During a visit to Cartagena, Colombia this past Thanksgiving break, I spent much of the time exploring the old walled city and neighboring fortress of San Felipe de Barajas. The fortress, while large and imposing, is not aesthetically pleasing. The visual design of the fortress lacks clear symmetry and structure giving the overall impression of a fortified mound. The old city walls on the other hand, zigzagging against the grass and sea and topped by Moorish-looking towers, are a compelling sight.
I tend to be reflexively dismissive of New World “castles” and fortifications as not being truly medieval, however, parts of Cartagena’s fortifications, built in the early 16th Century, actually predate my favorite Japanese Castle Matsumoto-jo which was built in the 1590s.
I have just returned from my first visit to Japan in 12 years. The trip also included visits to Matsumoto Castle (Matsumoto-jo), Kyoto and the Edo era town of Tsumago in the Kiso Valley. I had last visited Matsumoto-jo in high school over 20 years ago. 5 years ago, I chose that castle as the subject of my web 3D interactive on feudal Japanese castles.
I would rank Matsumoto-jo as one of the most beautiful and impressive castles that I have seen. I first visited the castle as a high school junior. After a trip to Kyoto and Himeji-jo, I had convinced my parents to make a detour through the Japan Alps on the way back to Tokyo in order to see Matsumoto-jo. I don’t remember exactly how I got the idea to visit the castle but I think I probably saw a poster in one of the JR train stations that we passed through. Most visitors to Japan and Japanese people would agree that Himeji-jo is Japan’s number one castle, but, I clearly remember upon seeing Matsumoto-jo that this was my favorite. I was surprised by my response having heard many times that Himeji was the most impressive.
Matsumoto-jo is not as big as Himeji-jo, however, the combination of the black wood panels and white plaster walls on each of the levels is striking. The overall form of the castle seems perfectly balanced and proportioned. In addition, the structure’s dramatic vertical elevation, moat acting as a kind of reflecting pool and backdrop of high mountains is spectacular. All of these things left a lasting impression on me.
I was pretty disturbed to see the following video posted in the NY Times a few days ago. The bombs barely missed the castle. I vividly recall catching a mini van from that town to go to Aleppo via Homs just 2 years ago.
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