Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Castle Architecture

Castles have long held the imagination of the Western world because their association with Medieval times and royalty. Strictly by definition, a castle is a defensive structure. The name is derived from the Latin word 'castellum', which means fortress. Castles were places of retreat, usually heavily defended, with drawbridges, battlements and crenellations (the characteristic toothlike design with openings alternated with solid parts, which enabled the discharge of arrows and such), and a portcullis (a large, grill-like gate).

Tower of London, England. A close up of the battlements - the openings cut out of the parapet to allow for shooting arrows. This is a defining architectural feature of castles.

Castles were built for, or evolved into, the residence for the monarch or for nobility. As such, castles were often a central place to entertain, and the architectural grandeur increased in importance to reflect the position of the main inhabitant of the castle. With the invention of gunpowder, and the resulting changes in military strategy, the use of the castle moved from defense more to residence. This transition began in the 14th century, and was fully underway by the 15th century.

One of the most famous castles in England, residence of the Queen of England, Windsor Castle. It is the largest occupied castle in the world, and is over 900 years old.

Leeds Castle in Kent, England. Picture by Gauis Caecilius, flickr.

Tower of London - fulfilled the classic and historical functions of a castle.

From the late 18th century through the 20th century, there was a revival in interest in Medieval times and Gothic Revival architecture. The castle was reinvented purely as a grand country home. These castles had no defensive purposes, but had stylistic elements of castles (called castellation) such as towers, crenellations, and battlements. These mock-castles were particularly popular on the British Isles.

Castle Neuschwanstein, perhaps the most famous 19th century neo-romantic castle in world, in part because it is the model for the Disney castle.

Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire, England. Constructed in 1810.

Trinity College, Cambridge, England. Note the crenellation above the door.

St. Mary's Church in Ontario, Canada, has castlellation, as seen in the towers and battlements.

Thunder Bay, Canada

America has its share of castles too. There is the self-proclaimed 'America's castle', the Hearst Castle, in California.

In recent days, a Malibu landmark, the historic Castle Kashan, has been in the news. This modern day castle was burned to the ground this week as a result of the raging California wildfires. The owner was philisophical about the loss, and said that she was always taught not to let her possessions possess her. She was able to save much of the vast collection of Elvis memorbilia that was housed in the castle, however.

Castle Kashan burned to the ground this week.

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  1. Always enjoy visiting your bloggy home - invariably, your posts are thoughtful and informative, and they reflect your keen eye (loved your "details" post and look forward to part deux). I don't think I've ever seen an aerial shot of Windsor Castle before. Unfathomable. But there it is.

    The CA fires. Heartbreaking.

  2. I heard about the loss of Castle Kashan. The California fires are devastating.

    There was once a castle near Lake of the Ozarks, here in Missouri. It has quite a story. It too, burned. The ruins have been preserved and now belong to the Department of Natural Resources. We've taken walks there, many times. It has an eerie presense. Seems there were several tragic incidents surrounding this particular castle.


  3. Yes, Castle Kashan was what inspired this post. I had never heard of it, but it has become a symbol of the destruction of these fires.

    The castle in Missouri sounds interesting.

  4. The CA fires are horrifying. Actually, I can't remember hearing of forest fires all at once that have been so devestating.

    On another note, thanks for visiting my blog and I'm glad you like my post on door knockers. I tend to agree with you that simple is best, but think the photos I've put up would go very well on your castles!!

  5. I love castles. Such a romance about them. Great information here, as usual!

    Thank you!


  6. How informative, I was not aware of the history of castles as residences. I've been the Neuschwanstein castle and I must say it is pretty incredible, no wonder Disney wanted to emulate it!

  7. Fascinating information. I did not realize that the later built ones were for design purposes only. Castles as residences always seemed a little too draughty for my taste...!

  8. Apart from the devastating fires, this post seems so well-timed Sarah, just in terms of style, with the release of Elizabeth (the movie) and all the tartan mania :)

  9. Beautiful castles~~I love all of them! Thank you for sharing~!!!


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