A legacy of the days when cities barricaded themselves against an approaching enemy, walled cities provide a deep historical insight into the intriguing world of medieval fortification. The fact that many walls still stand today is testament to the strength and importance placed on this method of protection and provides travellers and history buffs with an opportunity to explore these beguiling relics. And there are plenty to pick from – here is a handful of the most impressive.
Dubbed the ‘Silent City’ as only residents’ cars are permitted to drive within its confines, Mdina is the former capital city of Malta and an enchanting place to visit. With a population of just over 300 people, it sits strategically high up on a hill in the centre of the island and has been the favoured residence of the Maltese aristocracy throughout history. The warm, golden walls that enclose the city lend it a fairy-tale charm and its name is derived from the Arabic word ‘medina’, meaning ‘walled city’. Enter the imposing city gates and wander past the magnificent palaces, down hidden laneways and into the resplendent Baroque cathedral of St Paul. At sunset, when the city radiates a magical, warm glow, join locals at Fontanella, famed for its cakes, for a spot of dessert.
Lose yourself strolling through the bougainvillea-scented streets in the evocative coastal city of Cartagena. The setting for many of famed Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez’s rich love stories, the city exudes a feeling of romance that envelops you, rolling in with the breeze from the Caribbean. Cartagena’s architecture is heavily influenced by its Spanish colonial history and large parts of its 500-year-old forts and city walls are still intact. Their immense width has defied centuries of coastal weather and still stand strong and defiant today. In 1984 they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the most well-preserved cities around the Baltic Sea, Talinn is a wonderland of spires, watch towers and ancient fortifications. More than a mile of the original city wall stands today, taking visitors back to a time when they were all that stood between the townsfolk and the advancing enemy. Dome church, Talinn’s oldest church, was founded in 1233 and sits high on Toompea hill. Historic feasts are a novel way to immerse yourself in the medieval days and local restaurant Olde Hansa offers just that. Staff dress in peasant style dress and serve rich gamey meals washed down with spiced beer.
A walled Berber market town, Taroudant isn’t on the regular tourist itinerary for Morocco and as such, it offers visitors a wonderful glimpse into the comings and goings of ordinary life. In the early evening, stroll along the reinforced mud walls that surround the city, watching their colours change as the sun descends. Tucked in the Souss Valley, south of the High Atlas mountains, its landscape is dominated by the surrounding ranges, offsetting the small town. Spend time wandering through the colourful souks, known for their traditional crafts and great value.
With its original Ming Dynasty layout still intact, the ancient city of Píngyáo is a complex network of streets, lanes, temples, shops and dwellings. Preserved within its 12-metre high, five-metre thick city walls, Píngyáo is one of China’s most popular tourist destinations. These ancient walls measure six kilometres in length and include six fortified gates and 72 bastions along their length. Wandering through the internal streets transports you back to the days of Imperial China and the strong, solemn wall encircling the old city reflects the dominance of the day.
Live and breathe days gone by when you visit an ancient walled city.