Medieval castles were built to be much more than a mere home for a family. These castles were fortresses designed to protect the inhabitants from enemies. Medieval castles were built with huge stone walls, towers, moats, and other features designed to offer maximum protection. Security features are easy to understand in some cases, while others are more unique with less obvious purposes. Medieval castles may have been one of the first security systems, built during an age when lords and ladies couldn’t just touch a button on an alarm panel to call for help.
Outer Curtain Wall: The curtain wall was the outermost line of defense for a medieval castle. Made out of a huge stone core and surrounded by rubble, the curtain wall was tall enough and strong enough to withstand projectiles and battering rams.
Machicolations: Castle machicolations were also sometimes known as “murder holes.” These defense features were small balconies built high on the outer castle walls. The balconies had holes in the floors, through which defenders could throw objects down onto attackers below. Sometimes, rocks or heavy stones were thrown, but defenders might also have hurled other things, such as boiling water or even animal dung.
The Moat: The moat was the body of water surrounding the castle, serving as a barrier to keep people from crossing and entering the fortress. The moat also prevented would-be intruders from digging tunnels under the castle walls to enter, since any tunnels dug would likely quickly fill with water.
The Drawbridge: The drawbridge spanned the moat, providing access to the castle. To protect a castle under siege, the occupants would raise the drawbridge to prevent attackers from crossing over the moat. A drawbridge could be as simple as a wooden plank, or it might have been an intricate system with counterweights.
The Main Gate: The main gate usually served as a death trap for intruders. The main gate would lead into an outer courtyard with another gate at the opposite end. After they entered the courtyard through the outer main gate, an iron portcullis would lower to trap attackers. The wall surrounding the courtyard would have small holes through which archers would fire arrows at intruders.
The Barbican: The barbican was an extension built onto the gatehouse that housed the main gate. The barbican featured a series of traps, machicolations, and arrow slits, to slow down intruders. Intruders were forced to navigate a barbican via a narrow path that had a number of sharp turns. The sharp turns were part of the design to give archers a series of vantage points to shoot the intruders.
Turrets and Towers: Castle turrets and towers were built to provide lookout points to see oncoming attackers before they arrived. Turrets were very tall, and the towers were circular in shape. The absence of corners made it easier to see in all directions, and the circular towers were more difficult to bring down.
Secret Passageways: Secret passageways were common in medieval castles. Some passageways provided castle inhabitants with a means of escaping the castle via underground tunnels. The passageways also made it possible to get supplies into the castle. Secret passageways also provided access to secret chambers for hiding or accessing supplies.
Concentric Circles of Defense: These circles of defense were actually a series of obstacles that originated outside the castle walls. As intruders progressed into a castle, they would encounter a series of obstacles that they would have to overcome to keep moving in toward the center of the castle. Each obstacle presented dangers, and intruders would need to take time and expend energy making their way through them to keep going.
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