Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most recognised castles in Scotland. It is, without doubt, a Scottish icon and certainly one of the most popular visitor attractions in the Highlands. When you first set eyes on it, it is easy to understand why so many people flock to its stout doors year after year. Strategically located on its own little island, overlooking the Isle of Skye, at the point where three great sea-lochs meet, and surrounded by the majestic splendour of the forested mountains of Kintail, Eilean Donan’s setting is truly breath-taking.
Crossing the bridge to today’s castle, the fourth version, you can clearly understand why Bishop Donan chose the tranquil spot back in 634 AD to settle on it and create a monastic cell. The first castle was later established in the 13th century by Alexander II in an effort to help protect the area from Viking incursions. At this stage in history the original castle encompassed the entire island and is believed to have been constructed with seven towers connected by a massive curtain wall. Over the centuries, the castle contracted and expanded for reasons that still remain a mystery to this day, until 1719 when it was involved in one of the lesser known Jacobite uprisings. When the British Government learned that the castle was occupied by Jacobite leaders along with a garrison of Spanish soldiers, three Royal Navy frigates were sent to deal with the uprising. On the 10th of May 1719, the three heavily armed warships moored a short distance off the castle and bombarded it with cannon. With walls of up to 5 metres thick, these cannon had little impact, but eventually the castle was overwhelmed by force. Discovering 343 barrels of gunpowder inside, the Commanding officer gave orders to blow the castle up; following which Eilean Donan lay in silent ruin for the best part of two hundred years.
The castle that visitors enjoy so much today was reconstructed as a family home between 1912 and 1932 by Lt Col John MacRae-Gilstrap, and incorporated much of the ruins from the 1719 destruction. At this point the bridge was added; a structure that is as much a part of the classic image as the very castle itself.
Visitors now have the opportunity to wander round most of the fabulous internal rooms of the castle viewing period furniture, Jacobean artefacts, displays of weapons and fine art. Historical interest and heritage are in abundance with informed guides happy to share a wealth of knowledge. Extremely popular with families, a visit to Eilean Donan promises lots of fun for the kids whether it be swinging a Claymore, spying through the spy holes, lifting the cannon balls, gazing at the fearsome portcullis or exploring the ancient battlements. Wildlife surrounds the island too, with regular viewings of porpoise, dolphins, otters and birdlife. For those feeling particularly romantic, weddings can even be arranged inside the beautiful Banqueting Hall.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.