Military and Social Developments (page 2)


Gateways and entrances into castles and fortified towns became generally more elaborate as we move through the middle ages. Many early castles had simple openings with twin leaved doors, bolted and barred on the ponferrada gateway

In some cases however the simple gateway remained throughout our period and this type of castle entrance was still in use in the 15th and 16th century castles of the School of Valladolid where serious defensibility was never the first priority.

In between these periods however came many more sophisticated ways of arranging the entry to castles. A speciality of Islamic castles from the 12th century was the turned or dog-leg gateway. This required the visitor to travel through one or more right-angled turns before gaining entry to the courtyards within.

Barbicans, moats both water filled and dry, drawbridges and all of the defensive and/or display elements of castle gateways used in other parts of Europe were also a feature within Spain. The use of large twin towered gateways facing the town with elaborate architectural decoration were no strangers to the Spanish nobility in the middle and later middle ages. An impressive statement of their status in the area.

Many gateways had box machicolations positioned above the gateways and these are common in both castle and walled town entrances. Seemingly introduced from the 12th century onwards they feature in stone built castles of Muslims and Christians alike and continued to be used through the period and into the 16th century. Box machicolations had some defensive purpose in allowing a degree of observation or control of the outside of the gateway from above and at a safe location. They were also highly visible from some distance, often decorated and embellished in fine ashlar and added somewhat to the castellated appearance of the building.

Not all gateways opened straight out from the curtain walls and many particularly those of Islamic origin had the entrance in a tower projected forwards from the curtain wall with the gateway parallel to the wall. this required visitors to approach the castle directly along the outside of the curtain wall to enter the gateway. The ability to monitor this approach from above was of great defensive benefit.

Machicolations and Hoardings photo almeria machicolations

Many stone built castles in Spain, particularly those built towards the end of the middle ages are supplied with machicolations around the top of walls and towers. These features, protruding from the face of the wall and providing a vertical view downwards to the ground, were often of magnificent and decorative proportions and supplied to the building an ornamental and highly distinctive aspect. These later castles used machicolations as with so many other examples, as an architectural device as much as a defensive feature.

However, the use of machicolations and their wooden equivalent, hoards, does have a serious defensive origin. There has been much debate in castle studies on the origins of these defensive features and both Muslim and Christian castle builders have been credited with their introduction particularly around the time of the Crusades in the Holy land in the 12th century.

photo montearagon albarranaThe use of wooden hoards is less well represented and where there is evidence of their existence it tends to be on the earlier castles. The magnificent external albarranatower of the 11th century castle of Montearagon near Huesca in Aragon has the remains of an external doorway (now blocked) and external joist holes aligning with it all round the exterior face of the tower at wall walk level. This almost certainly is the evidence for an exterior timber hoard or brattice, accessed from the chamber within the albarrana tower and carrying around the external face in order to provide some cover to the base of the tower and any potential threats. The structure could also be interpreted as a viewing gallery but this seem highly unlikely on what was essentially a military structure with a top floor roof two storey above, that would make a more practical viewing platform.


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Photos on this page: Top; Ponferrada. Middle; Almeria - Macicolations. Bottom; Montearagon - Albarrana Tower.