World's prettiest castles
(Photo: S.Borisov / Shutterstock)
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From its perch atop al-Sabika hill in Granada (about 260 miles south of Madrid), the Alhambra served as an ideal military fortress thanks to its isolated location and coveted views of the surrounding area. The palace didn't become a true royal residence until Muhammed I, the first sultan of the Nasrid Dynasty, arrived in the 13th century. As new sultans came and went, the Alhambra continued to grow. Yusuf I built the Justice Tower in 1348 to serve as the castle's grand arched gateway. Yusuf's successor, Muhammed V, commissioned the Patio of the Lions, which is still famed today for its lion-shaped fountain and Islamic architecture. However, Muslim rule in southern Spain faded quickly. In 1492, Sultan Muhammed XII surrendered the Alhambra to Spanish King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I. Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor (and Ferdinand and Isabella's grandson), began a renovation of the Alhambra in 1527. But the older designs still shine through, especially in the Hall of the Moors with its carved ceiling and elegant cupola.
(Photo: Yuri Yavnik / Shutterstock)
Built in 1504 during the Sengoku (Japan's civil war period), Matsumoto Castle was originally designed as a small fortress. It wasn't until Japan's unification under the Tokugawa shogunate in the early 17th century that Matsumoto Castle was refashioned into the three-turreted structure we see today. Matsumoto was built to withstand enemy attack, but by the time it was assembled around 1595, Japan's wars were drawing to a close. Matsumoto was never attacked, which is probably why its 95-foot-tall tower is Japan's longest-standing inner tower. Visitors to Matsumoto — which sits about 44 miles southwest of Nagano in central Japan — can marvel at the castle's black walls and swooping, tiered eaves that earned it the nickname Crow Castle (Karasu-jo in Japanese). Plus, a peek out the fifth- or sixth-floor windows affords sweeping vistas of the surrounding mountains. Meanwhile, the landscaped grounds below burst with gorgeous cherry, azalea and wisteria blossoms in the spring.