It’s hard to imagine a gorgeous medieval landscape without seeing a castle somewhere in the background. And although there have been many forms of fortifications since antiquity, castles really came into their own during the Middle Ages.

The majority of people, especially those who are unfamiliar with European mediaeval castles, are unaware that these fortified private homes were usually the property of local feudal lords or nobles. These castles served domestic and administrative purposes, and they were both offensive and defensive depending on the situation. It goes without saying that castles projected power throughout the surrounding area and served as status symbols.

We’ll be examining some of the world’s most creative and successful castle defenses in this list.

10.Organic Defenses

Selecting a site that makes the most of the available natural resources is one of the most crucial factors to take into account when building a castle. Making it difficult for the adversary to besiege you is your goal. Creating a fortification on elevated terrain is consistently a wise move. The enemy army is forced to charge uphill, slowing them down and making it difficult, if not impossible, to bring siege equipment close. This not only increases the height of the walls relative to the army, but it also extends its reach.

Some of the first instances of castles in the real sense of the word were motte-and-bailey structures. During the eleventh century, they were very popular, especially in Norman England and France. Perched on a precipitous hill or earthen mound known as the motte, the keep served as the principal defensive feature of the motte-and-bailey castle and housed the local lord. For the purpose of defending castles, rock outcrops are even more effective, but their construction and upkeep need more time, effort, money, and expertise.

Building a castle adjacent to a river, especially near a river bend, is another excellent idea. This gives rise to an artificially enlarged natural defense system that can encircle the entire castle complex. It’s the same thing when you build on an island in the midst of a lake. An additional advantage of these castle designs near rivers or lakes was that they offered a consistent supply of clean drinking water. In order to have a water supply inside the walls, castles constructed on steep slopes or rock outcrops frequently featured extraordinarily deep wells. For instance, the well at Germany’s Kyffhäusen Castle is around 577 feet deep.

9.Walls with Rustication

Rustication, also called bossing, is the term used to describe masonry stones that are left rough and uncut on a wall’s exterior facing side. Historians have been debating why some ancient masons used to act in this way for a long time. Rustication was first thought to be only a method of cutting construction expenses and time. It may even have given the fortress a more ominous appearance, according to certain theories. And although these were undoubtedly advantageous, it turns out that bossing served a more protective function as well.

Researchers have discovered that the energy of a projectile shot from a trebuchet, catapult, or other antique or medieval artillery was far more effectively dispersed by rusticated stone walls. The missile was unable to transfer its energy directly into the wall due to the irregular surface of the rusticated stones. It functions roughly like the spaced armor on contemporary tanks.

Before the widespread use of gunpowder and cannon fire, rusticated brickwork was present on many castle walls, dating back to before the time of Ancient Rome.

8.Machicolations and Hoardings

On top of stone or brick walls, timber defensive structures known as hoardings—also called hourdes—are erected. These are shaped like a covered porch that is supported by perpendicular beams. Hoardings are placed to give wall defenders a superior vantage point from which to fire down on attackers who are at the base of the wall.

They have apertures in the floor to hurl boulders or other projectiles at the opposing soldiers hugging the base of the wall, and window-like openings along the breastwork to launch arrows or bolts. Defenders wouldn’t be able to shoot at the enemy straight below without overexposing themselves in the absence of these hoardings.

Hoardings would be dismantled and put away as prefabricated portions during times of peace. When danger threatened, they would place them atop the walls and cover them with new animal pelts to prevent them from catching fire.

The primary distinction between machicolations and hoardings is that the former are built of the same material as the wall itself and serve a similar purpose. Machicolations are impervious to crossbow bolts and even heavier artillery shells, but they also require a greater level of engineering and cost. Furthermore, they are permanent.

Machicolations were only utilized for decoration throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, when warfare underwent substantial changes, as demonstrated by the Gothic Revival architectural style.

7.Arrow Slits and Crenellations

It’s likely that your image of a medieval castle wall is fragmented. They have been in use for a very long time; the Medinet-Abu palace in Thebes, Egypt, is the oldest known example. They can also be seen on numerous other fortifications, like the Great Wall of China.

Merlons, the projections on top of the wall, are the building blocks that make up crenellations, sometimes referred to as battlements. The spaces between the merlons are called crenels. Despite their seeming insignificance, they offered the defending men excellent protection.

They would toss pebbles through the crenels or shoot arrows or crossbow bolts while hiding behind the merlons. In the event that the adversary succeeded to scale the walls and utilize them against the defenders, crenellations were not frequently erected on the inner side of the wall, especially curtain walls.

For increased security, merlons with arrow holes built right in were a feature of some mediaeval castles. Arrow slits are said to have been invented by Archimedes during the siege of Syracuse in 214–212 BC, but it’s possible that they date much earlier. Moreover, the Normans were the ones who brought them back in the late 12th century, despite the fact that the Ancient Greeks and Romans employed them.

Arrow slits are protective, vertical, and extremely small on the outside. Inside, though, they broadened to give the crossbowman or archer as much shooting range as possible, both side to side and near the wall’s base. These were modified into cannoniers in later decades. Except for cannons, they are essentially the same thing.

6.Strongly Guarded Gatehouses

Any fortification’s natural weak spot is its gates, and the defenders’ task is to strengthen any such points as much as they can. They had some of the strongest defensive elements in the entire castle complex, although they were essentially just a hole in the wall. It’s also crucial to remember that these were gatehouses rather than just regular gates. These were multi-story structures with a walkway passing through them.

As an attacker, it was frequently difficult to approach the gatehouse, particularly when using a battering ram. You would have a deep ditch with a drawbridge or a moat filled with water, depending on the castle. As an alternative, you might encounter a route that curved sharply or steeply that led up to the gate, making using a battering ram challenging, if not impossible.

A better angle on the gate was provided by the two flanking towers that were standard on the majority of gatehouses. This made it possible for crossbowmen and archers to fire directly at the enemy near the gate. Tossing boulders down on the assailants, brattices—basically little machicolations—were also constructed directly above the gate.

Naturally, the gate itself was the primary component of a gatehouse. Usually built of wood, they had to be reasonably simple to open and close during times of peace. The defenders frequently employed horizontal and vertical layers of solid hardwood boards, as well as occasionally metal plate reinforcements, to fortify it.

Additionally, the majority of gatehouses had two or more portcullises. These are fast-dropping lattice grills made of wood or metal that securely lock into ground-level openings. The portcullises would be dropped shut, keeping the enemy soldiers within, if they were able to breach the gate and penetrate the interior corridor. Inside the gatehouse, there were frequently murder holes above and arrowslits on the side walls. These murder holes were used to dump boiling water or hot sand—rather than oil, which was typically rare and expensive—on the enemy who had been imprisoned.

5.Barbicans

Barbicans, also referred to as a “death trap” in the castle-building industry, provided an extra line of protection before the main gatehouse of the castle. Barbicans come in a variety of forms, but the most popular one was the shape of “the neck,” a little passageway with one or more auxiliary gates leading up to the main entrance. Archers and crossbowmen had an easy time picking off the charging enemy army that was funneled into this route as it surged towards the main gate.

Other barbican configurations were a walled semicircle in front of the moat and drawbridge, or a tower positioned above a bridge. Several barbicans could guard a castle’s main entrance. They were rendered obsolete by advances in artillery technology in the fifteenth and sixteenth century.

During the Ming and Qing eras, barbicans were also employed in Beijing, China, to guard the numerous gates leading to the capital city. Along with the majority of the ancient city’s defenses, they were destroyed in the 1960s to provide space for new highways, subways, and other urban improvements.

4.Gates Fit for an Elephant

For centuries, battering rams of all sizes and forms have been a reliable way to breach heavily guarded gates. They are still a priceless instrument that the military, police, and other special teams utilize today. Elephants were a wonderful and efficient battering ram in medieval India.

The defenders had to install thick spikes on the gates to make up for these formidable animals of war smashing through the main entrance. A steel plate protected the elephants’ foreheads, which they would use to rush at these gates in groups of one or more. Typically, the defenders would set up spikes about the height of an elephant’s forehead. In order to stop the elephant from running away and to make it a stationary target for the defenders atop the wall, some of these spikes would also have hooks attached to them.

3.Mazes

Japanese castles are built differently than those in Europe and other regions of the world because to their location in the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire.” Japanese castle keeps are mainly composed of wood and are perched upon a motte of massive boulders kept together by steep stone walls, rather than significantly depending on brick and mortar. The Japanese castle design is significantly more earthquake resistant than its European equivalent. Additionally, this design makes it easier to include mazes in the defense system.

Himeji Castle, the biggest in the nation, was constructed and enlarged during the Warring States Period in Japan. Its walls, which rise to a height of 85 feet, are among the highest in the nation and cover an enormous area of more than 576 acres. Its walls are particularly difficult to climb since they frequently flare out toward the top. His entire castle complex, transformed into a complex and extremely perplexing maze, is used as defense against surprise attacks, in addition to other features like several concentric moats, machicolations, or hidden rooms.

Its function was to guide enormous armies away from the castle’s main keep via frequently narrow, twisting, and steep routes. These will frequently split off, presenting assailants with tight tunnels, several sturdy iron gates, and dead ends. With towering fortifications on all sides, the defenders would constantly open fire on the advancing army. For better or worse, the labyrinth inside Himeji Castle was never tested, and its walls were never broken.

2.Trip steps and spiral staircases going clockwise

The architects and engineers of the Middle Ages had to make every possible advantage when constructing a castle’s defenses. Additionally, when constructing spiral stairs in some castles around Europe, the assailants’ tendency to wield weapons with their right hand was taken advantage of. There were occasions when the enemy would have to use a clockwise spiral stairwell to ascend turrets or the castle’s keep if they were able to break through.

The defenders who often fought down the stairs now had an advantage. Since most soldiers used their right hand to wield their weapons, the inner wall would frequently obstruct their arm when brandishing a sword. As a result, in order to utilize their weapons properly, attackers on the ascent had to expose themselves entirely.

Conversely, the attackers’ disadvantage of having to continually expose themselves, the staircase’s bottleneck, the defenders’ higher ground, and the inner wall’s partial shielding all worked in their favor.

In several medieval castles, such as the UK’s Berkeley and Hever castles, trip stairs were also a rather popular feature. A difference in depth between some of the steps makes them uneven in both situations. Furthermore, despite the appearance of shoddy workmanship, they were intentional.

The locals would eventually get used to these trip steps and would naturally modify their gait. On the other hand, the defenders had a tiny but potentially crucial advantage because the attackers were unprepared and frequently lost their balance, stumbled, or even fell in the heat of battle.

1.Covert Entrances and Exits

It was in the best interest of the nobles or local lords who lived in castles as their own dwelling in case of emergency. These are referred to as sally ports or postern gates. Away from the main gate, these are tiny, obscure entrances to the castle complex, barely big enough for a single man on horseback to pass through at a time. These gates were positioned so that opposing artillery could neither attack nor destroy them.

People could still enter and exit relatively undetected during a siege. This made it possible to send messengers out, bring in food and other supplies, and, in an emergency, even escape the castle. Additionally, they were employed to conduct small-scale attacks on the besiegers by obliterating their food supplies, striking solitary enemy force positions, or damaging siege equipment. Postern gates were not so much a secret as they were difficult to locate, as most castles possessed at least one.

But what was secret in certain castles were their secret passageways. Bran Castle in Romania is one place where a secret path can be found. In an emergency, it served as a link between the castle’s first and third floors. In fact, it was kept so hidden that it wasn’t rediscovered until 1920 when major renovations were being done.

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