Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

10 Amazing Moats Around the World

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Everyone knows that no truly awesome castle is complete without a moat. These long, broad ditches, which may or may not be filled with water, mostly served to protect against marauding invaders, although some also helped stabilize buildings, and still others were just status symbols—the medieval equivalent of imported sports cars lining your driveway. While England is said to have 5,000 moats alone, they're also found in Africa, Japan, Asia, and elsewhere, protecting fortresses, temples, and towns as well as castles. Read on for ten amazing moats that you can still see. 

1. Forbidden City, China 

The world's largest palace, located in the heart of Beijing, has an equally impressive moat. A 170-foot-wide, 20-foot-deep rectangle of water surrounds the Forbidden City, a massive complex of villas, shrines, storehouses, chapels, residences, and gardens that housed China's emperors and their families for almost 500 years, from 1420 to 1912. Once meant for protection, the water now adds a picturesque touch to the complex, which has become a museum. 

2. Český Krumlov Castle, Czech Republic 

What's better than a castle with a moat? A castle with a moat filled with bears, obviously. The State Castle and Chateau of Český Krumlov, the second-biggest castle complex in Central Europe, includes a dry moat that's been periodically filled with bears since at least 1707. Legend has it that the animals were given to the Rosenbergs, who ruled the castle and region for about 400 years, as a token of their supposed connection with an Italian family of nobles called the Orsinis. ("Orsa" means female bear in Italian.) According to the Associated Press, "The animals get their own birthday parties and a big Christmas Eve Bear festival where children bring presents and food for them." They even have their own bearkeeper, a devoted man named Jan Černý, who is working to update the moat's ursinarium to modern-day bear living standards. 

3. Fort Bortange, Netherlands 

This star-shaped fort, with its accompanying network of star-shaped moats, was created in the late 16th century by Prince William the Silent during the Eighty Years' War. The Dutch were fighting for independence from Spain, and the fort's original purpose was to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen, which the Spaniards had taken over. The fort saw several battles before being converted into a village in 1851, but since the 1970s, it’s been an open-air museum. (It's far from the world's only star fort, by the way: the design evolved during the Renaissance as a response to increased use of gunpowder. Cannons could easily penetrate the high stone walls of medieval fortresses, but the star forts' lower angles, made from earthen or brick walls, were created to better resist cannon fire.) 

4. Himeji Castle, Japan 

The largest and most famous of Japan's “samurai castles,” Himeji Castle is sometimes called Shirasagi-jo ("White Heron Castle") because its graceful white exterior is thought to resemble the bird. The castle complex includes 83 buildings, with well-preserved turrets, keeps, and courtyards, as well as a system of three moats meant to repel invaders. Building them required huge amounts of stone—more than three miles of it for the inner moat alone, exhausting local quarries so much that builders also incorporated Buddhist sculptures and stone coffins from prehistoric burial mounds, according to journalist Kristin Johannsen

5. Egeskov Castle, Denmark

At Egeskov Castle, the moat is an entire lake, which the castle stands on top of, supported by a system of oak pilings. (Supposedly the castle required an entire oak forest to construct: hence its name, which means “oak forest.”) Built by nobleman Frands Brockenhuus and completed in 1554, it’s now said to be the best-preserved moated castle in Europe, and is open to the public. Aside from the moat, the castle includes 66 rooms, 171 doors, more than 2,000 windowpanes, a farm, a car museum, and an exquisitely detailed dollhouse. Tradition has it that if a wooden sculpture of a man lying beneath the spire of the castle's tower is ever moved from his cushion, the castle will sink into the moat on Christmas Eve. (Not surprisingly, the castle’s inhabitants have usually chosen to spend Christmas elsewhere, just in case.) 

6. Benin Walls, Nigeria

The City of Benin was once protected by a system of ramparts and moats that are said to have been the largest earthwork ever made. According to the New Scientist, they once extended for almost 1,000 miles, in a network of 500 interconnected boundaries. Dug by the Edo people between about 800 and 1500, they are also said to have been four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and to have taken about 150 million hours of digging to construct. Though much of them were destroyed by the British in 1897, parts are still around. 

7. Bodiam Castle, England 

With its spiral staircases, massive towers, battlements, and ruined interior, the 14th century Bodiam Castle is pretty much your childhood dream come to life. And of course, there's a moat, about 540 feet long and 8 feet deep, and now stocked with ducks and fish. The castle was built by former knight Sir Edward Dallingridge in 1385 during the Hundred Years' War for protection against the French (supposedly, although Dallingridge saw it more as a status symbol) and has been largely unaltered since its construction. 

8. Fort Monroe, Virginia 

The largest stone fort ever built in the U.S., the seven-sided Fort Monroe was built by the U.S. government from 1819-1834 at a strategic point on the tip of the Virginia peninsula. A moat surrounds all the inner structures. While most of the rest of Virginia fell to Confederate hands, the fort remained in Union control, and became a haven for former slaves. Former Confederate President Jefferson Davis also spent two years imprisoned at the site. It remained in military use until 2011, when it was decommissioned and became a national monument you can now explore. 

9. Matsumoto Castle, Japan 

Nicknamed "Black Crow Castle" for its somber exterior (and in contrast to the “White Heron Castle,” Himeji), Matsumoto Castle was once ringed by three concentric stone moats: one encircled a tower, one protecting palaces and storehouses, and one surrounding the residential quarters where the families of 90 high-ranking samurais lived. Today, only two of the moats remain, but the castle is one of the most-visited in Japan. 

Built in the early 16th century, the castle was in use for about 350 years, and is now open to the public as a museum. It also contains a unique addition: in the early 16th century, the castle's lord added a "moon-viewing tower" where he and his friends could quaff sake and write poetry. 

10. Angkor Wat, Cambodia 

The world's largest religious building has a moat to match: Angkor Wat is surrounded by a 650-foot-wide, 13-foot-deep square of water that runs for more than 3 miles around the perimeter of the temple complex. It's so big it can be seen from space. In addition to protecting the temple's buildings—constructed in the 12th century to resemble the Hindu Mt. Meru, dwelling place of the gods—the moat also helped stabilize their foundation. By collecting runoff from the region's frequent monsoons, it prevents the temple from sinking into the mud below.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Guillaume Souvant, Getty Images
This Just In
For $61, You Can Become a Co-Owner of This 13th-Century French Castle
Guillaume Souvant, Getty Images
Guillaume Souvant, Getty Images

A cultural heritage restoration site recently invited people to buy a French castle for as little as $61. The only catch? You'll be co-owning it with thousands of other donors. Now thousands of shareholders are responsible for the fate of the Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers in western France, and there's still room for more people to participate.

According to Mashable, the dilapidated structure has a rich history. Since its construction in the 13th century, the castle has been invaded by foreign forces, looted, renovated, and devastated by a fire. Friends of Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers, a small foundation formed in 2016 in an effort to conserve the overgrown property, want to see the castle restored to its former glory.

Thanks to a crowdfunding collaboration with the cultural heritage restoration platform Dartagnans, the group is closer than ever to realizing its mission. More than 9000 web users have contributed €51 ($61) or more to the campaign to “adopt” Mothe-Chandeniers. Now that the original €500,000 goal has been fulfilled, the property’s new owners are responsible for deciding what to do with their purchase.

“We intend to create a dedicated platform that will allow each owner to monitor the progress of works, events, project proposals and build a real collaborative and participatory project,” the campaign page reads. “To make an abandoned ruin a collective work is the best way to protect it over time.”

Even though the initial goal has been met, Dartagnans will continue accepting funds for the project through December 25. Money collected between now and then will be used to pay for various fees related to the purchase of the site, and new donors will be added to the growing list of owners.

The shareholders will be among the first to see the cleared-out site during an initial visit next spring. The rest of the public will have to wait until it’s fully restored to see the final product.

[h/t Mashable]


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