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What is a castle?


This site is about "real" medieval castles, synonym for strongholds, in german Burg, in french Château fort and in dutch burcht. To be able to make out the real castles we need a good definition. The book "1000 jaar kastelen in Nederland" [1] gives a useful definition of a castle:
"A castle is a medieval building that combines defensive with domestic functions by providing a living space and a defence to a limited group of persons differing of a noble family with a few servants to a small court and a military garrison up to a maximum of approximately fifty persons. Essential hereby is that this group depends on a relation to one person or institution." Summarised, a real castle meets these criteria:
  • it is build in the middle ages (appr. 500-1500)
  • it provides a living space to a limited group of persons
  • it provides a defence to a limited group of persons
  • the group depends on a relation to one person or institution

City castles

A special case is the city castle. When is such a castle qualified as castle and when as an walled city? Sir Oman [2] gives a useful definition of a city castle:
"A castle is a military structure larger than a tower but smaller than a fortified town, it is residential but is also defensible in character. However complicated internally it must be a complete unit unto itself and not part of a town. A castle may exist inside a town but must be able to be cut off by the closing of a gate or the raising of a drawbridge." To be qualified as a castle, a city castle must have be able defend itself independable of the city and the city walls. Two famous examples of such a city castle are Caernarfon Castle and Château de Carcassonne.

Which castles do not qualify?


Some famous castles do not qualify as castle following the definition. In order to illustrate this four kinds of categories of castles that do not meet the definition can be defined:
  • Renaissance-, romantic- and new castles
  • Emperial, royal and noble palaces
  • Fortifications
  • Walled cities

Renaissance-, romantic- and new castles

After the invention of gun powder many castles lost their defensive function. New castles where build with the emphasis on comfort and splendour. These renaissance castles often have the groundplan of a rectangular castle but the structure is not based on defense. In fact they are comfortable mansions or palaces that derive their powerful presentation from their castlelike appearance. Examples of such renaissance castles are:
  • Château de Chambord (France)
  • Château de Chenonceaux (France)
  • Château de d'Ussé (France)
Romantic castles are build in the 19th century and reflect a nostalgic longing to an idealised image of the medieval court life. Examples of such romantic castles are:
  • Schloß Neuschwanstein (Germany)
  • Schloß Liechtenstein (Germany)
  • Balmoral Castle (Scotland)
  • Palace of William II in Tilburg (the Netherlands)
The twentieth century, with its more realistic view on medieval court life and castle building, has produced some fine reconstructions of medieval castles like:
  • Castle of Almere (Netherlands)
  • Emperial, royal and noble palaces

    The emperors of the holy roman empire but also kings and other noblemen build palaces ("Pfalzen") that had residential, adminstrative or representative function, but did not have a defensive function.

    • The Ridderzaal of the Binnenhof in the Hague (Netherlands)
    • Pfalz Goslar (Germany)
    • Westminster Hall (England)


    Forts and bastions are in fact defensive outposts of a city or an area. They are build mainly after the middle ages and are not inhabited like a castle.

    • St. Mawes Castle (England)
    • Pendennis Castle (England)
    • Agra Fort (India)
    • Lal Qilah (Rode Fort, India)

    Walled cities

    Walled cities include city gates, watch towers and fortified bridges.

    • Citadel of Caire (Egypt)
    • Mont Saint Michel (Franc)
    • The city walls of Constantinopel (Istanbul, Turkey)



    • [1] Janssen, H.L. e.a., "1000 jaar kastelen in Nederland", Utrecht, 1996
    • [2] Oman, C., Sir, "Castles", New York, 1978


    [3] and [4] discuss the definition of a castle:

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