For a thousand years they dominated the landscape, towering over their surroundings, their role so critical that the capture of a single one could seal the fate of an empire. In this series, historian and popular presenter Dan Snow unravels the stories of three of the world's most famous castles, from Europe to the Middle East. Built and fought for by men like Richard the Lionheart, these are the sites of some of the most legendary power struggles of all time. All are all prime examples of their era, a testament to the engineering and military expertise of the day.
Crac Des Chevaliers (#101H) Duration: 44:30 STEREO TVPG
Crac des Chevaliers was built by an elite order of Christian warrior monks in the 12th and 13th centuries. Called the Knights Hospitaller, these men designed the castle to dominate a key pass in what is now Syria and guard against Muslim attacks during the Crusades. Strategically positioned on a mountain spur, its steeply-sloped walls, hidden moat and deadly ramp entrance make it the crown jewel of Crusader castles. This castle was besieged by Baybars, a Mamluk Sultan who rose from slavery to usurp a king. Armed with siege engines like the counterweight trebuchet, Baybars campaigned against the Christians in the latter part of the 13th century, determined to push them out of the Holy Land forever. In 1271, he came up against Crac des Chevaliers, challenging the castle - and its defenders - to a battle that would shift the balance of power in the Middle East.
Dover (#102H) Duration: 44:30 STEREO TVPG
Dover Castle was commissioned by King Henry II in the late 12th century as a mighty fortification to guard the region of Kent, situated at the shortest crossing between Britain and the Continent. Executed by the King's finest engineer, Maurice, it cost more to build than any of Henry's other projects. After the King's death, his sons Richard, and then John, continued construction on the stronghold until it became the first concentric castle in Western Europe. Its magnificent square keep, intimidating forebuilding and innovatively-shaped towers live up to its reputation as the key to England. This castle was besieged by Prince Louis of France in the early 13th century. Son of Philip II, Louis came to England to attempt to usurp King John during the First Barons' War. He seized several fortifications and marched into London. Then he turned his sword on Dover. Prince Louis' siege machines - like the perrier - faced several layers of defenses, including a palisade, before he could even hope to storm the castle and attack its garrison, led by Hubert de Burgh. This vicious fight challenged Dover's military power, and its outcome would determine the fate of the English crown.
Malaga (#103H) Duration: 44:30 STEREO TVPG
Malaga was transformed into a military stronghold by Muslim leader Yusuf I and his successors in the 14th century. Situated in Granada in modern-day Spain, the city's defenses were built to protect its key port against Christians from Aragon and Castile during the Reconquista. Designed to guard a kingdom against annihilation, the city boasts not one, but two fortifications: Gibralfaro Castle - or Castillo de Gibralfaro - and the Alcazaba of Malaga. Its unprecedented military passageway, vast underground chamber system and brilliant watchtower network are testament to its role as the eye of an empire. The castle was attacked by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1487 as part of a massive offensive against the city. Commanded by the King's elite soldier, the Marquis of Cadiz, and defended by Hamet el Zegri, a Muslim warrior fuelled by the desire for revenge, the stronghold was hammered by powerful "lombard" cannons - a weapon that would change the nature of warfare forever. The city and its citizens were also targeted, and for months, the battle raged on. This sustained onslaught would prove to be the bloodiest siege of this centuries-old conflict. And its outcome would change the future of Europe.
Chateau Gaillard (#104H) Duration: 46:24 STEREO TVPG
Towering above the River Seine, Chateau Gaillard was built by King Richard I to assert England's authority over his French holdings. Its multiple walls, deep moats and ingenious geometry were designed to terrify any foe. In 1203, a French king and his massive army lays siege, determined to push the English from the continent. Could its formidable defences repel the ambitions of Philip II, king of France?
Conwy Castle (#105H) Duration: 46:24 STEREO TVPG
Positioned the wilds of northern Wales, Conwy Castle was one of several strongholds raised by King Edward I to rule over the Welsh. Its mighty towers, elongated arrow slits and majestic water gate were built to intimidate. In 1294, a rebel force arrives to put the king's castles, and English domination, to the ultimate test. Would the welsh force headed by Madog ap Llewelyn, the last recognised native Prince of Wales succeed in taking the castle?
Malbork Castle (#106H) Duration: 46:24 STEREO TVPG
Stretched along the bank of the River Nogat in modern-day Poland, Malbork Castle was built by an elite group knights during the Baltic Crusades. Its distinct brick architecture, soaring walls, and deadly battlements were built to intimidate the local population. In 1410, a pagan-turned-king marches on the castle, determined to put an end to the Teutonic Order's reign.