Deemed in a Norse saga to be “an unhandy place to get at,” Mousa Broch lies on the island of Mousa in Scotland, U.K. It is the best-preserved Iron Age tower in the country.

A broch is a roundhouse stacked-stone tower unique to Scotland. The name means “fort” in both Lowland Scots and Old Norse. Initially, researchers thought that the structures were built by immigrants who had been pushed northward, but more recently, archeologists have determined that they are a purely Scottish invention.

Thought to have been built c.100 BCE, the Mousa Broch stands 40 ft (13.3 m) tall. Mousa is unique among broch towers; it has the smallest diameter, yet its walls are far thicker. Its massive build probably explains its excellent state of preservation. There are about 500 surviving examples of brochs, found mostly in northern and western Scotland and the islands. Of these, Mousa is the tallest.

It is unknown whether Mousa was the apogee of broch building, or if there were other broch towers of similar height and strength that, for whatever reason, did not survive. What is known, however, is that Mousa is mentioned in two Norse sagas. Egil's Saga tells of a couple eloping from Norway to Iceland who were shipwrecked and used the broch as a temporary refuge. The Orkneyinga Saga gives an account of a siege of the broch by Earl Harald Maddadsson in 1153 following the abduction of his mother, who was held inside the broch. Earl Harold deemed it “an unhandy place to get at” for attack.

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