Military and Social Developments (page 4)


Fortified Palacesphoto ribadavia blazon

In many parts of medieval Europe the nobility built prestigious palaces within their domains in addition to their castles. Sometimes the distinctions were blurred when the castles were also palaces of magnificent design and luxury and the palaces were fortified with defensive features.

One of the main fascinations with castle studies is the debates and untangling of such issues but one thing is clear no typology of style and function can be made. Fortified palaces fall into many varieties based upon date, their location and their builders.

Spain has a particular wealth of fortified palaces, particularly from the early Islamic periods, when castles were more specifically military in function. In such times the overlord may decide to create a castle for military purposes and a fortified palace as his ceremonial residence and home. photo monteguardoAn example of this is within the Murcian kingdom of Monteagudo where a strong fortification was built on a high rocky outcrop dominating the surrounding lowlying areas for a considerable distance but also with the palace of the same name several kilometres distant but within sight. The palace was surrounded by a series of mildly fortified walls and mural towers, designed to give a martial impression of strength to what was essentially a sumptuous country retreat.

The use of militaristic emblems of strong high walls, mural towers and defensible gates were all used by Islamic and later Christian overlords as symbols of their status and power when applied to their palace residences. As with many aspects of these building in our period, there are no rules that can be applied. Some palaces were fortified , others not, and the distinctions and reasons for this are not so clearly apparent to us today.

The magnificent Islamic Aljaferia Palace in Zaragoza had strong mural walls, a defensive entrance and even an ancient great tower, defending a sumptuous interior and decorative series of buildings and courtyards. This could not in any sense be described as a castle.

Castles as symbols of power

photo aljaferia palacceThroughout the entire castle building period these buildings were symbolic of the status, wealth and prestige of their builders.

From the earliest Muslim fortresses, plastered and painted in strong geometric designs or brightly coloured to the late medieval castle/palaces and their highly decorated masonry and heraldic display, they all present a strong visual statement to the world around them.

The study of castles and landscapes, currently taking much of the attention in castle studies in northern Europe is in its infancy within Iberia. However, it will be obvious to anyone looking closely at castles in Spain that the location of many of them has been very carefully orchestrated within its surroundings. photo tiedraOften located on high ground, many are overlooked by still higher ground (poor defensively) and yet are within very specific lines of sight or particular viewpoints. Some form part of a visual chain of castles others are part of a larger enclosed town and so on.

Whether the castle is early in date or late, highly defensive and militaristic or decorative and palatial (some are both) the location and positioning in its surroundings are always contrived, considered and symbolic in one way or another. Lordship and power went hand in hand and the castles of Spain are the visible remains of that language passed down to us today.



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Photos on this page: Top to Bottom; Ribadavia; Monteagudo; Aljaferia Palace, Zaragoza; Tiedra.