Fortified cities surrounded by huge stone walls were a commonplace throughout medieval times and were designed to protect and defend citizens against attacks. But changes in thinking with the coming of the Renaissance and an increased focus on trade and commerce as a way of gaining financial advantage instead of war removed the need to encircle a city with massive walls. Today most walled cities are far-removed from the original goal of protecting citizens and instead serve to fascinate and entertain historians and culture buffs.

Here are five of the best walled cities to visit in summer 2012:

5.    Obidos, Portugal

The City of Obidos is synonymous with being a “fortified city”. The city survived through Roman occupation and after the fall of Rome the Moors encircled the city with marble and limestone walls to make it a true fortress. Dominating the top of a hill, Obidos served as a secure city for centuries and became dotted with tiny medieval streets and authentic Gothic architecture within those walls. In the 14th century the city underwent renovation and construction, though this did not interfere with its original fortress and that authentic spirit is still preserved today.

4.    York, England


York is a legendary city with ambiguous roots. Before it had been incorporated in the Kingdom of England, the city of York was shaped by the Romans, then the Angles and also spent a few years under Viking rule. It is no surprise then, the city was surrounded by high walls to defend it since the medieval epoch of the 12th century. Today the city is used to foreign visitors packing York for its medieval architecture and authentic warlike spirit.

3.    Harar, Ethiopia

In the majority of walled cities the fortifications serve a purely functional purpose. But Harar is an exception. Harar is an ancient city in eastern Ethiopia that transformed its walls into a symbol of an authentic Islamic city. Harar has encircled since the 16th century and its walls include five stunning gates that attract tourists across the world.

2.    Itchan Kala, Uzbekistan

Itchan Kala is an inner town incorporated into Khiva. It is believed to be a final stop for caravans before crossing the sun-baked desert leading to Iran. The city thrives on a flow with tourists who visit to see the 19th century palaces, mausoleums and beautiful examples of Muslim architecture. All the architectural wealth of the city is contained within its rectangular-shaped brick walls with four spacious gates at each side of the wall.

1.    Dubrovnik

Charming, romantic and a bit intimate… Many tourists apply these words to Venice, but just a few know the fact Venice has a city rivaling its beauty on the Adriatic coast. It is Dubrovnik that caught-up with Venice in the early 15th century. For its stunning beauty, pristine beaches and marine-inspired architecture Dubrovnik earned the nickname of “Pearl of the Adriatic”. Today many visit Dubrovnik to enjoy its crystal-clear waters and tour the world-famous walls that have surrounded the old city from the 12th century.

By Olga Leleka, content writer at hotel reservation website The site includes listings of hotels in all of the destinations listed above including Dubrovnik and York. Obidos photo: Flickr user Pedro Ribeiro Simões, York: Flickr user James Preston, Itchan Kala: Flickr user dalbera, Dubrovnik: Flickr user Sean MacEntee