The construction of Ravenscraig Castle by the mason Henry Merlion and the master carpenter Friar Andres Lesouris was ordered by King James II (reigned 1437-1460) as a home for his wife, Mary of Guelders. The castle is considered one of the first - perhaps the very first - in Scotland to be built to withstand cannon fire and provide for artillery defence. The king was involved with the planning but, ironically, was killed in a tragic accident with a loaded cannon at the Siege of Roxburgh Castle near Floors Castle in the Scottish Borders.
Construction was commenced around 1460 by his widow, Mary of Guelders, as a memorial to him and as a dower house. Mary of Guelders lived in the castle until her death in 1463, when only the east tower and the basement of the central section were built. Ownership passed to her son James III (reigned 1460-1488) but in 1471 he gave the castle to William Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and Caithness in exchange for the Earldom of Orkney and associated lands which James annexed from Norway to the Scottish Crown. After 1471 Ravenscraig was finally completed by the Sinclairs, who also had an interest in artillery fortifications.
During the 1650-51 invasion of Scotland by English forces under Oliver Cromwell, Ravenscraig was invaded, attacked and damaged. The castle remained in the ownership of the Sinclairs, who built nearby Dysart House (1755-1756) on the estate, and later passed to the St Clair-Erskines, Earls of Rosslyn. The estate and castle remained in the family until sold in 1896, by the 5th Earl, to linoleum magnate Sir Michael Nairn who lived in Dysart House.
Ravenscraig Castle was passed into state care in 1955 and has been open to the public by the owners Historic Scotland since 1971.
Ravenscraig is a small castle, built on a narrow rocky promontory in the Firth of Forth. It is naturally defended on three sides by steep cliffs dropping to the sea, and the main part of the castle forms the northern, landward, defence. This comprises two D-plan towers, with outer walls 4.25 metres thick, designed to withstand cannon fire. Battlements between the towers formed an artillery platform, with gun holes pointing to landward. The whole is defended by a deep, rock-cut ditch, and is accessed via a bridge.
The west tower stands to four storeys, and has a single small room on each floor. At the ground floor is a vaulted cellar, with a hall above, accessed via a stone forestair, or outside stairway. A spiral stair links the upper levels, although the timber floors are no longer present. Chimneys rise through the walls to form features of the castle's skyline. The east tower is of three storeys, although its base is set lower into the cliff. A well is located at the lowest level, with a single chamber on each level above, although again the timber floors are missing. The floors are linked by a straight stair within the thickness of the west wall. The rooms of both towers are windowless to landward, due to the thick walls, but have windows with stone seats to the other sides.
The towers are linked by a central block, which contains the main gate and entrance passage. Vaulted cellars and a guard room lie to either side. These vaults support the artillery platform above. The gun holes are of the 'inverted keyhole' type, which became common in the late 15th century. Beyond the main block, only the foundations remain of the buildings on the promontory.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.