Get captured by a fort city

No matter which continent they’re on, fort cities will pour a cauldron of boiling wonder over your head.

Fort cities are built on prime real estate–land that someone really, really wanted to hold onto. Whether the city proper is surrounded by walls or huddled at the foot of a fortress, there’s likely to be winding alleyways and an ancient market. You’ll find the old, tight neighborhoods of families who once cozied up to the army, hoping for a piece of protection, not to mention a stable economy.

There are superior views, made all the more enticing by the terrain you’ll have to scramble up to reach the lookout. You’ll hear some juicy tales and see the scenes of crimes and scandals. A fountain that caught lopped-off heads and gushing blood, for example. Chances are the fort’s fallen by now, and if it hasn’t, well, that’s a story too.

Fort cities have a rich culture, either being situated at a strategic geographic crossroads, or through sheer size and import having attracted ideas, trade, and invaders. And because forts tend to be the last part of a kingdom to fall, there might be the resonance of a recent changing of hands. You can feel the lingering presence of the previous owner, all the way down to the landscaping, the furnishings, and the smell.

Fort cities have a leftover charge of power in the air, as if they could explode into battle again at any moment. But they also have pockets of disarming beauty, possibly created in an attempt to tolerate living behind thick walls. Gardens, palaces, sacred spaces, architectural flights of fancy– these statements of love are often paraphrased throughout the city. Over time, their influence makes the fort city less of a stronghold and more of a refuge. In other words, just the type of place a wanderer needs from time to time.

Here’s a (very brief) list of fort cities worth exploring:
Granada, Spain, beneath the Alhambra
Jodhpur, India, beneath the Mehrangarh Fort
Edinburgh, Scotland, beneath Din Eidyn, later Edwinesburch, later still Edinburgh Castle
Havana, Cuba
Dubrovnik, Croatia guarded by Fort Lovrijenac (seen above)
Ávila, Spain and its booming walls
Various walled cities in China, including Xi’an and the Forbidden City (not to mention the Great Wall, literally translated as “long city/fortress”).

How does the story of a place influence how you approach it? How does spending time in the presence of forts and other history-heavy works affect you?

Are fort cities really a good place to cozy up for a while? What other fort cities can you recommend?

Photo by VGonPa via Flickr

Posted by | Comments (8)  | October 28, 2009
Category: General, Vagabonding Advice

8 Responses to “Get captured by a fort city”

  1. jane Says:

    Cartagena, Colombia!

  2. Nate maingard Says:

    very very beautiful photo and imagery! thanks, bring on the boiling oil;)

  3. inta Says:

    now i really wanna see Dubrovnik O_O thanks for posting this!

  4. Jill K. Robinson Says:

    Just got back from San Juan, Puerto Rico, which has a nice collection of colonial forts and buildings.

  5. Brett Stuckel Says:

    @Jane: Saw some photos…that hook of land is incredible.
    @Andy: How long until the artists take over the entire fort? Sounds like a quality spot.
    @Jill: Good call. I want to get one of those ultracheap JetBlue flights and check it out.

    Thanks for the comments…

  6. Andy Siitonen Says:

    @Brett: There are about 1000 people living in Suomenlinna.
    Some are artists or artisans and some military personnel.
    I think Helsinki has plans to keep the population this way,
    and I agree. It is extremely difficult for an “outsider”
    to rent an apartment in Suomenlinna. Buying is not possible,
    neither building new houses as it is a Unesco world heritage

    There is also a quality summer (open air) theatre on the island,
    as well as an art galleries and some fine restaurants, cafes etc.

    For me the most interesting thing are the boat repair yards.

  7. Vagablogging + Books on Boats — State of Place Says:

    […] just started a weekly gig over at Vagablogging. Here’s a link to my post from last week about the magic of fort cities. This week it’s about the intersection of art and […]