Country Directory

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fortress Israel

The countries of the Levant are one reason why I decided to place a defined limit on the scope of the #FortressEarth Mapping Project. It's practically impossible to walk more than a few meters without tripping over an archaeological site, and if you go back far enough, just about every old city and settlement was fortified at one time or another. So having the limit of 1000 AD to 1945 is very helpful at making the project actually feasible.

Aerial view of Masada. (Source: Traveler Corner)

Before I get into things, for the purposes of the project, I've included as "Israel", the official state of Israel, the disputed Palestinian Territories (the West Bank and Gaza), and the occupied Golan Heights since all of the territories are under some level of Israeli control.

I've actually written about the ancient history of Israel for another blog of mine, but I didn't really touch on military history and I stopped at 614 AD. Without going into too much detail on the history of the area (since it is generally widely known), and because I want to get to the castles as quickly as possible, I'll just give this rundown of post-Roman history.

After the fall of Western Rome, the Byzantine successor-state retained its hold over the area from 390 to 634 AD. Conflicts with the rising Islamic world led to the loss of the territory to a series of caliphates (634-1099). The Crusader Period began in 1099 and lasted for nearly 200 years, coming to an end in 1291 (although the last Christian foothold in the Holy Land wouldn't be lost until 1303). Next came the Egyptian Malmuks who ruled from 1291 to 1517. Afterwards, the Ottoman Empire captured the area and held it until the end of World War I and the partition of the Empire. The modern state of Israel was born in 1948.

The conflicts of the Byzantines with the Sassanid Persians occurred in and around many ancient cities and strongholds. Conflicts between different Muslim factions and throughout the Crusader-era likewise happened in many of the same places. However, the time of the Crusades led to the construction of some of the largest and most impressive castles in the region. Despite its importance, Israel is one of the few countries/regions of the world without any star forts. I can only surmise that this is because the West's active attempts to retake the Holy Land ended before the 14th century and that Palestine was rather securely Ottoman throughout the main star fort-era.

The Castles of Israel.

I was able to find 31 extant castles/fortifications, but I'd be willing to bet that there are more, particularly lesser known sites or ones that are in a severely ruined state. However, the US Congress passed a law in 1997 which limits satellite resolution over Israel (and the various territories). This limit is imposed on every commercial satellite company that is based in the US. The practical result of this is it's all but impossible to identify small sites like watchtowers or ruined castles or to tell them apart from the surrounding terrain.

With that, let's look at some fortifications!

Section of the wall around Jerusalem. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The City of Jerusalem has been surrounded by stone walls for 3,000 years. Unfortunately, due to war after war (and occasional earthquakes), only scattered and buried archaeological remains of these walls still exist. The oldest large sections of wall that can still be seen above ground, date from the early period of the Herodian Dynasty (37 BC - 92 AD). The four kilometers of walls that still surround today's city are from the Ottoman Period, and were constructed between 1535-38. Their average height is 12 meters (just under 40 feet).

The next place I want to highlight is the fortress city of Acre (also known as Akko).

View of the massive land walls of Acre. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

With over 5,000 years of history, Acre is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Like Jerusalem, its system of walls stretch back for thousands of years. But like much in the Levant, the Crusader and Ottoman periods have left their enduring marks and are the legacy we see today.

After centuries as a regional Christian center, the city was given over to the Rashidun Caliphate in 638 following the defeat of the Byzantine army. The city thrived and became an important trading and naval post. Starting in 1100 during the First Crusade, after four years of siege, the city fell to King Baldwin I of Jerusalem. Acre's population around this time was 25,000, second only to Jerusalem, and its mighty walls remained standing. At the end of the Crusader Period, the city was captured by the Egyptian Mamluks in 1291. During this siege, the city walls were destroyed. By the end of the 16th century, only a few hundred people still lived inside the town.

In the late 1700s, the city's walls were rebuilt. Napoleon actually attempted to take the city in 1799 during his campaign to take Egypt and Syria from the Ottomans. Acre's walls held and its defenders gave Napoleon one of his few decisive defeats. The earlier walls range in height from 10 to 13 meters (33-43 feet), but are relatively thin at only 1.5 m (4.9 ft). A much more massive land wall (as seen in the picture) was constructed between 1800-14.

So far I've been talking about walled cities, so let's look at a fort and a castle.

Forts and castles can often be confused with one another as they're both fortified facilities, but there is a key distinction: a castle is a protected residence, whereas a fort is primarily a military site used to garrison troops and protect a certain area.

At 110 by 110 meters (360 x 360 ft) Belvoir Fortress is the largest fort in Israel.

Belvoir Fortress. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Belvoir was constructed by the Knights Hospitaller in 1168. Aside from its size, what makes Belvoir really interesting is its 'double-fort' design; a smaller inner fortress lies within the larger outer walls. This can be easily seen in the diagram below.

Only after an 18-month siege did the fortress fall to Saladin in 1189. What's impressive is that the fort wasn't actually taken, but was surrendered because all of the surrounding lands had already been captured and the defenders had no hope for rescue or breaking out. The fort was purposefully demolished by its Ayyubid rulers in 1219. The fortress has remained in that ruined state ever since, even despite being ceded to the Franks from 1241-63. Serious archaeology has only been occurring since 1963 to uncover the secrets of Israel's biggest fort.

The romantic ruins of Montfort Castle. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The final site I'll detail in this post is Montfort Castle, located in the north of Israel, about 6 km (3.7 miles) from the border with Lebanon.

Classified as a "spur castle" as it sits on a narrow ridge projecting off a mountain, Montfort Castle was built by members of the Teutonic Order on land that belonged to a wealthy French family in 1220 as the events of the Third Crusade (1189-92) meant that the land the castle sits above became more important. The castle was originally supposed to house members of the Order's administration, its treasury, and archives.

Despite the common understanding of the Crusader-era being one of Christian vs. Muslim, the Crusades themselves were full of factionalism and competing interests. The need to move the administration to such a high and remote location was spurred on by conflicts with other Christian groups like the Knights Hospitaller and Templar's.

The castle first came under Muslim attack in 1266 but was able withstand the assault. The castle eventually fell and was later abandoned completely in 1291 as the Teutonic Knights were forced to make their headquarters in Venice, Italy once the Crusader-era drew to a close.

To see all of the sites in Israel, here is a Google Map. You can download the map as a KML (Google Earth) file by opening the map in a new window, clicking the 'Options' button (3 dots) and hitting "export to KML".

As always, if there's an error or a missing place (that you have the exact location of), please let me know! Projects like Fortress Earth only work when people share their knowledge.

--Jacob Bogle, 11/15/2017

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Star Forts of Ukraine

An 1830 map of the Kiev Fortress, which was one of the largest such systems in the world at the time. Here's the full-scale version.

Star forts ('Фортеця-зірка' in Ukrainian), were developed in Italy in the late 1400s and spread outside of Italy by the 1530s (you can read more about them in my post "A World Filled With Stars"). Ukraine's location meant that throughout the 15th and 18th centuries, it had to contend with invasions by the Russians, Ottomans, Poles, and from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (as well as smaller other entities).

While I am not finished mapping the whole of Ukraine as part of Fortress Earth, I have managed to find a number of star forts, including a line of them that stretches 285 kilometers (177 miles)! Ukraine's 36 star forts* were constructed over a period of several centuries and addressed a number of problems, from large to small-er.

A map of the 36 Ukrainian star forts.

If you're familiar with the distribution of star forts in other European countries, I think you'll notice how sparse Ukraine seems to be. Ukraine suffers from its geography in that most of the country is made up of flat plains which are difficult to defend. Other than a few major cities like Kiev and Sevastopol, the forts are clustered into two regions. The first is Ukraine's western uplands region and the second is a long line of forts along two small rivers that feed into the Donets and Dnieper rivers respectively.

The line of forts is the "Ukrainian Line" (Українська лінія) which consisted of 16 forts and 49 redoubts connected by a series of earthen walls/trenches, of those sites that still exist, 15 fit the definition of a star fort. Built over the course of 33 years (1731-1764, with the bulk in 1731-21), the line was constructed by Imperial Russia to protect its lands from the Tartars. Up to 30,000 Cossacks and Ukrainian peasants were forced to work on the Line and countless people lost their lives. The Line was abandoned in 1770.

Like many enormous defensive projects (such as the Great Wall of China), the Line met with only limited success as the Crimean Tartars simply forced their way through gaps and the distances between the forts and reinforcements were often too great for the reinforcements to be of use.

Many of the forts are have been greatly eroded over time and some are barely visible beneath the farmland, like Kozlivska Fortress.

Kozlivska Fortress has been nearly completely plowed under.

On the other hand, Orel Fortress (also called Ninth Fortress) in Dyachkivka, remains in amazing condition.

The Line's wall (marked in yellow) is also visible and extends across the image.

Moving away from the Line, as mentioned earlier, some cities were major strongholds and have large star forts. Kiev, Ukraine's capital, has a series of large fortifications that were built over the course of the 17th and 19th centuries.

Some of the fort's features are hard to discern, so I've added white outlines to the first two images to help show them.

Kiev Main Fortress

Construction of the main fortress began in 1655. Currently it houses a museum and church.

Zverynets Fortress is in near total ruins and today sits inside of a park and botanical garden. It was in use between 1810-1918.

Zverynets Fortress in the Vydubychi National Botanical Garden.

Finally is the Lysohirsky Fortress (Лиса гора). Lysa Hora means "bald mountain" and the fort was constructed in 1874.

Lysohirsky is the southernmost of Kiev's major forts.

World War II was the final time these forts saw any real military action. Fighting was extremely fierce during the war.

The last type of star fort I'll talk about are ones that served as small strongholds and often as residences of important noblemen.

Zolochiv Castle (Золочівський замок), located in the city of the same name, was built in 1634-36 for the Polish Sobieski noble family. It was constructed using Crimean Tartar slaves. It contains two 'palaces', the Chinese Palace and the Grand Palace. However, despite being a luxurious home, it was a very real castle (castles = fortified residence, fortress = primarily a military establishment). In 1672 the castle came under siege by the Turks and fell after six days of fighting. A mere three years later was the sight of another attack. In 1737, the castle went from the Sobieski family to the princely Radziwiłł family. After being sold a few more times, it has served as an art exhibit and museum since 1985. 

To explore the other Ukrainian star forts, check out this map.

As always, if there's an error or a missing place (that you have the exact location of), please let me know. Projects like Fortress Earth only work when people share their knowledge.

Regarding the rest of my progress mapping the sites in Ukraine, I have found over 110 additional fortifications. *It's possible further star forts will be found as well.

--Jacob Bogle, 10/22/2017

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fortress Cuba

Cuba has always been a magical place filled with beautiful people and valuable resources (not to mention its prime location in the Caribbean between North, Central, and South America). While Cuba has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years, it wasn't "discovered" by Europeans until the year 1492 (by everyone's favorite controversial explorer, Christopher Columbus).

Cuba remained a jewel in the Spanish Empire's crown for centuries until it was relinquished to the United States in 1898. To protect the Spanish from locals (and more importantly, pirates) a series of forts were constructed, primarily in Havana and Santiago. Eventually, these forts were refitted and expanded as Cuba's military importance grew and as the island was dragged into the wars of Europe - such as Britain's conquest of Cuba in 1762 during the Seven Year's War (it was quickly returned to Spain in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris that ended the war) and conflicts with France.

The forts of Havana, Cuba.

Since most of the current forts were constructed in the late 1500s to mid-1700s, many share the 'star fort' or 'bastion fort' innovation that arose in Europe in the mid-1400s which enabled forts to withstand cannon barrages much more effectively than earlier styles of fortification.

With a few exceptions, Cuba's forts are centered around Havana. One of the great losses of Cuba's history, are the 5 km of walls that once surrounded the old city of Havana. They were constructed between 1674 and 1740, contained 11 gates, and rose to 10 meters in height, but the walls were demolished starting in 1863. Only a few very small segments remain. However, like many cities that no longer retain their walls, the path of the walls can be readily identified, as roads are often constructed along their former path.

Comparison of the old city of Havana. (Left) a 1853 map showing the city walls, (Right) a current satellite image showing where the walls once stood.

The largest fort in Cuba is the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña which sits atop a high bluff on the eastern entrance to Havana Harbor. It is roughly 2,300 feet across.

Find out more about #FortressCuba and its 14 forts by downloading the Google Earth File here, or you can explore the map below.

As always, if there's an error or a missing place (that you have the exact location of), please let me know. Projects like Fortress Earth only work when people share their knowledge.

--Jacob Bogle, 10/18/17

Monday, September 25, 2017

Fortress Georgia

Georgia is a small country in the Caucasus Mountains that seems squeezed between Turkey and Russia. Similar small countries are awash in massive castles and forts, like Belgium and the Netherlands, which have long been the main invasion route in western Europe between the major powers.

Turkey (specifically the former Ottoman Empire) and Russia have certainly been major powers in their own right over the centuries. But Georgia isn't covered in beautiful star forts or rows of castles that are practically within sight of one another (such as the castles in the Vosges Mountains in France). However, that isn't to say Georgia is devoid of castles either.

Georgia has a pretty complex and long history, and its location is a key factor to this.

Larger countries have long wanted to control Georgia as it sits at a key crossing point between Europe, the Middle East, and the rest of Asia. After centuries of conflict between the Roman Empire and Persia over controlling the Kingdom of Iberia, a series of descendant kingdoms grew into the Kingdom of Georgia by the year 1008.

The Kingdom reached its golden age in the 11th and 13th centuries, but it was rarely able to really live in peace as its Christian neighbor, the Byzantine Empire, fell to conquest, and as the various Persian states fought to ward off Ottoman eastward expansion. In 1490 the Kingdom split into several territories and each would eventually be pulled into either Ottoman or Russian spheres of influence. 

Later in history, the continual wars between the Ottomans, Imperial Russia, and the Persians over scraps of former Georgian territory resulted in Georgia eventually being annexed into the Russian Empire. Georgia only fully regain its independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union.

With all of this history, you could be forgiven for asking, "so why aren't there massive defenses everywhere?"

Georgia's location also had something to with its defense. The country is sandwiched between the Greater Caucasus Mountains to the north and the Lesser Caucasus and Pontic Mountains to the south. Georgia only has a limited amount of gentle land and low mountain passes for large armies to traverse. This means that smaller castles and fortresses on step mountain sides can do the job of larger ones out in the open.

To be fair, Georgia does have a few rather large sites, like Gori Fortress pictured at the start of this article. But most are smaller affairs.

I was able to locate 95 castles and forts in Georgia. Based on my research, this is at least 80% of all the castles in the country. Despite spending hours combing through various sources, the exact location of several simply couldn't be ascertained and a few others were in such bad shape and overgrown that no clear identification could be made. Those 95 sites give a ratio of 1 castle per 283 square miles or 1 per 39,000 people.

While many may be relatively small, I defy any medieval army to take the heights of Vere Castle (below) without being incredibly determined and very well equipped. Even in its dilapidated state, you can see the castle was easily defensible, perched high atop its mountain home. 

Here's a Google map with all of the castles mapped out.

To download the Google Earth file directly, simply click this link.

As always, if there's an error or a missing place (that you have the exact location of), please let me know. Projects like Fortress Earth only work when people share their knowledge.

--Jacob Bogle, 9/25/2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

Fortress Turkey

Rumelian Castle. Image source: Commons.

Turkey's location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East means it has some of the richest and most diverse history anywhere in the world. Constantly fought over, Turkey can also boast hundreds of forts and castles going back thousands of years. Since the main focus of #FortressEarth is to find sites constructed no earlier than 1000 AD (or at least still in use by) this means Byzantine, Seljuk, Ottoman, and modern-era fortifications, as well as sites constructed by Russians and others during various wars. I have been able to find 283 fortified sites and related structures. Given Turkey's complex history and equally complex territory, there are undoubtedly sites I have missed, but I am confident that this map has a majority of them.

The three main sources of information I used to locate these sites were Wikipedia, Wikimapia, and Roughly 60% were found by me methodically scanning Google Earth.

If you zoom in a little on the map below, some of the interesting things you can discern are the main invasion routes into Anatolia. Groups of fortifications around Istanbul (Constantinople), several defending the Dardanelles to the south, and if you look near the border with Bulgaria, you can find multiple forts defending Edirne. Edirne (Adrianople) served as the Ottoman capital for 90 years before they were finally able to capture Constantinople in 1453. Adrianople has been called the most contested piece of land on earth - having been under siege no fewer than 17 times since 313 AD.

Across the peninsula, in the region near the border with Georgia, you can find the main invasion routes into the region from Russia and Armenia. This area was the site of many large battles. To the south, you see the way defended from invasions coming north from Syria. Finally, you can see the string of castles all along the southern coast which served to defend Anatolia from many foes through the ages.

Based on this map, the interior is unusually empty of castles. I suppose this is due to the fact that while the borders of Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire were constantly under threat, once one side or another conquered the interior, they tended to hold it - making the need for huge numbers of castles generally unnecessary. The ones that do exist protected key cities, regional capitals, and a few important trade routes.

If you would like to directly download the Google Earth file to explore more easily (and have access some additional content in some cases), simply click here.

If you know of any places I missed, have any corrections, or other comments, you can either contact me via the links below or simply comment on this article.

--Jacob Bogle, 7/10/17

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

#FortressEarth Update No. 1

I've been fairly busy since my introductory article back in February on the #FortressEarth Mapping Project.

Expansive projects like this one can only really work and be completed when people share their knowledge. I received an email from a photographer with a file containing around 140 star forts that I hadn't mapped as part of Version 1 of "Star Forts Around the World". That led me to complied Version 2 which contains 161 additional star forts. You can check that out here.

Trying to map every castle and fort is a very daunting task and it takes a lot of work. Thankfully, since it's literally impossible for me to view every square kilometer of the globe in search of sites, there are lots of resources out there. While taking advantage of one such resource, Wikimapia, (to which I am a contributor) I was able to review Burma, Pakistan, and the US - countries I had "completed". I was able to add another 70 forts to those files. I've also been able to complete mapping the countries of Afghanistan, Suriname, Syria, Thailand, and Vietnam bringing the total to 69 completed countries and autonomous territories.

Completed countries. Click for larger view.

India is one of the most fort-dense countries in the world, so it's a big deal whenever I can complete mapping one of the Indian states. Currently I have completed 5 of the 36 states and territories. While not complete, I have mapped nearly 300 Rajasthan forts. Overall, I've mapped some 700 in India.
Additionally, I have been spending a lot of time mapping sites in China. The Great Wall and all its forts has been difficult, but I am making progress. I've mapped over 280 forts and walled cities in China, plus countless miles of the Wall itself. I also came across two categories of fortification that I didn't know existed until recently.

A Hakka Village's tulou. 

In Hong Kong, there are dozens of walled villages and in mainland China there are round fortified structures called Tulou. There is an estimated 20,000 of them! Many exist in close groups so I won't be forced to mark every single one individually, but it will still take time. Regardless, I am thankful for these discoveries, otherwise the project wouldn't be truly complete.

On the whole, I have now mapped over 14,400 sites around the world and since I have finished my #AccessDPRK project (with 53,722 places), I can spend more time working on this.

For more information and the ability to download the files of selected countries, visit my main website's page on the project.

If you have a list of forts, walled cities, or castles - particularly a list focused on a country, state/province, or era, please send it to me! I have found thousands of places, and thanks to the work of others I have been able to include thousands more. A complete map of every fortified site on earth won't happen without the help of others.

--Jacob Bogle, 3/14/17

Thursday, February 2, 2017

#FortressEarth Introduction

I love forts and castles, like, a lot. And I also love maps. So why not make a map of every fort and castle in the world? I set out to do just that several years ago using Google Earth. Such a unique and expansive compilation of these sites doesn't exist anywhere and I am very happy to be putting it together.

My main mapping focus for the past four years has actually been creating the most comprehensive map of North Korea available to the public (you can find out more at As that project nears its completion, I have been able to ramp up work on #FortressEarth.

The key objective is to map every extant (including visible ruins) classical fort and castle (that served a legitimate defensive purpose) built between 1000 AD and 1945, or was at least in use by 1000 if it was constructed earlier. There are no firm figures on the total number of such places, but globally it could be as high as 100,000 sites (excluding the huge number of fortifications and bunkers built during World Wars I and II). So I realize this is going to take me longer to finish than the 4 years it has taken to map North Korea (a map with some 50,000 places). But, I have definitely made progress.

Below is a map of every country I have completed. Click on the picture for a larger view.

I have finished finding forts in 64 countries and territories. Those 64 countries hold 2,000 sites. I am also very close to being done with Australia, Japan, Portugal, and South Africa. So far, in total, I have mapped nearly 14,000 fortifications. Every country in Europe, and most in Asia and the Americas have at least one fort or castle that fit within my criteria. Within the countries marked "completed", I have found every site I could with a confidence level of 95%. That means it's possible there could be places I missed, but there wouldn't be a large number of them compared to the overall national total.

Of the countries I have completed, the United States actually has the most sites: 433. I was rather shocked when I realized just how many old forts are in the US. One area that may be lacking is the mapping of fortifications built during the Civil War. Because most were hastily prepared earthworks, many have eroded or been destroyed by modern construction. And since this project is about sites that still have visible remains (if they're not fully intact), a good number of Civil War sites may not be included. Of course, as I find the occasional new site, they will be added to the file.

Of the country maps that are not finished, Italy has the most castles, forts, and fortified cities: 3,270 and counting. In terms of the shear number of sites, Italy, France, Germany, and the UK have the largest numbers by far. Outside of Europe, the only other countries that come close are the United States, India, and China (largely thanks to the Great Wall and its many forts).

In order to accomplish this project, I have to use a large number of resources, such as Wikipedia lists (including those in other languages), specialty sites like and the Guide to Japanese Castles, make use of the work Google Earth Community users have done, like Castles of Hungary and English Castle Collection, as well as many other sources such as government surveys. And while all of these resources make my job much easier, they come with errors and are almost never complete by themselves. This means that I spend a lot of time literally zooming around on Google Earth, looking over mile after mile and city after city.

Star Fort Goryōkaku in Japan.

I have also been working on a related side project - mapping star forts. The map (and other info) can be found on my website I've been able to find 1,257 of them to-date, which is a list with at least 80% of all star forts in existence.

Once I have finished and published my North Korea map, my focus will be on #FortressEarth. I don't have a clue when it'll be complete - it may never fully be - but it certainly will be fun. If you'd like to help or notice an error/omission in the country files already available (at please feel free to contact me. And if you'd like to engage on Twitter, just use the hashtag #FortressEarth.

--Jacob Bogle, 2/2/2017