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This Edited Guide Entry is one of six sub-divisions of the mammoth Community collaboration on Great Castles. Links to the remaining five entries can be found at the bottom of the page.
Aït Benhaddou - Morocco
Though the name is probably not familiar to most people, Aït Benhaddou is instantly recognisable as the picturesque location for Hollywood classics from Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus of Nazareth to Gladiator. Located in the South of Morocco, it sits on the edge of the Atlas Mountains, where the land shades away into the Sahara desert.
Made up of a group of small (though lofty) fortresses, or kasbahs, grouped together on a hill, Aït Benhaddou isn't actually a castle - it's a small village where no more than a few people now live. The buildings, typical of this part of Morocco, are made of red mud baked hard in the desert sun, and it is easy to imagine yourself stepping back in time as you ascend through narrow winding streets to the ruin at the summit. It's quite a steep climb, but the view from the top is spectacular - especially when the setting sun sets fire to the tumbled mass of red mud turrets below. Towards the bottom of the hill there are a few craft stalls and a market. If you want to buy desert fossils, the ones sold here are cheaper and more varied than those offered by the Bedouin guides further south in the Sahara.
A shallow river flows around the base of the hill, before the Kasbah walls, which separates the Aït Benhaddou from the more modern settlement on the other side. The imposing red gate that seems so much a part of these ancient structures was actually constructed for the film Jewel of the Nile... It features prominently in the scene where Michael Douglas drives a jet plane through the streets! Locals will delight in telling you about the film stars they have met - most found work as extras on the film sets.
There are a couple of small hotels here, where you can get food, as well as kiosks selling various local craft work. Alternatively you can stay at the nearby city of Ouarzazate, where you can hire a car or taxi to Aït Benhaddou. Ouarzazate has an airport which has flights two or three times a week for Agadir, Casablanca, and Marrakech, as well as international flights to Paris.
Casa Loma - Toronto, Canada
This castle was built the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century by some Canadian industrialist who desperately wanted to be royalty. It has wooden walls carved by Germans, an underground swimming pool (unfinished), secret passages, a tunnel to the stables and a beautiful view of the city below. Also, there are some weird dragon/bell sculpture and a made up legend to go with it. It is a wonderful folly and he went bankrupt doing it.
Nemacolin Castle , Brownsville, Pennsylvania, USA
Located on a hill in Brownsville, Pennsylvania that overlooks the Monongahela River, this 'castle' is really an old trading post located along the Nemacolin Trail. Jacob Bowman who also served as the area's first postmaster built the house and over the generations his family added to it.
A tour will show the three phases of construction, from the rough frontier-style trading post to the elegant Victorian rooms and the tower which were added in the 1850s. The tour takes about an hour and is actually rather interesting as you walk through the rooms and see the changes in the family's fortunes and style over the years.
To get there take US Route 40 into Brownsville and follow the signs, the castle is located between Brashear and Front streets.
It isn't costly and all the proceeds go to the non-profit Brownsville Historical Society which operates the castle. Tours are offered 11am to 5pm Tuesday through Sundays during the summer. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
One special event they do every year is an evening candlelight tour around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Actually it's not much of a castle anymore, just the ruins. The castle is opened for visitors in summer (May-Sept) and then for several concerts, exhibitions, fairs and performances which take place there. The entrance fee is the equivalent of less than one pound.
The ancient Tarvanpea fenced fortification on Rakvere Vallimägi was first mentioned in Henric's Livonian Chronicle in 1226. In the second and third quarters of the 13th Century the first stone buildings were built in the ancient stronghold encircled by a wooden palisade. The wooden palisade was replaced with a stone circular wall at the end of the 13th Century and the first half of the 14th Century. Thus, the circular walled castle was formed. It's widened southern front courtyard, the complex of the eastern gate consisting of several parts, and the semicircular cannon tower constructed at the end of the 15th Century and the half of the 16th Century all create the castle we see today.
The owners of the castle:
- Until 1346, the Danish Kingdom
- The German (Livonian) Order
- Russian Tzars
- The Swedish Kingdom
- The Polish Kingdom
The castle was damaged in the course of the battles at the end of the 16th Century and at the beginning of the 17th Century. The damaged castle passed into the possession of the Rakvere Estate. Nowadays, it belongs to the Rakvere Museum.