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Castles are something that have captivated my imagination from my earliest days of reading fairy tale stories with illustrated pictures to more real world experiences of exploring castles built by the Crusaders in the Middle East.I have now had the privilege over the last few years to have visited 61 different castles in 20 different countries, this list will continue to grow as my fascination never diminishes.Castles in the modern era are now tourism money makers or examples of the symbols of power and prestige from a forgotten age.

Although a "castle" or protective fort has been a feature for humanity for thousands of years many medieval structures, particularly in Europe, originally spawned from the ancient city walls, battlements and fortified palaces of the Roman Empire.

At first the castle was a wooden structure built on a raised mound and usually surrounded by a ditch.

As medieval warfare gradually developed, castles became built of stone with thicker walls, then came the moat and inner keep, and finally huge outer walls with strategic battlements for defending.

Initially the keep within the castle was rectangular because it was easier to build but before long people realized the circular style keep was much more effective to defend. The most ideal location to build a castle was on the edge of an impregnable cliff and even better if you could find it at the bend of a river where commanding views enabled not only a strong defensive position but also the ability to demand tariffs for passing trade.

The best examples of such tariff extorting castles are along a stretch of the Rhine River in Germany between Bingen am Rhein and Koblenz.

This winding part of the Rhine River, which takes just a one-hour to train or drive between the 2 towns, offers views of over 20 different castles.Castles were usually built as places of protection from an invading army or marauding bandits; they were a place to retreat and shelter from all the dangers of life in the middle ages.Eventually the castle became an offensive weapon used to control surrounding lands in hostile territory and impose the will of the conquerors on the general population.Prime examples of such castles are the ones built by Edward I of England when he conquered Wales in the 13th century or the castles built by the Crusader armies in the Holy Land.These structures are the true castles in my mind, built specifically to intimidate and be defensively functional when the expected populous rises up against the injustices of a foreign power.As warcraft evolved and gunpowder started to be used in battle, the castle was no longer the ultimate form of protection.

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