York City Walls
When the Romans first came here in the first century AD, they built a military fort on the banks of the River Ouse. The town of Eboracum grew up around the fort, and strong walls were built to enclose both the fort and town. These walls form the basis of the city walls that remain today.
The most notable Roman remain is the Multiangular Tower, which stands in the Museum Gardens. The tower was built during the reign of Emperor Severus, who resided in York from 209-211 AD. It has 10 sides, and stands almost 30 ft. high. There were once 8 towers, including three on each side of the main entrance to the fort.
The majority of the wall dates from the 12th to the 14th century, with a few small areas which were restored in the Victorian period.
The rectangular gatehouse of Micklegate Bar (the name derives from the Viking "myla gata" or "geat street") marks the main entrance to the city. It is also the traditional entry point for kings and queen's visiting York. In a ceremony that dates back to Richard II in 1389, monarchs touch the state sword when entering Micklegate Bar.
The gatehouse is four stories high, and contains living quarters on its upper floors. A simple gatehouse was constructed here in the 12th century, but elaborate defenses were added in the 14th, with a heavy portcullis and barbican. There is a small museum inside Micklegate Bar, which traces the history of the Bar and the city itself.
Micklegate Bar was also the place where traitor's heads were displayed to deter rebellion. Some famous (and infamous) heads which decorated the Bar include Henry "Hotspur" Percy (1403), Lord Scrope (1415), Richard, Duke of York (1461), and the Earl of Northumberland (1572). Heads were often left atop the Bar for years.
Monk Bar is the most elaborate of the city gates. It consists of a four-story gatehouse which dates from the early 14th century. The gatehouse was designed to stand as a self-contained fortress, with each floor capable of being defended individually.
Monk Bar is now home to the Richard III Museum, where visitors can attend a modern "trial" of Shakespeare's villain and decide for themselves if Richard was the prototypical evil uncle, or a maligned and courageous king.
For more information on the history of the walls, visit the official York City web site.
Another useful link is the Friends of York Walls, a not-for-profit group whose aim is to promote and preserve the historic walls.