Human’s fascination for gigantic structure never ceases to exist. Inspired by this ever-lasting fascination, our previous infographics ranked the world’s tallest statues and the world’s biggest churches. Statues, churches, and what’s next—castles. Today’s infographic lists the top 5 largest castles in the world, visualizing the scale of each castle.
If you love the medieval history or visiting European castles is in your bucket list, this article will guide you to the 5 largest castles in the world. As an introduction, let’s quickly go through the classic definition of a “castle” and what determines the size of a castle for the rankings.
Criteria of the Largest Castles in the World
What Is the Scope of a “Castle”?
A castle—the place where Cinderella lives, where the Queen and the King live, and where most tourists visit in Europe. It is a huge mansion with iconic spires. It is a place where a fairy tale takes place. While the term “castle” stimulates fancy, most of us don’t even know what exactly a castle is. Is it different from a palace? Is a fortress a castle?
Since a castle is a broadly-used term, it is fair to pick up a definition for a “castle” for the sake of this ranking. According to the Institute of Historic Building Conservation:
A castle is a fortified structure typically constructed by royalty or nobility for defensive and administrative purposes.
On the other hand, a palace is a luxurious grand residence of a ruler or a high-ranking dignitary. Unlike a castle, palace is not fortified. For example, the Palace of Versailles was not a castle but a palace as it was not a fortified stronghold. A fortress is a fortified stronghold, but it is not necessarily a residence of a ruler or royalty. A fortress can be a town or city that has defensive walls. While walled cities such as Constantinople were communal defenses, castles are a private fortified residence. Likewise, Carcassonne is a fortress, or walled city in other words, but not a castle.
Typically, nobility and royalty built castles during the Middle Ages (between the 5th century and the 16th century). Although there are various theories, the origin of the castle as we know it today may date back to the 9th century when the Carolingian Empire was declining.
What Determines the Size of a Castle?
This infographic ranks castles or castle complex measuring them by land area. For example, the second largest Prague Castle comprises multiple structures such as palaces, churches, halls, and other structures within its walls, which is counted as one castle complex that shares a common fort. The land area of Prague Castle is, therefore, the mass of the land area occupied by the complex.
The Top 5 Largest Castles in the World
1. Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork | 18.0 ha | Poland
Occupying a land of 18.028 ha, this 13th-century Teutonic castle proudly stands as the world’s largest castle as of 2022 on the east bank of the River Nogat in Poland. The construction of the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, or simply Malbork Castle, originally started in the 13th century by the Teutonic Order (a Catholic military order). In the following century, the castle gained more influence after the Grand Master Siegfried von Feuchtwangen moved (the 15th Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights) the Order’s office from Elbing to Malbork.
The castle underwent expansion and fortification for multiple times in the 14th and first half of the 15th centuries. As a result, the castle developed three distinctive strongholds: High Castle, Middle Castle, and Outer Bailey. Moats and towers separate each unit. It also housed several chapels and churches, an infirmary, and a refectory, apart from living quarters. The castle was the largest fortified Gothic structure in Europe by this era.
For the next few centuries, the Teutonic castle observed neglection, deconstruction and reconstruction under different rules. During the Thirteen-Year War, Polish force captured the castle. During the Polish era, the castle served as one of the Polish royal residences, although it was not maintained too well due to lack of funding. In the 18th century, Prussian force captured the castle, marking the beginning of decades of deconstruction.
After the withdrawal of Napoleon troops in the 19th century was the era of the Great Reconstruction under German rule until the World War II caused a severe damage to the castle. When the land returned to Poland in 1945 after the World War II, local activists set up a public committee to rebuild and protect the 13th-century heritage.
In 1997, UNESCO designated this Polish castle a World Heritage Site.
2. Prague Castle | 7.3 ha | The Czech Republic
The second place goes to Prague Castle that situates itself within a UNESCO heritage town, the Historic Centre of Prague. Having a surface area of 7.28 ha, it is the largest ancient castle in the world according to the Guinness World Records. As mentioned above, Prague Castle is a collection of churches, palaces, halls, towers, gardens, and so on with castle fortifications. The site also houses buildings of various architectural styles from Romanesque to Gothic and Baroque styles.
The history of Prague Castle is even longer than that of the Malbork Castle. Historians estimates Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty, the first Christian prince of Bohemia, built the castle around 880. Throughout the course of its long history, the castle was enlarged by kings of the time, and by the 10th century, the area of the castle had become what it is today. It also underwent unfortunate events such as the 15-year Bohemian War (1419 to 1434), a large fire in 1541, and occupation by Nazi Germany.
Since its foundation, this castle has served as a seat of power. Historically, Bohemian kings, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia lived in the castle. Today, it is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle safeguards the Bohemian crown jewels whose value is impossible to appraise.
3. Windsor Castle | 5.2 ha |The United Kingdom
Occupying a 5.2-ha land in Berkshire, England, Windsor Castle may be one of the most famous castles across the globe. It is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, being the main residence of Queen Elizabeth II since 2011. It is also a hosting venue for state visits. In recent years, it hosted US presidents Reagan, George W. Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden, as well as President Mbeki of South Africa and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
The origin of the castle dates back to the Noman invasion of England in the 11th Century, when William the Conqueror built defensive fortifications around London. Windsor Castle was one of these fortifications and was initially a mound with a stockade around 1070. Being close to the River Thames and Windsor Forest, the castle was strategically important for monarchs. By 1110, Henry I already used the castle as a residence.
Since that time, it has been the residence of 39 monarchs, undergoing reconstructions, replacement, and modernization throughout its history. As a result, the once-wooden motte-and-bailey castle has now become an aggregation of architectures in various styles such as Tudor and Gothic.
Windsor Castle significantly survived the English Civil War (1642 – 1651) and the World War II. However, the castle suffered severe damage from a fire that broke out in Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel on 20th November 1992. The fire destroyed 115 rooms, including nine State Rooms. The restoration project took 5 years to complete.
Since as early as the 17th century, Windsor Castle has been a popular tourist attraction. The castle holds various exhibitions and events, attracting one and a half million tourists annually. Visitors can even enjoy tea and refreshments at a café situated on the ground floor of the castle.
4. Frederiksborg Castle | 3.1 ha | Denmark
A 3.1-ha palatial complex in Hillerød, Denmark, is the third largest castle in the world. This breathtaking castle is situated on three small islands in a lake, surrounded by Baroque gardens. Furthermore, Frederiksborg Castle is the largest Renaissance complex in Scandinavia.
The estate originally belonged to a wealthy noble Danish family, the Gøyes, known as Hillerødsholm Estate. In 1560, King Frederick II acquired the estate in exchange for a manor. He expanded the estate, renaming it Frederiksborg which means Frederik’s castle. In the early 17th century, his son King Christian IV completely rebuilt the old castle into the Renaissance castle as it is today.
King Christian IV built the new castle to show off his powerful monarch. Indeed, the castle impresses visitors with its decorative art, paintings, ornaments, and furniture. Neptune fountain in the inner courtyard is one of these masterpieces. However, the current fountain is a copy of the original work as the original one was captured during the Swedish occupation.
Similar to Windsor Castle, Frederiksborg Castle also suffered extensive damage by fire. In the mid 19th century King Frederik VII moved in and installed contemporary fireplaces and stoves. Unfortunately, one of these new heat sources caused the major fire in 1859, ruining the building. However, hundreds of paintings as well as the Chapel and the Audience Chamber survived the fire. After the fire, the Royal Family no longer used the castle as their residence. Accordingly, the restoration project started with support of public funds and a Danish brewer Jacob Christian Jacobsen. Since then, the castle has served as the Museum of National History.
5. Kronborg Castle | 2.9 ha | Denmark
Another Danish castle is to complete our list of the largest castles in the world. Known as the home of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Kronborg Castle is one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Site in Denmark.
Not only is it important as Denmark’s most popular tourist attraction today, but also the castle was strategically crucial for northern Europe at the time of construction for its location. The castle is located on a strait that forms the border between Denmark and Sweden. The strait is the gateway to the Baltic Sea—controlling this waterway was crucial in Danish and Swedish history. From 1429 to 1857, Denmark took control of this strait, taking advantage of Kronborg Castle.
The origin of the castle was a fortress that the Danish King Eric of Pomerania built in the early 15th century. The King introduced a toll on the use of the strait by ships, for which he strategically built a fortress at the narrowest point of the strait. During this period, the Kingdom of Denmark stretched across both sides of the strait. The old walls built in the 1420s still exist at the castle today.
In 1574, King Frederick II started construction of the Renaissance castle as we see today. The castle consists of four wings and a courtyard, with decorative art works such as a fountain and paintings. However, similarly to Frederiksborg Castle, many of these art works were capture during the Swedish conquest of the 17th century. For the following three hundred years, the castle served as a fortress and barracks for the Danish army.
Culturally, Shakespeare’s Hamlet takes place in the late-middle-ages Kronborg Castle—Elsinore. Hamlet immortalized this castle, making the site Denmark’s most famous castle. In 2000, UNESCO inscribed Kronborg Castle in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.