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Castles of Greece

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Castle Terminology

Terms and names that are used in this site and about castles in general


 Castle features

  • The Towers

    These tall, round or square structures were built into the length or corners of the castle walls. They were usually higher than the walls and constructed in the same manner. A later innovation, the rounded towers projecting out from the wall or at a corner gave a better view to the defenders. The walls usually had arrow loops, and the tops could have hoardings or be crenellated or roofed.
  • The Gate

    The entrance was often the weakest part in a castle. To overcome this, the gatehouse was developed, allowing those inside the castle to control the flow of traffic. Gatehouses were inside the wall and connected with the bridge over the moat, but they were more than just doorways. The gates were usually long tunnels with arrow-looped towers at either side of the entrance. The outer opening of the gatehouse tunnel was covered by a grated wooden or iron gate called a portcullis. In the ceiling of the gatehouse tunnel, there were openings called murder holes through which defenders could drop objects and hot liquid. Finally, the gatehouse had a heavy wooden door at the inner opening, which soldiers could shut and lock with braces.
    The bridge's retraction mechanism was usually located inside the gatehouse. Some drawbridges were raised and lowered with a winch, and some had a center fulcrum that allowed them to pivot perpendicularly to form a wall.
    Some bridges had an additional fortified structure in front or alongside them called a barbican. The barbican was built of stone and had towers with arrow loops and battlements.
  • The Bailey or Ward

    A bailey, also called a ward, was a fortified enclosure. It was a common feature of castles, and most had at least one. From a military standpoint, this courtyard was a wide-open space. So any invading soldiers who made it through the gate into the bailey would be exposed to arrow fire from the outer walls and towers and the inner walls and towers.
    The bailey also served as a marketplace for festivals and fairs, a practice field for drilling soldiers and training horses, and an area for tournaments. In the tournaments, knights fought with swords and shields on foot and jousted in arenas called lists (or list fields). In the later Middle Ages, baileys featured gardens and fountains.
  • The Keep or Donjon

    A keep was the big tower and usually the most strongly defended point of a castle before the introduction of concentric defence. "Keep" was not a term used in the medieval period – the term was applied from the 16th century onwards – instead "donjon" was used to refer to central towers.
  • The Curtain Walls

    Curtain walls were the external main defensive walls enclosing the bailey. The part of the fortification between the towers. They had to be high enough to make scaling the walls with ladders difficult and thick enough to withstand bombardment from siege engines which, from the 15th century onwards, included artillery.
    A typical wall could be 3 m thick and 12 m tall, although sizes varied greatly. To protect them from undermining, curtain walls were sometimes given a stone skirt around their bases. Walkways along the tops of the curtain walls allowed defenders to rain missiles on enemies below, and battlements gave them further protection.
  • The Moat

    A moat was a defensive ditch with steep sides, and could be either dry or filled with water. Its purpose was twofold; to stop devices such as siege towers from reaching the curtain wall and to prevent the walls from being undermined. Water moats were found in low-lying areas and were usually crossed by a drawbridge, although these were often replaced by stone bridges. Fortified islands could be added to the moat, adding another layer of defence. Water defences, such as moats or natural lakes, had the benefit of dictating the enemy's approach to the castle.
    moat
  • The Battlement

    Battlements were most often found surmounting curtain walls and the tops of gatehouses, and comprised several elements: crenellations, hoardings, machicolations, and loopholes. Crenellation is the collective name for alternating crenels and merlons: gaps and solid blocks on top of a wall. Hoardings were wooden constructs that projected beyond the wall, allowing defenders to shoot at, or drop objects on attackers at the base of the wall without having to lean perilously over the crenellations, thereby exposing themselves. Machicolations were stone projections on top of a wall with openings that allowed objects to be dropped on an enemy at the base of the wall in a similar fashion to hoardings.
    Arrowslits, also commonly called loopholes, were narrow vertical openings in defensive walls which allowed arrows or crossbow bolts to be fired on attackers. The narrow slits were intended to protect the defender by providing a very small target, but the size of the opening could also impede the defender if it was too small. A smaller horizontal opening could be added to give an archer a better view for aiming.

Castles Glossary

  • Allure - Walkway along the top of a wall.
  • Arcade - Row of arches, free-standing and supported on piers or columns; a blind arcade is a "dummy".
  • Arrow Loop - A narrow vertical slit cut into a wall through which arrows could be fired from inside.
  • Ashlar - Squared blocks of smooth stone neatly trimmed to shape.
  • Bailey - The ward or courtyard inside the castle walls, includes exercise area, parade ground, emergency corral
  • Baluster - A small column.
  • Balustrade - A railing, as along a path or stairway.
  • Barbican - The gateway or outworks defending the drawbridge.
  • Barrel vault - Cylindrical roof.
  • Bartizan - An overhanging battlemented corner turret, corbelled out; sometimes as grandiose as an overhanging gallery; common in Scotland and France.
  • Bastion - A small tower at the end of a curtain wall or in the middle of the outside wall; solid masonry projection; structural rather than inhabitable.
  • Batter - A sloping part of a curtain wall. The sharp angle at the base of all walls and towers along their exterior surface; talus.
  • Battlement - Parapet with indentations or embrasures, with raised portions (merlons) between; crenelations; a narrow wall built along the outer edge of the wall walk for protection against attack.
  • Belvedere - A raised turret or pavillion.
  • Berm - Flat space between the base of the curtain wall and the inner edge of the moat; level area separating ditch from bank.
  • Blockhouse - Small square fortification, usually of timber bond overlapping arrangement of bricks in courses (flemish, dutch, french, etc.)
  • Bonnet - Freestanding fortification; priest's cap.
  • Boss - Central stone of arch or vault; key stone.
  • Brattice - Timber tower or projecting wooden gallery; hoarding.
  • Breastwork - Heavy parapet slung between two gate towers; defense work over the portcullis.
  • Bressumer - Beam to support a projection.
  • Burg - German stronghold.
  • Buttery - Next to the kitchen, a room from where wine was dispensed.
  • Buttress - Wall projection for extra support; flying - narrow, arched bridge against the structure; pilaster - gradually recedes into the structure as it ascends.
  • Capital - Distinctly treated upper end of a column.
  • Casemates - Artillery emplacements in separate protected rooms, rather than in a battery.
  • Cesspit - The opening in a wall in which the waste from one or more garderobes was collected.
  • Chamfer - Surface made by smoothing off the angle between two stone faces.
  • Chancel - The space surrounding the altar of a church.
  • Chemise wall - Formed by a series of interlinked or overlapping semicircular bastions.
  • Chevron - Zig-zag moulding.
  • Clasping - Encasing the angle.
  • Clunch - Hard chalky material.
  • Cob - Unburned clay mixed with straw.
  • Column - Pillar (circular section).
  • Concentric - Having two sets of walls, one inside the other.
  • Coping - Covering stones.
  • Counterguard - A long, near-triangular freestanding fortification within the moat.
  • Counterscarp - Outer slope of ditch.
  • Course - Level layer of stones or bricks.
  • Creasing - �ed mark on a wall, marking the pitch of a former roof.
  • Crenel - The low segment of the alternating high and low segments of a battlement.
  • Crenelation - Battlements at the top of a tower or wall.
  • Crocket - Curling leaf-shape.
  • Cross-and-orb - Modified cross slits to accommodate gunnery.
  • Crownwork - Freestanding bastioned fortification in front of main defenses.
  • Cupola - Hemispherical armored roof.
  • Curtain Wall - A connecting wall hung between two towers surrounding the bailey.
  • Cushion - Capital cut from a block by rounding off the lower corners.
  • Cusp - Curves meeting in a point.
  • Cyclopean - Drystone masonry, ancient, of huge blocks.
  • Daub - A mud of clay mixture applied over wattle to strengthen and seal it.
  • Dead-ground - Close to the wall, where the defenders can't shoot.
  • Diaper work - Decoration of squares or lozenges.
  • Diaphragm - Wall running up to the roof-ridge.
  • Dog-legged - With right-angle bends.
  • Dogtooth - Diagonal indented pyramid.
  • Donjon - A great tower or keep.
  • Dormer - Window placed vertically in sloping roof.
  • Double-splayed - Embrasure whose smallest aperture is in the middle of the wall.
  • Drawbridge - A heavy timber platform built to span a moat between a gatehouse and surrounding land that could be raised when required to block an entrance.
  • Dressing - Carved stonework around openings.
  • Drum Tower - A large, circular, low, squat tower built into a wall.
  • Drystone - Unmortared masonry.
  • Dungeon - The jail, usually found in one of the towers.
  • Embattled - Battlemented; crenelated.
  • Embrasure - The low segment of the altering high and low segments of a battlement.
  • Enceinte - The enclosure or fortified area of a castle.
  • Fascine - Huge bundle of brushwood for revetting ramparts or filling in ditches.
  • Finial - A slender piece of stone used to decorate the tops of the merlons, spire, tower, balustrade, etc.
  • Fluting - Concave mouldings in parallel.
  • Footings - Bottom part of wall.
  • Forebuilding - An extension to the keep, guarding it's entrance.
  • Fosse - Ditch.
  • Freestone - High quality sand- or lime-stone.
  • Gable - Wall covering end of roof ridge.
  • Gallery - Long passage or room.
  • Garderobe - A small latrine or toilet either built into the thickness of the wall or projected out from it; ; projects from the wall as a small, rectangular bartizan
  • Gate House - The complex of towers, bridges, and barriers built to protect each entrance through a castle or town wall.
  • Glacis - A bank sloping down from a castle which acts as a defence against invaders; broad, sloping naked rock or earth on which the attackers are completely exposed
  • Great chamber - Lord's solar, or bed-sitting room.
  • Great Hall - The building in the inner ward that housed the main meeting and dining area for the castle's residence; throne room
  • Groined - Roof with sharp edges at intersection of cross-vaults.
  • Half-shaft - Roll-moulding on either side of opening.
  • Herringbone - Brick or stone laid in alternate diagonal courses.
  • Hoarding - Upper wooden stories on a stone castle wall; the living area; sometimes, a temporary wooden balcony suspended from the tops of walls from which missiles could be dropped.
  • Hood - Arched covering; when used as umbrella, called hood-mould.
  • Hornwork - Freestanding quadrilateral fortification in front of the main wall.
  • Inner Curtain - The high wall the surrounds the inner ward.
  • Inner Ward - The open area in the center of a castle.
  • Jamb - Side posts of arch, door, or window.
  • Keep - A strong stone tower; main tower; donjon; stronghold.
  • Keystone - Central wedge in top of arch.
  • Lancet - Long, narrow window with pointed head.
  • Lantern - Small structure with open or windowed sides on top of a roof or dome to let light or air into the enclosed space below.
  • Light - Glazing; component part of window, divided by mullions and transoms.
  • Lintel - Horizontal stone or beam bridging an opening.
  • Loophole - Narrow, tall opening, wallslit for light, air, or shooting through.
  • Louvre - Opening in roof (sometimes topped with lantern) to allow smoke to escape from central hearth.
  • Machicolations - Projecting gallery on brackets, on outside of castle or towers, with holes in floor for dropping rocks, shooting, etc.
  • Mantlet - Detached fortification preventing direct access to a gateway; low outer wall.
  • Merlon - The high segment of the alternating high and low segments of a battlement.
  • Meurtriere - An opening in the roof of a passage where soldiers could shoot into the room below. Also see "Murder Holes".
  • Moat - A deep trench usually filled with water that surrounded a castle.
  • Moline - Ends curling outward.
  • Mortar - A mixture of sand, water, and lime used to bind stones together; as opposed to drylaid masonry.
  • Motte - A mound of earth on which a tower was built; artificial conical earth mound (sometimes an old barrow) for the keep
  • Moulding - Masonry decoration; long, narrow, casts strong shadows.
  • Mullion - Vertical division of windows.
  • Murder Holes - A section between the main gate and a inner portcullis where arrows, rocks, and hot oil can be dropped from the roof though holes. Provides good cover for defenders and leaves the attacker open. Only used when outer gate has been breach.
  • Nailhead - Pyramid moulding.
  • Narthex - Enclosed passage between the main entrance and nave of a church; vestibule.
  • Nave - Principal hall of a church, extending from the narthex to the chancel.
  • Necking - Ornament at the top of a column, bottom of the capital.
  • Newel - Center post of spiral staircase.
  • Nookshaft - Shaft set in angle of jamb or pier.
  • Offset - Ledge marking the narrowing of a wall's thickness.
  • Oilette - A round opening at the base of a loophole, usually for a cannon muzzle
  • O”lite - Granular limestone.
  • Open joint - Wide space between faces of stones.
  • Oratory - Private in-house chapel; small cell attached to a larger chapel.
  • Order - One of a series of concentric mouldings.
  • Oriel - Projecting window in wall; originally a form of porch, usually of wood; side-turret.
  • Orillons - Arrowhead bastions.
  • Oubliette - A dungeon reached by a trap door; starvation hole
  • Outer Curtain - The wall the encloses the outer ward.
  • Outer Ward - The area around the outside of and adjacent to the inner curtain.
  • Palisade - A sturdy wooden fence usually built to enclose a site until a permanent stone wall can be constructed.
  • Palmette - Looped like a palm-leaf.
  • Parados - Low wall in inner side of main wall.
  • Parapet - Low wall on outer side of main wall.
  • Pediment - Low-pitched gable over porticos, doors, windows.
  • Peel - A small tower; typically, a fortified house on the border
  • Pellet - Circular boss.
  • Petit appareil - Small cubical stonework.
  • Pier - Support for arch, usually square.
  • Pilaster - Shallow pier used to buttress a wall.
  • Pinnacle - Ornamental crowning spire, tower, etc.
  • Piscina - Hand basin with drain, usually set against or into a wall.
  • Pitch - Roof slope.
  • Pitching - Rough cobbling on floor, as in courtyards.
  • Plinth - Projecting base of wall.
  • Portcullis - A heavy timber or metal grill that protected the castle entrance and could be raised or lowered from within the castle. It dropped vertically between grooves to block passage or barbican, or to trap attackers.
  • Postern Gate - A side or less important gate into a castle; usually for peacetime use by pedestrians
  • Prow - Acute-angled projection.
  • Puddled - Made waterproof.
  • Putlog - Beams placed in holes to support a hoarding; horizontal scaffold beam
  • Putlog Hole - A hole intentionally left in the surface of a wall for insertion of a horizontal pole.
  • Quadrangle - Inner courtyard.
  • Quirk - V-shaped nick.
  • Quoin - Dressed stone at angle of building.
  • Rampart - Defensive stone or earth wall surrounding castle.
  • Rath - Low, circular ringwork.
  • Ravelin - Outwork with two faces forming a salient angle; like in a star-shaped fort.
  • Rear-arch - Arch on the inner side of a wall.
  • Redoubt - Small self-contained fieldwork, a refuge for soldiers outside the main defenses.
  • Reeded - Parallel convex mouldings.
  • Re-entrant - Recessed; opposite of salient.
  • Refectory - Communal dining hall.
  • Relieving arch - Arch built up in a wall to relieve thrust on another opening.
  • Respond - Half-pier bonded into a wall to carry an arch.
  • Retirata - Improvised fieldwork to counter an imminent breach.
  • Revetment - Retaining wall to prevent erosion; to face a surface with stone slabs.
  • Rib - Raised moulding dividing a vault.
  • Ringwork - Circular earthwork of bank and ditch.
  • Roll - Moulding of semi-circular section.
  • Roofridge - Summit line of roof.
  • Rubble - Fill; unsquared stone not laid in courses.
  • Rustication - Worked ashlar stone with the faces left rough.
  • Salient - Wall projection, arrowhead.
  • Saltire - Diagonal, equal-limbed cross.
  • Sally-port - Small heavily fortified side door from which the defenders can rush out, strike, and retire.
  • Scaffolding - The temporary wooden frame work built next to a wall to support both workers and materials.
  • Scallop - Carved in a series of semi-circles.
  • Scappled - Cut to a smooth face.
  • Scarp - Slope on inner side of ditch.
  • Shell-keep - Circular or oval wall surrounding inner portion of castle; usually stores and accommodations inside the hollow walls.
  • Sill - Lower horizontal face of an opening.
  • Sleeper - Lowest horizontal timber (or low wall).
  • Soffit - Underside of arch, hung parapet, or opening.
  • Solar - Upper living room , often over the great hall; the lord's private living room.
  • Spandrel - Area between top of a column or pier and the apex of the arch springing from it.
  • Spring - Level at which the springers (voussoirs) of an arch rise from their supports.
  • Squint - Observation hole in wall or room.
  • Stepped - Recessed in a series of ledges.
  • Steyned - Lined (like in a well).
  • Stockade - Solid fence of heavy timbers.
  • Stringcourse - Continuous horizontal moulding on wallface.
  • Tau cross - Plain T cross with equal limbs.
  • Transom - Horizontal division of window; crossbar.
  • Truss - A timber frame used to support the roof over the great hall.
  • Tufa - Cellular rock; porous limestone.
  • Turning bridge - A drawbridge that pivots in the middle.
  • Turret - Small tower, round or polygonal; usually a lookout.
  • Vault - Stone roofing.
  • Vitrified - Material reduced to glass by extreme heat.
  • Volute - Spiral scroll at angle of a capital.
  • Voussoir - Wedge-shaped stones in arch.
  • Wall-plate - Horizontal roof-timber on wall-top.
  • Wall-stair - Staircase built into the thickness of a wall.
  • Wall-walk - Passage along castle wall; may be roofed.
  • Water-leaf - Plain broad leaf moulding.
  • Wattle - A mat of woven (willow) sticks and weeds; used in wall and dike construction.
  • Wave - Sinuous moulding.
  • Weathering - Sloping surface to throw off rainwater.
  • Wicket - Person-sized door set into the main gate door.
  • Wing-wall - Wall downslope of motte to protect stairway.
  • Yett - Iron lattice gate.