The medieval castle's structure and layout were important for both protection and providing ease of daily living for castle inhabitants. Medieval castles were imposing and beautiful creations, but they were also functional. The location of the castle was carefully chosen to provide the most defense. Rooms were laid out in a manner most convenient to the lord of the castle and his family, and the castle had to be large enough to easily accommodate the royal family and all of their servants, soldiers and guests.
One of the main functions of a medieval castle was its ability to withstand invasion and violent confrontations. Castle builders created a moat by digging a deep ditch around the castle, often filling it with water, to deter invaders. A high wall made of stone, called a curtain, surrounded the outside of the castle to protect its inhabitants during battle. A large drawbridge was built into the main entrance of the wall to allow castle dwellers and visitors to safely cross the moat and enter the castle. Towers allowed watchmen to see far across the landscape and detect would-be invaders before they arrived at the castle gates. The keep was the highest tower in the castle and the most effective point of defense.
The great hall of a castle was a huge room where the castle owners ate their meals and often held elaborate banquets and decadent celebrations. Musicians, court jesters and other entertainers would amuse the lords and ladies with singing, juggling and storytelling. Servants of the castle often slept in the great hall. Walls and ceilings were sometimes carved or painted , while fresh straw and sweet-smelling herbs were strewn across the floor. The lord and his family sat on a raised platform of wood or stone, while guests sat on benches at long tables.
The chapel was an important part of the castle. The lord and his family would often attend services in the private castle chapel rather than go to a common church. The chapel was usually two stories high. The royal family sat in the upper level, while the servants and commoners sat below. Chapels were elaborately carved and were generally the most beautiful and finely decorated part of the castle.
The kitchen was a large, open room next to the great hall where servants prepared meals over one or more large fireplaces. Kettles and spits for cooking were hung in the opening of the fireplace. Only the lord and lady had private rooms. When these rooms were located on an upper floor, they were called "solars." Servants, soldiers and other domestic help slept in towers, the great hall or basements. Later castles added separate barracks, servants' quarters and mess halls.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images