At the start of World War One, the armies of Europe were still thinking in the terms of the nineteenth century. Many soldiers sported colorful uniforms more suitable for the age of black powder, radio operators broadcast in the clear not thinking anyone would be listening, generals still advocated cavalry and bayonet charges and sneered at newfangled inventions such as the airplane, and forts were considered the best way to defend a country.
Belgium was officially a neutral country. Still, it feared invasion from its more powerful neighbors. It built a string of forts at Liège and Namur to protect against attack from the Germans and French respectively. When the Germans attacked Belgium in their daring sweep to take Paris, they brought heavy siege artillery in order to deal with these forts.
When we think of the Western Front during World War One, we tend to think of the static killing grounds of trench warfare. While this was true for many grueling years of war, during its first months in 1914, WWI was a war of movement.
The German offensive in August 1914 involved a sweep through Belgium in an attempt to take Paris and knock France out of the war before its ally, Russia, could mobilize. What the Germans didn’t expect was the fierce resistence put up by the Belgians. Its small but determined army slowed down the German advance, aided by a string of outdated but stubbornly defended forts.
York in northern England is justifiably famous for its well-preserved Viking city. The foundations of an entire Viking neighborhood are preserved under glass at the Jorvik Viking Center, a delightfully cheesy tourist trap that includes an animatronic Viking taking a dump in a Norse outhouse.
But let’s not dwell on that. For a different, yet equally one-of-a-kind sight, check out York Castle just a short stroll away. It was founded in 1068 by William the Conqueror as a typical motte and bailey castle. These fortifications included an artificial mound (the motte) with a wooden tower and wall on top, and another enclosed area (the bailey) in front of the base. The Normans slapped these forts together wherever they conquered because they were cheap and quick to build. It’s said they finished York Castle in just eight days!
When the Romans marched into the Iberian Peninsula 218 BC, they found it to be a patchwork of small Celtic kingdoms and tribes, each with its distinct local traditions, but sharing the same overall culture.
Like with the other Celtic peoples they faced, the Romans met fierce resistance, and didn’t fully conquer the peninsula for 200 years. The last holdouts were the mountain tribes of northern Spain–the Cantabri, the Astures, and the Gallaeci. They have left their names as three of Spain’s northern provinces–Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia. In a bitter war from 29 to 19 BC, the Emperor Augustus brought these tribes to heel and took their land for the empire.
“Cantabri” means “mountain people.” They were an isolated and independent-minded culture living a mostly pastoral lifestyle. Several of their villages and cemeteries have been excavated and the regional government has also built a reconstructed Cantabrian village. The Poblado Cántabro at Cabezón de la Sal, an hour’s train ride from the regional capital Santander, gives the visitor an insight into the lives of these ancient people.