Military and Social Developments (page 3)

Keeps and ‘Great Towers’

Keeps in Spain were called ‘torre de homenaje’ or ‘towers of homage’ and introduced by Christian lords from the 12th century. The keep in Spain though never really followed the same function as keeps did in France, England and other parts of Europe. Partly this is explained by the function of Spanish castles being more military establishments than residential centres in the 12th and 13th centuries when keeps in Europe were at their most popular and partly due the evolution of Spanish castles as successors to Muslim fortresses after conquest. photo penaranda del dureo

Keeps in Spain however became extremely popular and remained as a striking architectural feature of castles of all types right until the end of the medieval period and beyond. Many late medieval castles in Spain had a large great tower, often with elaborate bartizans around the upper levels with a curtain wall forming a courtyard around the tower.

Keeps in Spain were often designed as great halls or ceremonial chambers and in the later middle ages in particular with fine traceried windows and were apartments of some prestige.

Early keeps were frequently more military in nature and could be used as weapons stores, guard rooms and barracks. Some Muslim castles contained large great towers, perhaps more functional as main defensive towers to begin with and not having the residential function of Christian great towers. Some Muslim great towers though did provide high status great halls an example being the tower at Biar castle with its Moorish rib vaulted ceiling.

Gunpowder Artilleryphoto almeria gunloop

The design and construction of Spanish medieval castles was only slightly influenced by the introduction of gunpowder weapons. This is because the effect of this technology was quite marginal until the late 15th century and the end of our period.

There are references in documents of the use of handguns in Spain in the 14th century with one reference to handguns being used by Muslims in 1391.

Canons were almost certainly used in the 14th century as siege weapons and there are references to the Muslims using gunpowder siege artillery in the capture of Huescar in 1324 and Baza in 1325. There are also strong documentary inferences to the deployment of canon by the Muslims in the siege of Alicante in 1342.

However, it was not until the late 15th century that references and stronger evidence support the development and superiority of gunpowder weapons over the conventional medieval weapons when used in parallel. The war of Granada (1481 – 1492) saw the effective use of cannon and firearms by the Christian forces against the Muslims.

Castles were modified with the introduction of gunloops, from which to fire handguns, into their defences from the 14th century and many castles in the 15th century were also adapted for the firing of canon. The arrow loops were often modified to allow the use of firearms and some defences were modified to allow floor mounted canon to be fired from newly created wide mouthed embrasures created specially for this purpose.

The castles themselves however were really the same as they always had been with the walls, crenellated parapets, machicolations etc still providing the main defence.

The first Spanish castle to be designed and built with the new gunpowder artillery in mind was on the Aragon/French border at Salses. The magnificent castle, still there to be visited, but with redefined national borders now well within French territory, was built between 1497 – 1504. Although retaining a semblance of medieval design in having a keep, circular corner towers and moat, it also was built with low, thick walls, had low bastions, wide but low outer defences, cannon gunports and much else making this a truly military castle built to withstand attack by metal cannonballs.

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Photos on this page: Top; Penaranda de Duero. Bottom; Almeria - Gunloop.