Fortresses, Castles and Palaces
Whether ruined or restored, tourist attraction or still occupied, fortifications, castles and palaces are amongst our most favourite places to visit. Whether when we are at home or while we are travelling. At once these extraordinary places play to both our fascination with and fantasies about our pasts. Visitors flock in their millions to the Palace of Versailles just outside of Paris because of its history of excess and extravagance. Romania’s Bran Castle, ‘Dracula’s Castle’, is relatively just as popular, not because of history but rather literary fantasy. These are the stories, factual and fictional, that inform our interests with these buildings wherever we encounter them.
A 20th century reconstruction of Huijeongdang Hall in Changdeokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea. Initially the hall was the king’s bed chamber until it was deemed to small. The original was destroyed by fire in 1917.
Maiden Castle near Dorchester in England is not a castle. Rather, it is an Iron Age hill fort. Palais Gallien in the French city of Bordeaux is not a palace. These are in fact the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. Examples like these, and there are many other similar misnomers, raise a number of questions. What is a castle? What is the difference between a castle and a palace? Is a castle the same as a French château or a German schloss? What about forts and fortresses?
Despite considerable architectural variation as well as differences in terminology through time and in difference parts of the world, there are some basic definitions we can apply. Of course there are exceptions. Generally, however, castles are fortified structures that were the private residences of lords or noblemen. They are therefore distinct from palaces that are usually not fortified and tend to be royal residences. Romania’s Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest is neither fortified nor has it ever been used as a royal residence.
Although a castle is generally fortified, it is not the same thing as a fort or a fortress. Forts are fortified, defensive structures in which soldiers are stationed tat are built to be defended from attack. Forts are not always permanent. Fortresses on the other hand, tend to be permanent fortified places of security and as such can include towns, forts or castles. A castle surrounded by a town, which in turn is surrounded by walls is a fortified settlement. Carcassonne in France is perhaps one of the most well known examples in France.
Mont Saint Michel, also in France, is often on lists of must see castles in France. Sometimes with the caveat that it is “not technically a castle”. It is not a castle. Briefly, the main feature of the tidal island is an abbey surrounded by a monastic community. Defensive walls were built around the tidal island during the 100 Year’s War making it a fortified settlement. A pretty remarkable one at that.
Neither a replica of a historic castle in Europe, nor a reconstruction of one. Guédelon Castle is a project that brings together a wide range of expertise to build a castle using medieval methods and techniques. In 1998 construction of this castle started in a disused quarry in rural France. Thousands of people come each year to watch the progress. Not only the building of the castle itself, but also the other related crafts. Such as baskets for carrying ceramic tiles, the firing of those tiles. A must for castle lovers.
Visiting Guédelon Castle in 2021 >>