5. Diyarbakır, Turkey
The walls of this city are so ancient that they don’t have a date – but they were restored by the Romans in 349AD, which gives you some idea of how long they’ve been there. The walls are almost intact, and are 5.5km long, surrounding the city in black basalt. There are 4 gates, as well as 82 watch towers. The town itself is well preserved, with mosques and madrasas dating from the medieval times as well as museums and churches.There is also the 11th century Dicle Bridge that spans the Tigris river.
It’s still an important city in Turkey, being the center of its own province, but hasn’t had to use its defenses for a while and became a refuge for villagers fleeing their homes during the Kurdistan – Turkey conflicts of the 1980s and 90s. The population grew hugely during that time, but rural dwellers slowly returned to their homes as fighting died down. The city today is worth a visit for lovers of history and anyone who likes to feel protected from the rest of the world!
4. York, England
You’d expect English cities to be full of history, and many cities do retain a bit of their original walls. However, there aren’t many where you can still see the walls in the same condition as they used to be. The most complete set of walls are found in York – the center of the city is almost entirely enclosed, with all the gateways still intact, and the walls form a 4km circuit. Some bits are Roman, some are Norman, some medieval and some are even from the last two centuries, thanks to restoration works. But with the historical feel of the city as a whole, dominated by York Minster means that you can imagine just how it would have been in the past. A great example of historical England.
3. Itchan Kala, Uzbekistan
Another UNESCO Heritage site, this was the last oasis before the desert and so was traditionally a resting place for caravans on their way to Iran. The walls are 10m tall and are remarkably intact, given that they date from the 10th century. The town itself is a mix of eras, with some 18th century buildings and some more modern, but they are all in the Muslim style and the new buildings blend seamlessly with the old. And if you’re planning a trip across the desert, it’s probably still a good idea to stop off here for supplies first…
2. Taroudant, Morocco
Another stop-off on a caravan route, the walls of this city are even more impressive than Itchan Kala, at 6km long. This was once the capital of the Saadi Dynasty, before they moved on to Marrakech and today Taroudant is still known as “The Grandmother of Marrakech” due to looking like a smaller version of that city. Like most Moroccan towns, its economy thrives on crafts such as carpets and jewlery and there are two souks near its two main squares. At present, the entire town is contained within the walls, but there are plans to start building outside the walls soon, to link up with a nearby university. Until then, it is a rare example of an entirely walled city.
1. Pingyao, China
But the biggest and most impressive walls are, as ever, to be found in China. The 12m high, 6km long walls enclose what UNESCO describe as an “exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Han Chinese city”. There are 6 fortified gates in the wall, as well as 72 bastions and the city inside is full of beautiful Ming-dynasty-era houses and temples from the 10th and 12th centuries.
Pingyao is nicknamed “the turtle city” because the shape of the walls resembles a turtle (head, tail, 4 legs) and it is hugely popular with tourists, so much so that the population reaches 3 times the maximum capacity during peak times. The Global Heritage Fund are working to control the effects of mass tourism, and it could see visits to the ancient city restricted. So go now, while you still can, and experience one of the world’s most incredible cities.