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9 gorgeous star forts around the world

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These geometric citadels are stunning from the sky

The list of castles around the world is long and wondrous, from spooky buildings like the Bran Castle in Romania to picturesque French castles you can actually buy. But a lesser-known type of castle is the star fort.

First designed in the mid-15th century in Italy, star forts were new geometric fortresses created in response to changing battlefield tactics. Hilltop, ring-shaped castles proved effective until the advent of cannons, which rendered tall castle walls useless.

Star forts used a complex system of triangular bastions, thicker and lower walls, and wide ditches that exposed attacking infantry and protected outer walls from artillery. They held sway as the fortification of choice throughout much of Europe until the 19th century, when the development of more powerful artillery required simpler, more robust forts.

Today, the star forts that remain are gorgeous historical artifacts, some abandoned and overgrown while others thrive as small towns. While most of the star forts are concentrated in Europe and—somewhat surprisingly—the American Northeast, there are star fortifications all over the world. We’ve rounded up 9 of the prettiest.

Palmanova, Italy:

Palmanova sits in the northeastern section of Italy and was founded by the Republic of Venice in 1593. Designed as part of an idealized city plan to have a self-sustaining population, when the city was first built no one wanted to move there.

The Venetian government pardoned a number of prisoners in 1622 and gave them property to encourage settlement. Today, Palmanova is a national monument and host to several festivals throughout the year.

Bourtange, Netherlands:

The small village of Bourtange is tucked inside this gorgeous Dutch fortification originally built in the 16th century. In 1851 the Netherlands decommissioned the fort and the area became your normal, picturesque Dutch village, but in the mid-20th century the local government restored the fort to encourage tourism.

And why not? The geometric waterways and embankments are positively captivating.

Almeida, Portugal:

Built in the early 19th century to defend against the French invasion during the Peninsular War, this quaint Portuguese town has well-maintained walls and military buildings. The Almeida star fort uses a 12 pointed star shape with a moat on the perimeter.

Charles Fort, Ireland:

It doesn’t get much prettier than this star shaped fortress on the coast of County Cork, Ireland. The Charles Fort was built in the late 17th century and was in constant use for several hundred years as the gateway to Cork harbor. It became a national landmark in the 1970s.

Fort McHenry, Maryland:

This American star fort—constructed in 1798—is best known for its role in the War of 1812 when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy. The fort was used continuously by the U.S. armed forces through World War I and became a national monument in 1939.

Tilbury Fort, England:

Located about an hour east of London along the River Thames, this half star shape was built to defend London from sea-based attacks. The fortress has gone through many repairs and additions in its long history, and the current structure was designed by Dutch engineer Sir Bernard de Gromme.

Naarden, Netherlands:

Once the capital of Holland, Naarden suffered from several wars during which it was destroyed and rebuilt. Thanks to impressive restoration efforts, Naarden’s star fortress is Europe’s only standing fortification with double walls and double moats.

Fort Ontario, New York:

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The star fort in Fort Ontario, New York is so simple and beautiful it almost looks fake. But the real-live fortress—originally built in the 1840s—boasts two guardhouses, a powder magazine, storehouse, men’s barracks, and ramparts with views of Lake Ontario.

The fort was occupied by the U.S. Army through the Second World War and then opened as a state historic site in 1953.

Goryokaku Park in Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan:

Located on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, Goryokaku fort was Japan’s first and largest Western-style fort built in 1866. The fortress held government offices until 1868 during the Meiji Restoration when a group of 3,000 people loyal to the old regime took refuge in the fort and resisted the new government.

The Hakodate War destroyed much of the fortress, but today the embankments, foundation stones, and moat have been restored. The area now functions as Goryokaku Park and is famous for its flowering cherry trees.