Castles: The Medieval Fortress

Medieval castles were built to be much more than a mere home for a family. Rather, they 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. While some security features are pretty self-explanatory like a moat, some have purposes that are less than obvious. Regardless, medieval castles are the original security system, before we had all this fancy new electricity.

This article, which sources information from an article on Exploring Castles, goes over the parts of a castle that were used to protect the family that lived in it. Let’s get started!

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Castle Security Features


We can’t all be Meghan Markle and live in a castle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about one!

  • 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”, small balconies built high on the outer castle walls. The balconies had holes in the floors, through which defenders threw rocks and stones on attackers, along with boiling water and even animal dung, in some cases.
  • The Moat: The moat was the body of water surrounding the castle that kept people from crossing and entering the fortress. The moat also prevented intruders from digging tunnels under the castle walls to enter, since any tunnels dug would likely fill with water pretty quickly.
  • 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. It 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, built 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.

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  • Turrets and Towers: Castle turrets and towers were built to provide lookout points to see oncoming attackers before they arrived. While turrets were very tall,  towers were circular in shape. The absence of corners made it easier to see in all directions.
  • 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.

Recap of Castles: The Medieval Fortress

Compared to what we have today, castles seem a lot more formidable. Of course, they also had more to lose than the average homeowner. Fortunately for the history-lover or the security buff, there are many castles around the world available for touring, often with the security features mentioned above. If you have anymore questions about castles, please leave a comment below.

Gabe Turner

Gabe Turner

Gabe Turner is an attorney and journalist with a passion for home tech and secure, efficient living. Since graduating from NYU Law, he has maintained a paradoxical existence of trying to live life adventurously while remaining staunchly risk-averse. He is torn by the dual desires of wanting to only be in Brooklyn writing about housing policy and smart home tech and aspiring to visit his friends scattered across the globe. Gabe believes that stable, safe communities are the cornerstone to a vibrant and healthy society, and it is this passion that brought him to contribute to Security Baron.

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