The View from Above

What is it about seeing things, especially cities, from above? Whenever I go to a foreign city, one of the must-do activities is always to climb some big tower or hill to see the view. Is this just so that you can orientate yourself and get a mental picture of where everything is in the city? Or to give you a good impression of how big the city is overall, which is hard to determine when you’ve just arrived and have only seen the area around wherever you’re staying?

Athens from on high

Athens from on high – it’s pretty big – and yes, that’s the Acropolis on that hill there

This is a short clip taken from the top of Salzburg’s Hohensalzburg Fortress: in one direction you see Salzburg and the distinctive shape of the river Salzach winding though; in the other is the green hills surrounding the city. It’s rather shaky because I had to take it quickly as the guard was trying to hurry us quickly down from the top to allow more people up!

I’m always surprised at how close you are to the countryside, even within a city. This is especially true of small cities, like Salzburg, or Oxford. With the latter, you only need a quick trip up Magdalen tower (highly recommended) to be reminded of how close the countryside is, but it’s easy to forget when you’re rushing around in a busy life. In the case of Athens, you can also remember how close the sea is – again something you might forget in the heat of the centre.

At the top of Mystas, a Byzantine palace complex in the southern Peloponnese. Some of the group had got up at 6am to climb up here! (I was unsurprisingly in the later party)

At the top of Mystas, a Byzantine palace complex in the southern Peloponnese. Some of the group had got up at 6am to climb up here! (I was unsurprisingly in the later party)

But there must be another reason why climbing towers is such a popular activity, apart from being able to place a city in its wider context. I wonder if it’s the feeling of hard work climbing up (for towers and turrets this is often in a dark confined space with slippery steps, for hills it’s often hot and sweaty) and the ‘reward’ of the view at the top. Tourists like this feeling of having achieved something even while on holiday – and it’s certainly an easy thing to be able to ‘tick off’ the list.

The view from above Cusco, Peru - it took a long time to climb up this hill for the view!

The view from above Cusco, Peru – it took a long time to climb up this hill for the view!

I think one of the reasons may also be that it puts you in an almost divine position: able to look down upon ordinary humans going about their lives as if they were ants crawling around in the dirt. It’s a very different perspective on life from what you usually experience day-to-day. Or, if not a god, at least a rather large giant!

People like ants under the Eiffel Tower

People like ants under the Eiffel Tower

My top vantage points:

1) Millenium Wheel, London (even if it’s expensive, it’s well worth it)

2) Magdalen Tower, Oxford (with its enormous key – if you’re ever in Oxford you must come and do this)

3) Eiffel Tower, Paris (especially when there’s an ice rink at Christmas time)

4) Palamidi Fortress, Nauplio, Greece (857 steps apparently, though I lost count fairly early on – definitely worth the climb)

5) Buda Castle. Budapest (especially at sunset)

Have you ever climbed a tower for a good view over a city? 

 

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