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Some features of medieval castles
Some features of medieval castles

When it comes to medieval castles, the first association is usually a huge majestic structure with high walls, a moat around the perimeter, knights guarding it, and, of course, noble ladies and gentlemen in high towers. But in real life, the castle itself and living in it turned out to be not so carefree and fabulous, and most of the beliefs in fact are just a beautiful illusion about the old days. Here are some facts about medieval castles that are destroying myths that have existed for decades.

1. The term "castle" is applied to fewer structures than is usually done

Not everything is a castle that is a beautiful large-scale structure

Today it is quite easy to trace a widespread trend: the word "castle" today is preferred to be applied to, in fact, any imposing residential building of the Middle Ages, where at least supposedly lived a feudal lord. That is, now the castle is called not only full-fledged fortresses, but also palaces, and even any large estates.

19th century castle - a vivid example of neo-Gothic, or stylization of the Middle Ages

In reality, the term "castle" should only designate a structure that fits the characteristics of "fortification".

And inside there is usually a number of buildings for various purposes, which, in fact, constitute the infrastructure of a settlement hidden behind the walls. However, the main function of the castle has always been defensive. Therefore, for example, it would not be correct to call the legendary romantic palace of Ludwig II - Neuschwanstein as a castle.

2. The main factor that ensures the defenses of the castle is the location, and not the structure of the structure itself

The correct location is the key to the defense of the castle

Many people think that medieval castles and fortresses were difficult to take even by siege precisely because of their cunning construction plan.

The only real guarantee of the defensive power of this structure was the choice of the correct place where it would be located. Of course, a lot of attention was paid to the planning of the fortification, because it is also an important aspect for the defense of the castle. However, the truly impregnable castles did not become due to the thickness of the walls and the location of the loopholes, but a well-chosen place for its construction.

An elevated castle - the norm for the Middle Ages

The most acceptable for the construction of the structure was a steep high hill, as well as a steep slope or a rock, to which it is almost impossible to get close, in principle, and without fortification.

In addition, the winding road to the castle was an excellent option, as it can be easily shot from the castle. It was the presence of these criteria in most cases that determined the outcome of medieval battles, and to a much greater extent than others.

3. The gate, as the most vulnerable part of the castle, was designed in a special way

Castle gates are too invulnerable not to pay attention to their design

In the examples of modern cinema, the plot of which unfolds in medieval times, you can often see locks with wide gates, closing on large swing doors made of sturdy wood with a powerful bolt.

But in real castles of the second millennium AD, the central entrance, which the gates to the fortress are, were designed on the basis of special calculations.

Such a gate in a medieval castle would bring a lot of problems

The fact is that the gates were indeed the most unprotected place in the castle's defense system - after all, it is much easier to break them and break through than to try to destroy the wall or climb over it.

That is why the central entrance was calculated taking into account two conditions: it must be such that a wagon or cart could freely enter it, but at the same time hordes of soldiers from the enemy army could not squeeze through.

In addition, just the large wooden gates, which are often shown in historical films and TV series, did not have medieval castles, because they were simply impractical in terms of defense.

4. The inner walls of the castle were painted in bright colors

Everything was not as dim and gray as it has come down to our days

Most of us are sure that medieval castles, like the era itself, which the thinkers of the Renaissance call "dark times", were just as gloomy and gray, or at most brown.

However, in reality, everything was much more rosy, and in the literal sense of the word. The fact is that medieval people just loved bright colors, and therefore they often decorated the interior of their homes, and the walls of castles in this sense were no exception. But most of us do not know about this precisely because the paints have simply not survived to our time.

The bright interiors of medieval castles have survived in some places, but more often only gray walls remained

Fun fact:and a similar trend continued in relation to antique sculptures. It seems amazing, and even strange, but the famous Greek and Roman images of gods or people in marble were painted in the brightest shades: this has long been proven by historians and archaeologists, who were even able to partially recreate the original appearance of works of art using computer graphics.

But all this riot of colors did not reach us either, and therefore in our view, as in the cinema, antique sculptures are presented exclusively in white.

5. Large windows were practically absent in medieval castles

Windows in castles in the Middle Ages were lacking for a reason

From the same movie or TV series, many of us remember the scenes where the huge halls of medieval castles are illuminated by daylight through the impressive, almost panoramic, windows. Or some nobleman is woken up by pushing heavy curtains over large-scale frames. But in real life, such pretty scenes often simply could not exist.

In the French fortress of Carcassonne from the windows - one name

The thing is that the medieval castle did not have windows as such at all - they were most often replaced by numerous small window "slits" that were made in the castle walls. Such narrow window openings were not only a defensive function, but were also designed to protect the privacy of the inhabitants of the castle.

The large windows of the castle give out the later period of its construction

It is interesting: In fairness, it is worth clarifying that in some of the palaces you can still find luxurious panoramic windows, however, with a high degree of probability, they were built in a later era, such as the Roctailiad castle in the south of France.

6. Medieval castles are full of secret passages and dungeons

There were no medieval castles without secret passages and cellars

Perhaps this is one of those widespread opinions about medieval castles, which is true. After all, many of us have read or seen in films and TV series how characters, fleeing a chase or simply wanting to remain unnoticed, prefer to move along secret corridors or go down into dungeons hidden from the eyes of ordinary people.

The dungeons of the Swiss castle have long been overgrown with dark legends

The trend towards designing hidden passages in castles from the Middle Ages was indeed, and quite common.

The main reason for their appearance was, of course, the desire to have, just in case, the opportunity to sneak away from the enemy along secret corridors. In addition, the so-called posterns were actively created - that is, underground passages that led to different parts or structures of the fortress, as well as beyond.

Alas, secret passages can become the Achilles heel of the castle

However, these same secret corridors and dungeons with many castles played a cruel joke: if during hostilities or a state of siege there is a traitor inside the structure who knows about the existence of hidden labyrinths, then it will not be difficult for him to open this path to the enemy army. This is exactly what happened in 1645 during the siege of the castle of Corfe.

7. The assault on a medieval castle could take years

Not everything is so colorful in the siege of a medieval fortress, as is usually shown

In most episodes of various films and TV series, the process of taking the castle by storm takes just a couple of hours. Of course, the main reason for such a transience is the limited timing, but many people think that the assault in reality took place quickly. However, in reality, everything was not so simple, and most importantly, not so fast.

Fragment of a medieval miniature about the siege of Antioch from "Excerpts from d'Autremer" by Sebastian Mamero

Historical sources impartially assert that the siege of the castle in the Middle Ages was one of the main forms of hostilities, so each of them was developed especially carefully.

In particular, accurate calculations were made on the ratio of the trebuchet, that is, the throwing machine and the thickness of the walls of the fortress, which they are going to take. After all, in order to break through the defenses of the castle, the trebuchet needed at least several days, and most often several weeks.

A depiction of a trebuchet in a medieval engraving

Therefore, the actual siege often lasted for months or even years. So, for example, the siege of the castle of Harlech by the future king Henry V lasted almost a year, and the aforementioned capture of the castle of Corfe lasted for three.

Moreover, in the first case, the reason for the fall of the besieged fortress was the end of food supplies, and in the second - betrayal. But such a mechanism for taking the castle as a massive attack was practically not used, because it was simply impractical, therefore it was used only in extreme cases.

8. In any medieval castle there was always a well

Meersburg castle well, 14th century

The fact is that hunger and thirst were the main danger for the inhabitants of the castle during the siege - especially since this option of "military action" was the least risky for both sides of the conflict.

That is why there was enough food in the fortress, as well as the conditions for its storage. However, almost the main thing for survival in a siege was the presence of a constant source of water.

High Middle Ages Harburg Castle Well

That is why the place for the construction of the castle itself was chosen not only for reasons of defense and convenience for fortification, but also where it is possible to dig a deep well.

In addition, they were always strengthened as much as possible and were taken care of literally like the apple of an eye. However, in fairness, it should be clarified that wells were not the only source of water in medieval castles: local residents also installed special containers in which they collected and stored rainwater.

9. The defense of the castle was able to provide a small number of people

It is hard to believe that the vast territory of a medieval fortress could have been defended without thousands of soldiers

Many of us are convinced that to maintain a medieval castle in peacetime, as well as to ensure defense in conditions of hostilities or sieges, a huge number of people are needed - from ordinary residents to detachments of soldiers and knights. But in real life everything was, in fact, exactly the opposite.

It took much more people to capture the fortress than to defend it

In fact, the medieval castle, as a fortification, was originally built just in such a way that its defense could be carried out by small forces. In addition, during a siege, a large number of people would only empty out the stocks of provisions faster, which in such conditions is quite difficult to replenish.

The huge castle Harlech was defended by less than fifty people for almost a year

A striking example of the long-term defense of the fortress by a small number of people is the siege of the Harlech castle, which lasted almost a whole year, and this despite the fact that its garrison consisted of only 36 people, and an army of several thousand soldiers stood under the walls of the structure.

10. Spiral staircases in a medieval castle - part of the defensive system

Even the spiral staircase in the castle was designed in a special way

Perhaps many of us have noticed that most medieval fortresses had spiral staircases. Moreover, an attentive person will certainly notice that in any castle their steps are twisted exclusively clockwise. However, medievalist researchers - historians who study the Middle Ages - unequivocally argue that this tendency has a clear function, moreover, a defensive one.

The spiral staircase of a medieval castle is a big problem for its invader

The thing is that such an architectural feature of medieval fortifications was used in the literal sense of the word to detain opponents who had potentially already penetrated into the castle's territory.

On a clockwise staircase, a right-handed swordsman will have a lot of difficulty moving around. By the way, for the same purpose, spiral staircases often acquired steps of different sizes.

eleven.There were hygiene problems in medieval castles

In spite of everything, there was hygiene in the Middle Ages, but it cannot be called sufficient

The problems with cleanliness and hygiene in the Middle Ages have long been legendary, and some of them have nothing to do with reality. However, when it comes to castles and fortresses, historians can give a very unambiguous answer: problems with waste, dirt and unpleasant odors were part of the everyday life of the people of that period.

The latrines in medieval castles were small, uncomfortable and smelly

So, for example, one of the main problems was a serious shortage of toilets, which, in essence, were a small room protruding on the wall with a ditch or ditch below.

Of course, there is no question of any kind of waste disposal, like garbage. In addition, there were no carpets on the floor - they were replaced with herbs, which at least partially interrupted the fetid odor, and also diluted the general oppressive atmosphere. Even dust and dirt were not removed everywhere - in the corners it accumulated over the years and the feeling of cleanliness and freshness was not added to the room.

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