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castle, type of fortified dwelling characteristic of the Middle Ages. Fortification of towns had been in practice since antiquity, but in the 9th cent. feudal lords began to develop the private fortress-residence known as the castle. It served the twofold function of residence and fortress because of the conditions of medieval life, in which war was endemic. The site of the castle was preferably on a defensible height. England and France, in general, did not afford such inaccessible locations as did the Rhine valley in Germany.

The Early Castle

The castle of W Europe was a Norman creation, an outgrowth of the 10th- and 11th-century mound castle, which consisted of a great artificial mound of earth, the motte, surrounded by a dry ditch, or fosse, and surmounted by a wooden blockhouse and its encircling palisade. Until well into the 12th cent., the only English development was the occasional substitution of a massive masonry keep inside the palisade—a form typified in the Tower of London. As siegecraft (see siege) was evolved, provisions were made for an aggressive defense.

A castle that became the model for many English and Norman castles was the formidable castle built at Arques in Normandy by Henry I of England. A square donjon, or keep, was set against the strong outer walls of masonry; the entrance was protected by a double gate, two flanking round towers, and advanced earthworks. The place enclosed by the outer circuit of walls was usually divided into two courts, or baileys, by a palisade. Subterranean passages made detection of underground forays easy.

The Fully Developed Castle

In the Middle East the Crusaders developed great castles with double circuits of curving outer walls and towers or turrets to overlook all sections of the wall. The form of these castles had an influence throughout the Continent and the British Isles. Thus early in the 13th cent. the medieval castle, a mixture of Norman, English, and Byzantine elements, reached its full flower, as typified in the Château Gaillard on the Seine in France and in Alnwick and the Conisborough in England.

In general, the castle was planned for security; the living quarters were rude, poorly lighted, and without provisions for comfort. Typically, the keep contained the living quarters of the lord and his family, the rooms of state, and the prison cells. Two independent systems of walls, each a fortress in itself, extended around the keep; the sections of the walls were flanked by towers, usually round, and the principal entrance was protected by strong gate towers, the massive gateway, with its portcullis and drawbridge, and the barbican, or advanced outwork. The defenders operated from galleries at the tops of walls and from the flat roofs of towers, whose battlements were provided with recesses with flaring sides, called embrasures, and openings, or machicolations, for shooting and dropping missiles on the attackers. The fully developed castle was thus marked by successive series of defenses; the fall of the outer works did not necessarily mean the loss of the entire castle.

With the use of gunpowder and consequent perfection of artillery, the castle lost its military importance. The manor house replaced the castle as the residence of the wealthy landowner, but the architectural influence of the castle has persisted even to the present day, when crenelations and towers are still found in country houses and some urban structures.

See château.


See S. Toy, History of Fortification from 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1700 (1955); W. D. Simpson, Castles in Britain (1966); A. Weissmüller, Castles from the Heart of Spain (1967); W. Anderson, Castles of Europe from Charlemagne to the Renaissance (1971); P. Warner, The Medieval Castle (1972).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


A stronghold, building, or group of buildings intended primarily to serve as a fortified post; a fortified residence of a nobleman.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a fortified residence of a feudal lord, usually built in a well-protected area (for example, surrounded by water or in the mountains). Access to the donjon (known as the keshk in Middle Asia), the main tower which housed the living quarters and served as the last stronghold of defense, was made difficult by palisades, ramparts, moats, and, later, massive turreted walls. Eventually the walls were surrounded by ramparts and moats over which drawbridges were built.

Castles have been preserved in Middle Asia (fifth to eighth century), Armenia (fifth to seventh century), Jordan (eighth century), France (ninth to 11th century), Spain (11th to 14th century), Germany (12th and 13th centuries), and other European countries. The castles’ thick blank walls designed for passive defense create an air of severity. The rectangular plans of these castles, as well as their structural and design features, combine local, Hellenistic, and ancient Roman traditions of defensive architecture in varying proportions. With the transition to active defense, machicoloations for high angle fire were built into the walls and towers (for example, in the 11th- and 12th-century castles of the Crusaders in Syria and Palestine). The lines of the walls pierced by these firing slots lost their regularity and followed the relief of the sur-rounding area. Castles became increasingly picturesque with their expressive three-dimensionality, and they began to blend in with the landscape.

Gradually, castles comprised a complex of buildings for defensive, housing, religious, and service purposes; they formed completely self-sufficient units. Examples are the Coucy Castle in France (13th century), the Harlech Castle in Wales (13th century), and the castle in the Mir settlement in Byelorussia (16th century). With the development of artillery, the castle no longer was important as a fortress, becoming more like a palace in composition. The features of castle architecture were preserved, but the trim of the towers and the jagged walls with their embrasures became decorative (for example, the Chateau de Pierrefonds in France, 1390–1420). Castles were ultimately replaced by urban and rural palace-park complexes.


Vseobshchaia istoriia architektury, vol. 4. Leningrad-Moscow, 1966. Pages 101–105, 397–401.
Fedden, R., and J. Thomson. Crusaders’ Castles. London, 1957.
Tuulse, A. Burgen des Abendlandes. Vienna-Munich, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about a castle?

As a house of royalty, a castle may show reward or honor bestowed to the dreamer in the form of recognition and praise for outstanding achievements. Alternatively, a castle may carry the same connotations as a fort, in which one defends oneself or walls oneself off from others.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


A stronghold; a building or group of buildings intended primarily to serve as a fortified post; a fortified residence of a prince or nobleman. Also see concentric castle.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A castle in a dream may be symbolic of the “cavern of the heart.” It represents the home of the human spirit (yours) and the natural self. Dreams with castles in them may come from deeper levels of the unconscious, or the collective unconscious. They may represent spiritual transcendence and the mysterious and intangible force that seems to quietly, but firmly, direct our lives. A castle in a dream may also represent feelings of security, protection, isolation or remoteness. You may have a castle dream when you have realized a desire or accomplished a goal. Darkened castles may be symbolic of unconscious or unfocused desires; at times, black castles represent our failures and white, or lighted castles, symbolize achievement and awareness.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
References in classic literature ?
All day the people went about the castle with troubled faces, and communed together in undertones.
We returned to Necharsteinach, plunged our hot heads into the trough at the town pump, and then went to the hotel and ate our trout dinner in leisurely comfort, in the garden, with the beautiful Neckar flowing at our feet, the quaint Dilsberg looming beyond, and the graceful towers and battlements of a couple of medieval castles
As he spoke, a sudden shouting broke forth in the castle, with the scream of a woman and the rush of many feet.
Three servants of the castle lay dead beside them, all torn and draggled, as though a pack of wolves had been upon them.
I remarked upon the barren result of my efforts with the girl; hadn't got hold of a single point that could help me to find the castle. The youth looked a little surprised, or puzzled, or something, and intimated that he had been wondering to himself what I had wanted to ask the girl all those questions for.
"Why, great guns," I said, "don't I want to find the castle? And how else would I go about it?"
The attendants remained as mute to this address as to the former, and they now stood before the gate of the castle. De Bracy winded his horn three times, and the archers and cross-bow men, who had manned the wall upon seeing their approach, hastened to lower the drawbridge, and admit them.
The domestics, after being carefully searched and disarmed, were confined in another part of the castle; and Rowena was refused even the comfort she might have derived from the attendance of her handmaiden Elgitha.
So, as Norman of Torn rode down from his mighty castle to visit Father Claude, the sunlight playing on his clanking armor and glancing from the copper boss of his shield, the sight of a little group of woodmen kneeling uncovered by the roadside as he passed was not so remarkable after all.
No woman graced the castle of Torn nor had the boy, within his memory, ever known a mother.
Now that they were reunited, Dorothy and her friends spent a few happy days at the Yellow Castle, where they found everything they needed to make them comfortable.
"What is this I hear about your castle's becoming a nest and harbor for outlaws?"