering armies attacked the walls unsuccessfully throughout history, adding to Diyarbakir’s mystique. Once inside the gates, lose yourself in this historic city walking shadowy lanes and lively bazaars beneath the watchful gaze of Roman bridges and medieval towers.

22. Intramuros, Manila

In the heart of the Philippines’ capital, Intramuros offers the world’s sole surviving Spanish colonial fortifications in Asia. Constructed under Spain’s rule in the late 16th century, Intramuros’s walls, 14 gates, and bastions spread across 64 hectares along Manila Bay. Strategically designed to guard the Spanish galleon trade, Intramuros withstood British invasion but was heavily damaged during WWII.

Today visitors can walk portions of the remaining ramparts as well as explore historic sites and museums within Intramuros’s walls for an in-depth look at Spanish influence across the centuries in the Philippines.

So there you have it – the 22 most impressive walled cities around the world that you need to visit. Each of these ancient bastions offers the chance to step back in time, whether strolling atmospheric lanes that haven’t changed in centuries or climbing historic stone walls and imagining the armies and rulers of the past. If you love urban exploration, architecture, and history, add as many of these incredible walled cities to your bucket list as you can!

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