What is Castle?

Meaning and Definition of Castle

For many centuries, castles offered protection and housing for kings, nobility, and sometimes common people. The fortifications, or military defences, built on the castle , were separate from the palace.

In general, a palace is a large dwelling for a king or nobleman . Most castles in Europe were built between the 7th and 15th centuries, during the period known as the Middle Ages . But castles were also built in North Africa, Western Asia, India and Japan.

Types of Castles


Among the earliest types of castle was one that was built on a hill and had an internal open-air courtyard. The castle tower, protected by a wall and usually made of wood, was at the top of the hill. Below was an area with other buildings, surrounded by the same wall that stretched out to protect the tower on the hill.

The buildings in the courtyard were the workshops and the stables . A ditch called a moat surrounded the hill, protecting it, and sometimes also surrounded the wall.


At the end of the 13th century, a new castle project began to gain ground: the concentric castle. Its walls formed a square and were occupied by round towers, distributed at regular intervals. Inside, there was another wall, with larger towers.

This main wall also contained the main gate, which housed the so-called guardhouse. The lodgings and other buildings were in the space delimited by the inner wall. The fortress has ceased to exist, since the towers of the inner and outer walls were enough for the defense of the castle.

Characteristics of a Castle

Over time, the castles became more and more resistant. In the early 12th century, builders began to use more and more stone instead of wood. A typical stone castle was surrounded by a moat.

The most important walls in most castles were very thick, sometimes more than 4.6 meters. Special defense mechanisms blocked the entrance. A drawbridge placed over the ditch could be suspended to cover and protect the front door.

In front of the latter was a thick iron grille that descended from an incision carved in the stone and could be quickly placed. Further inside was a large door.

Inside the wall was a structure called a fortress or keep. It replaced the tower of the first castles, which used to stand on the hill. It was the largest and safest part of the castle. Some fortresses consisted of one tall building.

Others were in the form of a high wall that housed several buildings. In early stone castles , the fortress had everything it needed to withstand a prolonged siege. During the siege, the enemies camped outside and did not allow anyone to enter or leave.

However, in castles built later, for security reasons, the fortress became a place to seek refuge after all other defenses had failed.

Decline of the Castles

Castles lost their usefulness at the end of the Middle Ages. The large firearms that had been developed at the time could launch cannonballs over or through castle walls.

About 1,500 fortresses on the borders of royal domains replaced castles as military defenses, and sovereigns began to live in palaces or mansions . Some castles still remain today and are popular tourist attractions.

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