Ever since the Bronze Age, people have banded together and erected barriers to protect themselves against invasion by dangerous “others.” This was especially true in Europe during the Middle Ages. Because of constant wars, dense population centers surrounded themselves with elaborate fortifications including walls, gates, observation towers and deep ditches. Some were built around castles. Others extended beyond citadels.
The Great Wall of China was erected for protection against the Mongols and other nomadic tribes. Hadrian’s Wall in northern England was meant to thwart barbarians and keep them from invading this outpost of the Roman Empire. These walls also served to collect customs fees.
Soon however, as cities expanded and flourished, the walls became an obstacle to commerce and contributed to isolation. They began to come down. Fortunately many have survived.
I have always been fascinated by the still existing walled towns and have tried to visit many of them in my travels.
Carcassonne, high on a hilltop in the center of France, is the largest former fortress in Europe. It is a medieval fortified town, restored in the 19th century. Its massive walls, dating from antiquity, encircle a gothic cathedral. There is also a castle complete with drawbridge. The view is superb everywhere you walk.
Saint Malo, a walled port city in Britany, was almost totally destroyed in 1944 by Americans. They believed a great number of Germans were hiding there (they weren’t). It too was completely rebuilt. You can walk on the cobbled streets of the ramparts and see the ocean on all sides. It is often grey and windy which adds to the overall somber effect. It is in Saint Malo that I have seen the highest and fastest tides in the world. Climbing to the top of the walls they seem to be propelled by giant forces.
Dubrovnik in Croatia was founded in the 7th century on a rocky island. Its thick creamy walls, turrets and towers are bathed in radiant sun. The vermillion rooftops, with views to the azure and glistening sea, give it the look of a jewel. You can walk and enjoy it for a long time.
Quebec City is the only walled city on the North American Continent. Its cobbled streets overlook the St. Lawrence seaway. A castle (Chateau Frontenac), cannons, churches and bell towers add to the fortress effect.
The Berlin Wall (1962-1989) was conceived as an anti- fascist bulwark meant to keep Western “fascists” from entering Eastern Germany and undermining its moral purity. Its real purpose, however, was to imprison the East Germans. It was to keep insiders inside.
It finally exploded from within in 1989, releasing all its prisoners. And the walls came tumbling down.