The first castles in Europe were built in France, east of the Loire River, in the 10th century. They were made of wood and often consisted of a mound (or ‘Motte’), on which could be built one or more towers, circled by a deep ditch and culminating in a high earthen bank (or ‘Bailey’).Motte and Bailey castles were often sited on the highest points in the landscape to allow soldiers to see the enemy at a distance. Over time the area within the Bailey grew to provide space for soldiers, residents and local people, this protection was often crucial in a Europe where feudal rights were hotly disputed by rival families; where landless knights frequently roamed the country in search of booty; and where powerful rulers sought to enlarge their lands.

The major development in castle and fortification architecture in Europe during this period resulted from technological advances developed during the crusades1. The first important change was the switch from wooden to stone structures. The successful first crusade led to a spate of castle building within the newly-founded crusader states and largely because of the shortage of timber in the vicinity, stone became the primary building material. It was recognised almost immediately as a preferable material to wood as it was extremely durable and could not be damaged by fire. Stone castles quickly appeared in Europe, but their inhabitants did not experience the advantage for long as advances in weaponry also arrived from the east, including the siege tower, a huge structure which could be wheeled alongside a castle to make entry or bombardment easier, and ‘Greek Fire’, an incendiary mixture which spontaneously combusted and could not be extinguished by water.

To deter the digging of mines beneath stone walls and towers led to the addition of much deeper moats to protect the central structures, and traditional square towers (or ‘Donjons’) were soon abandoned in favour of round ones which were harder to scale and provided panoramic views of the surrounding area. The wooden drawbridge, which could be raised against invaders, and the Portcullis, a metal grille which could by lowered to seal off the inner precinct, could be found in most castles, as could Crencellations, which protected archers and crossbowmen, and Machicolations, which allowed soldiers to drop things on the enemy below. Concentric castles with a central compound ringed by a series of ditches and walls were also used and during the 13th century, castles began to be sited at the edge of a high peak with a sheer drop and all the defence structures, like a Gatehouse, at the front. Such complex castles were a far cry from the crusader structures of the 10th and early 11th centuries.

The inhabitants of a medieval castle included the Knights and soldiers from the household army, servants and the resident family. Surrounded by high walls and guard towers, the residential complex included kitchens, storage areas, living quarters, a chapel and the great hall, a large space for feasting and other entertainments. The open central courtyard was filled with animals, servants and visitors, while the surrounding fields within the outer walls were often used for training and tournaments to maintain the fitness of the household knights.

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