Europe is steeped in historical and cultural treasures, dating from the pre-Hellenic times to the nineteenth century. While the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome as well as the masterpieces of Renaissance are exceedingly popular among tourists from across the world, no less fabulous are the medieval gems of art, architecture and culture. Here are ten Medieval cities of Europe which should figure on the list of any traveler.
For over a millennia of its existence, Prague has been one of the most important centers of religion, politics and culture in central Europe. Today as the capital city of the Czech Republic, Prague is not only a political and administrative power hub but also an important cultural destination of this part of the continent. A prime medieval attraction here is the castle complex in the city center which apart from the main palace also includes whole neighborhood of towers, churches, houses and courtyards. Parts of the castle complex date back to the 9th century, when the Czech royal family moved their seat of government here. A major attraction is the St Vitus Cathedral, with its intricate stained-glass windows, and St Wenceslas chapel, which is decorated with paintings from the 14th century .the Old Town in Prague, one of Europe's largest and most beautiful city squares. This area contains most of the city's main shops and restaurants as well as several historic theaters. Prague's famous astronomical clock on the Town Hall tower is another historical attraction. Built in 1410, the elaborate clock doesn't actually tell the time, but instead marks the phases of the moon and the seasons and even holidays. One can take narrow steps to the top of the Town Hall tower to get a great view over the red roofs of the old town. Or one can walk towards the Charles Bridge, a beautiful Gothic structure built as far back as the 14th century. Charles University established in 1348 is the oldest university in East and Central Europe.
With a rich cultural heritage dating back to the 13th century, Amsterdam oozes historical charm with its many churches, museums, monuments and memorials. A visitor to Amsterdam can start with the Dam Square in the heart of the city which is one of its oldest areas. While it started out as a central market for Amsterdam’s inhabitants, today it is the center of some of the city’s most famous landmarks. Medieval Amsterdam was enclosed by a moat formed by the canals of Kloveniersburgwal, Singel and Geldersekade. The weighing house at the Nieuwmarkt, the lower part of the Munttoren, and the weeping tower are remains of the medieval city walls, constructed in the late 15th Century. The most notable medieval buildings in the city are the Olafskapel and the Gothic churches Nieuwe Kerk and Oude Kerk. These churches were consecrated in 1414 and 1306, respectively. One of the most popular attractions is however the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments which displays over 100 devices used to break hapless medieval prisoners.
Among other interesting places to visit in Amsterdam are the Artis Zoo, the Butterfly Pavilion, the Hortus Botanicus and Flower Auction for those inclined towards natural history. Still others can partake of the Heinken experience, take a guided tour through Carre Theatre, the Amsterdam Dungeon or visit the city’s many historical and modern monuments.
Nestled in the green embrace of Vitosha Mountains, Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is a city steeped in architectural beauty and cultural grandeur, best manifested in the Boyana Church which has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Located on the outskirts of the city, the Boyana Church is today regarded as a landmark Bulgarian monument. It is primarily famous for its splendid medieval architecture and its delicate murals. Painted as far back as 13th century, the murals on the walls of the Boyana Church continue to amaze visitors of today with their fragile beauty, expressiveness and a deep understanding of human nature. The murals of the Boyana Church include paintings of national saints and martyrs besides depicting the royal Bulgarian couple, King Constantine and Queen Irina. Painted almost 400 years before the arrival of European Renaissance, these murals are a supreme example of the best of Eastern Christian Art.
- Trencin, Slovakia
Slovakia is a country in Eastern Europe that acquired political independence relatively late but has a rich heritage of architecture, art and culture. Among all the Slovakian cities which are of historical interest, one of the most remarkable is the city of Trencin. The earliest foundations of the city date back to the start of the second millennium when the Romans established it as a military colony. Later in 1412, Trencin was given the honor of a free royal city. The rich legacy of bygone times is evident in the fortified castle which overlooks the city of Trencin .the earliest construction of this castle probably goes back to the eleventh century while the building continued till the fourteenth century. The highlight of the castle is its Tower which was ordered by renowned Slovak historical figure Matus Cak and which still carries his name. Today the Tower of the Trencin castle is regarded as the symbol of the city and a repository of its rich culture. Exhibitions showcasing the medieval history of Trencin are often organized at the castle where classical as well as folk music concerts also take place.
- Novgorod, Russia
Russia is a land whose geographical expanse is matched by the complexity of its history and the richness of its cultural heritage. The medieval city of Veliky Novgorod is one of the most important places of historical interest in Russia. Located in the northwestern part of the country, Novgorod lies along the Volkhov River and is famous for its medieval architecture, the best known example of which is perhaps the St Sophia Cathedral. Built under orders of Vladimir Yaroslavich, the son of Yaroslav the Wise, the Cathedral dates back to the eleventh century. Today it is regarded as one of the best-preserved medieval structures and is perhaps the oldest Russian building that is still in use. St Sophia’s Cathedral is famous as one of the first buildings to exhibit certain architectural features which came to be identified as typically Russian – like the use of five domed cupolas and the austere walls. Other significant details include its famed bronze gates in the west entrance as well as its frescoes, originally painted in the twelfth century.
Ever since the mid-thirteenth century when Stockholm was founded on the south-central east coast of Sweden, the city has been an important economic, cultural and political center in the whole of Scandinavia. Built on fourteen islands and connected by 57 bridges, Stockholm offers a remarkable cityscape to its visitors. One of the most popular tourist centers in the city is the Medieval city center at Gamla Stan which is also one of the largest and oldest medieval cultural centers in the whole of Europe. Gamla Stan is the place where Stockholm was founded more than 700 years ago in 1252. Here, the narrow winding streets are bordered by medieval buildings in various shades of gold while occasional sightings of frescoes and cellar vaults take back visitors to the Middle Ages.
Other than these medieval cultural attractions, Gamla Stan also boasts of some of the most beautiful churches and buildings in Europe including the Stockholm Cathedral and the Royal Palace of Sweden. the Royal Palace is the official residence of the King and Queen of Sweden and their family; it is open to visitors throughout the year and a tour of the Palace will take you through the banqueting room, the guest apartment, the Hall of State, the Chapel and the Treasury. Then there is the Drottningholm Slott, the private residence of the royal family which is located in the island of Lovon on Lake Malaren. Skansen, purported to the world’s oldest open-air museum and a huge favorite with the locals here.
- Krakow, Poland
Krakow in Poland is a city steeped in historical riches and memories going back to medieval times. The city’s castles, churches, public squares and the very walls are witness to the rich heritage of architectural and cultural beauty. The most important center of tourist attraction in Krakow is the Royal Castle located in Wawel Hill. This castle was the place where Polish kings were crowned and buried and continued to be the hub of royal power from the 11th to the 17th centuries. today the castle houses museums, royal chambers, a cathedral showcasing the riches of its royal past. There is also the famous “Sigismund” bell in the castle grounds which is rung only on the most important national events. Among other places of historical interest in Krakow are its Main Market Square which is the second largest public square after St. Mark’s Square in Venice, as well as the St. Mary’s Tower which is the only tower in the world where a bugle is played every hour. River trips on the Vistula, shopping in the City Center and tasting the delicacies of local cuisine are some of the other things that every visitor to Krakow must try out.
Despite a history going back to ancient Roman times, medieval attractions are relatively few in London. This is because the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed most of the noteworthy buildings and monuments from the Middle Ages. And yet there are some fascinating London landmarks which date back to Medieval times. The best known among these would be The Tower of London, the first foundations of which were laid in 1078 and then been expanded upon over the centuries by many a king and queen. Ever since William, Duke of Normandy was crowned king of England and began to build the Tower, it has served as a castle, fortress, prison, palace, mint and finally the museum that visitors enjoy today. The other major medieval attraction in London is the Westminster Abbey, of which the current building was begun by Edward the Confessor in 1045. Lambeth Palace, St Bartholomew the Great, Chelsea Old Church, Ealtham Palace and London Guildhall are some of the other historical buildings which bear testimony to London’s vast importance as a medieval city.
- Budapest. Hungary
Budapest, the capital city of the East European country of Hungary is a vibrant metropolis with very strong medieval routes. The most-visited historic site here is the Castle District which includes popular attractions such as the Royal Palace and the Matthias Church. The Castle District abounds in historical monuments, lovely old houses, romantic walkways, intimate cafes and some great restaurants. Although most of the buildings here are from seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, the earliest history of the Castle district dates back to medieval times. A far more authentic medieval attraction is the Jewish synagogue of Kozépkori Zsidó Imaház a two-room Sephardic synagogue from 1364 that was discovered in the 1960s during general excavation work in the Castle District. The synagogue probably goes back to the time when the first Jewish families in Budapest arrived in the mid-13th century and lived in the precincts of Buda Castle. A Jewish community connected with the coin-minting industry soon grew up in the area as indicated by the results of another excavation project nearby which unearthed the ruins of another, much larger, synagogue dating from 1461.
- Nuremberg, Germany
Nuremberg is a city in the German state of Bavaria, in the administrative region of Middle Franconia. The history of the city goes back to the turn of the 11th century, according to the first documentary mention of the city in 1050, when it believed to have served as the location of an Imperial castle between the East Franks and the Bavarian March of the Nordgau. During the Medieval centuries from eleventh to fourteenth centuries, Nuremberg was a prominent city owing to its location on key trade routes – so much so that in 1219, Frederick II granted to Nuremberg, the ‘Great Letter of Freedom’, including town rights, the privilege to mint coins and an independent customs policy. Among the historical attractions which even today stand testimony to the medieval splendor of the city are the Gothic St. Lorenz church whose main body was built around 1270–1350, the Gothic Schöner Brunnen or Beautiful Fountain, which was erected around 1385, the Nuremberg Castle, the medieval cemetery of Johannisfriedhof as well as the open-air enclosed medieval village of Handwerkerhof.