Castle Architecture

Learning a few terms will enhance your experience among Europe’s medieval fortresses

Parts of a typical medieval castle. (David C. Hoerlein / Courtesy of Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door)

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Crenellation: A gap-toothed pattern of stones atop the parapet.

Hoardings (or Gallery or Brattice): Wooden huts built onto the upper parts of the stone walls. They served as watch towers, living quarters, and fighting platforms.

Machicolation: A stone ledge jutting out from the wall, fitted with holes in the bottom. If the enemy was scaling the walls, soldiers could drop rocks or boiling oil down through the holes and onto the enemy below.

Barbican: A fortified gatehouse, sometimes a stand-alone building located outside the main walls.

Drawbridge: A bridge that could be raised or lowered, using counterweights or a chain-and-winch.

Portcullis: A heavy iron grille that could be lowered across the entrance.

Postern Gate: A small, unfortified side or rear entrance used during peacetime. In wartime, it became a "sally-port" used to launch surprise attacks, or as an escape route.

Excerpted from Rick Steves’ Germany.

For all the details on castles in Germany, please see Rick Steves’ Germany.

Rick Steves ( writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.

About Rick Steves
Rick Steves

Rick Steves is a travel writer and television personality. He coordinated with Smithsonian magazine to produce a special travel issue Travels with Rick Steves.

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