If you’re like me, you have committed the next two-plus years of your life to studying history, and have an unrelenting compulsion to browse the history book sections of every charity shop in the city.
My love of history has made the prospect of visiting the places of significance described in my lightly-worn, £2 charity shop paperbacks almost irresistible. Looking past the obvious – Rome, London, and Vienna – there are many sites of a more niche interest. Visiting these locations is by no means reserved for paid-up history students – these places are a must on any tourist’s itinerary. Historical knowledge is preferred, but optional.
Barcelona is not typically at the top of many lists of historically significant cities, but it serves as a fascinating ‘potted history of Spain’ in terms of its landmarks. Relics of the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War remain, as well as the Plaza de George Orwell, named for the Animal Farm author who fought on the side of the Loyalists. Just a few streets away, the Barcelona Cathedral stands as an incredible monument to the religious struggle that beset Spain some five centuries ago. Historians believe the building stands on the site of a church that was destroyed during the invasion of Almanzor, the ruler of Muslim Iberia, in 985.
A picturesque, lively city steeped in history, York is a quintessential location for British historians. York Minster is a staggering feat of engineering, and even those without a religious persuasion can admire the architecture. Existing in some state or another since before the reign of William I, the cathedral has been the centre of several disputes between Catholics and Protestants, with Elizabeth I demanding it be cleansed of any reference to Roman Catholicism. For a less regal historical experience, the Shambles is the home of an open-air market and buildings that date back to the 1300s. A claustrophobic, Middle-Ages street, it is as close to time travel as you can reasonably achieve.
Currently undergoing large-scale reconstruction, Bosnia’s capital is still an often overlooked European capital in regards to historical interest. The city first came to prominence under the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s, as the main imperial stronghold in the Balkans, and sits within the beautiful Dinaric Alps.
It is the only major city in Europe to have a synagogue, Catholic church, Orthodox church, and mosque in the same neighbourhood. The city was, of course, the site of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914, sparking World War One. And even more recently, Sarajevo was the centre of the longest capital city siege in modern history during the fall of Yugoslavia, spanning from April 1992 until February 1996. Do not be put off by the recency of this event – the last decade has seen Sarajevo become a popular destination, and crime rates against foreigners remain exceptionally low.