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Castles & knights

Story of castles

A ruined castleA ruined castle Castles are found in different parts of the world; today, many lie in ruins. Most castles were built hundreds of years ago by rich and powerful people, such as kings or wealthy landowners, to defend and control the land around them. In Europe, the earliest castles, called motte-and-bailey castles, were wooden forts built on the top of a hill. These were soon replaced by castles with stone walls. 

Motte-and-bailey castles

The first motte-and-bailey castles were built from around AD 992. When a baron was granted land by the king, he quickly built a castle on it to defend his new territory from attack. The quickest and easiest way was to build a castle out of earth and wood. Motte-and-bailey castles were the result. A motte-and-bailey castleA motte-and-bailey castleWooden towers were built on top of large mounds of earth called “mottes”. The mounds varied in height from 3 to 30 metres (10–100 feet) in height and from 30 to 100 metres (100–330 feet) in diameter. If there was no natural hill, one had to be built. Hundreds of local men were forced into digging earth and hauling timber.

The tower was surrounded by a high fence, called a palisade, which was plastered so that it looked as if it were made of stone. The lord, his family and his guards lived in the tower. At the base of the motte was the bailey. This open space was protected by a second palisade and a surrounding ditch. It could be used to house people and their livestock in times of war. Inside the bailey were a hall, chapel, grain store and stables. A timber drawbridge linked the motte to the bailey.

Krak des Chevaliers in Syria was originally an Muslim fortress. It fell into the hands of the Knights Hospitaller, an order of Crusader knights. During the 1200s they converted it into a concentric castle by adding an outer curtain wall. King Edward I of England used it as a model for his own castle builders to follow in the 1280s.

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