Castle Walls (Also Called Curtain Walls)

Castle walls are also called curtain walls. These are the walls that form a wall completely around a castle. Often these walls were built in concentric circles which created multiple lines of defense.

Medieval castle walls changed over the centuries. For the most part the most significant change was their height and their thickness but there were many other changes and improvements that they underwent over the centuries from about the 12th to the 17 centuries. This article takes a look at the construction of and parts of typical castle walls.



Up until around the 11th Century the walls of castles were typically built of wood and timbers. This type of castle was called a motte and bailey castle. The wooden walls while easier to build were not as strong as stone walls and were susceptible to fire. Much improvement of castle walls came as knights and soldiers returned from the crusades where they learned many architectural skills from their enemies in the Middle east.

Dimensions of Castle Walls: the height and thickness of castle walls varied from castle to castle but typically they ranged from between seven to thirty feet in thickness and typically thirty to forty feet in height.

A Castle Wall

The Construction of Castle walls

The illustration below is a cutaway view of how a typical castle wall is constructed. It is technically two walls in one. The walls being built with a gap in between. This gap is filled with such as stones and mortar. The walls needed to be very strong and very sturdy and because they were made of stone they were also extremely heavy. When making the walls they weren't just built on top of the ground. The builders would dig a trench down into the ground reaching to bedrock. This would give the walls a solid base. If no bedrock were available, or if it was too deep to reach they would dig the trench and fill the bottom of it with compacted and crushed stone.


Cut away illustration of a castle wall


AshlarThe wall itself was often built of something called Ashlar. This is the name for stones cut into shapes with square edges. The type of stone would vary depending on what was available to the builders. And the Space in between the ashlar stones was filled with mortar. The mortar would bind the ashlar stones together much like a cement would. Mortar is a mixture of water, sand and lime. This ashlar wall, when completed would often be coated over with plaster and whitewash. A good example of Ashlar can be seen in walls of Bodiam Castle.



The Parts of A Castle Wall


Arrow Loops: Vertical slits in the wall that allowed the castle defenders to shoot arrows. These vertical slits did change over time and took various shapes including cross shapes.

Batter: An angled section at the bottom of the wall. This added strength and it also caused objects like rocks that were dropped from the top of the wall to bounce outward toward defenders.

Battlements: This is another name for the crenellations. It can also considered to be the whole top part of the castle wall including the wall walk, crenels and merlons. Think "Battle Stations".

Crenellations: This is the top of the wall. It looks like a sawtooth pattern and it is composed of Merlons and embrasures.

Embrasures: The gaps in the crenellation between the merlons. These gaps are also sometimes called Crenels.

Machicolations - The openings between the corbels of a parapet. These are openings that point down from the top of the wall. These openings allowed defenders to drop items like boiling oil and large stones down upon attackers.

Merlons: the part of the crenellation that stuck upward.

Rubble Core: This is the filling between the outer and inner parts of the wall.

Wall Walk: A walkway near the top of the wall where defenders could patrol the wall.

Want to learn about the various parts of a Medieval castle? I have definitions and a picture here - The parts of a medieval castle

The Picture below shows part of the castle wall of a Medieval Fortress in Cairo Egypt called "The Citadel" These walls were built by Saladin and at some points they are 30 feet tall and ten feet thick. I have more about this magnificent medieval fortress here: The Citadel


















































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