UNESCO Fortifications

Spis Castle, Slovakia

Stop #11

Built in the 12th century, Spiš Castle was part of the Kingdom of Hungary and then owned by several families and later by the state of Czechoslovakia then Slovakia.

Originally a Romanesque stone castle with fortifications, a two-story Romanesque palace and a three-nave Romanesque-Gothic basilica were constructed by the second half of the 13th century. It underwent multiple additions and renovations over the centuries and even burned down in the 1700s.

In 1993, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Birkenau, Poland

Stop #5

Birkenau (Auschwitz II) is where most of the mass killings actually took place. The camp had more than 300 prison barracks. Still remaining are remnants of gas chambers and crematoria.

  • At Birkenau from 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe.
  • Jews were killed in large numbers using a pesticide called Zyklon B.
  • About 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, and at least 1.1 million of them were executed.
  • 90 percent of those killed were Jewish.

One of the last buildings I saw in Birkenau was the one that left the most lasting impression. It is a building where medical experiments were performed on pregnant mothers or new mothers and their newborn children. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the pit in my stomach I felt when I read that sign.

Auschwitz, Poland

Stop #4

It is almost impossible or maybe even irresponsible to visit Krakow without taking a day trip to Auschwitz. We decided that we wanted to enjoy Krakow and ordered our trip to visit heartbreaking Auschwitz first.

Auschwitz (Auschwitz 1) is the main camp. Birkenau (Auschwitz II) is the larger camp about 2 km away.

Auschwitz I began as a polish military barracks, but the Nazis converted it into a death camp in 1940. You will see the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” in some of the pictures. This translates to “Through Work Freedom”.

It was a very depressing and moving exhibit with piles of shoes, glasses, luggage and other items heaped in never-ending piles with their rightful owners long-perished.

Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941.

Of those not killed in the gas chambers, many died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.

Prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on 27 January 1945, a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In 1947, Poland founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979, it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Alhambra (Granada, Spain)

Stop 15:

Fodor’s says that Alhambra is Spain’s most popular attraction. It has three main parts: the Alcazaba, the Palacios Nazaríes (Nasrid Palaces), and the Generalife, or ancient summer palace. We didn’t spend any time in Generalife, but we did spend a good bit of time in the Palaces and Alcazaba.

Alhambra’s history dates to 1238.  The palace has all of the beautiful arches and patterns in the photos below.  The geometric patterns are mostly made of ceramic and stucco.  Because the Alhambra was not kept up over the ceturies, it began to decay until the Duke of Wellington came to escape the Peninsular War. In 1829, Washington Irving arrived and wrote Tales of the Alhambra in 1832.  Restoration has continued since then.

Alcazaba’s tower (from which you see city views in the photos) is called Torre de la Vela (Watchtower).  I made a couple of panoramas from multiple pictures to try to capture the full view from the tower

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.


Elvas, Portugal

Stop #7:

Elvas is a town about 10 miles from the Spanish border.  It wasn’t a major destination, but we had to stop to see the gigantic aqueduct.  At some points there were 5 stacked arches (including the really little arches you can see in the photos).  Elvas is a UNESCO world heritage site (The Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications).   Constructuion of the aqueduct began in the 15th century.  It is just about 4 miles long. The trees in the photos are olive trees.  Lesson learned: don’t eat unripened olives off the tree…they taste terrible.

Knight’s Templar (Tomar, Portugal)

Our first stop on our trip through Portugal and Spain was Tomar, Portugal. There, we visited the Convent of Christ, which was originally a 12th-century Templar stronghold (the convent was founded by the Order of Poor Knights of the Temple, or Templar Knights, in 1118). The Convent and Castle complex are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The convent entrance is in Manueline style, which usually means it incorporates maritime elements and representations of the discoveries brought from the voyages of Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral. The window of the Convent of Christ (which is in many of the photos in this portfolio) is also a well-known example of Manueline style.

The Romanesque round church is a Roman Catholic Church from the castle (charola, rotunda) was built in the second half of the 12th century by the Knights Templar. The castle was built around 1160 on a strategic location, over a hill and near river Nabão. It contains gothic painting and sculpture.

This was a great way to start off our trip.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.


Carcassonne, a Medieval city, is the largest fortified town in Europe.  The Romans fortified the hilltop around 100 BC.  Carcassonne became strategically identified when Romans fortified the hilltop around 100 BC.  The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

We arrived at sunset and left after sunrise the next morning.  I had to see the city under both morning and evening light, but that wasn’t enough…I also wanted night and star shots, so I didn’t sleep very much that night!


Great Wall of China

Link to Wikipedia

The Great Wall of China is a series of stone, brick and wood fortifications built along the historical northern borders of China to protect the Chinese states and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe. Several walls were being built as early as the 7th century BC and were later joined together and made bigger and stronger.  The especially famous part of the wall was built in 220–206 BC by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. Little of that wall remains. The majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

The wall with all of its branches measures out to be 13,171 miles, and is today recognized as one of the most impressive architectural feats in history.

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