The world’s first castles originated in medieval Europe as fortified residences intended to protect the nobility from armed insurrection, or attacks of other kinds. By the early 16th century, however, as weaponry grew more advanced, ushering in a new generation of powerful cannons capable of blasting through walls, castles were less effective in performing this defensive function. Instead, they became status symbols, announcing a noble family’s power and prestige. Sometimes they were repurposed as government centers, courts, or prisons. In times of warfare, they might be used as military encampments.
Today, many such edifices have been turned into museums and historic landmarks, and continue to enchant as relics of a bygone age. Below, we highlight eight awe-inspiring castles around the world—so spectacular that they inspired those found in Walt Disney animations and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.