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Glossary of Castle Terms

alcazaba—a Moorish defensive structure including massive square towers, extensive walls, and labyrinthine paths

alcázar—a Moorish palace built around a garden; from the Arabic word qasr

apse—the circular- or polygonal-shaped end of a tower or chapel

armory—a weapons storeroom

arrow slit or arrow loop window—a narrow vertical slit cut in the castle walls through which only an arrow could be fired from inside

azulejos—decorative ceramic tiles

bailey—a courtyard inside the castle walls

balustrade—the posts and railings along a stairway or path

barbican—a house or tower that defends a gate or drawbridge

baronial—pertaining to a baron or noble of the landowner class

barrel vault—a barrel-shaped roof having the appearance of a tunnel

bastion—a small projection at the end of a wall or tower

battlements—the notched top of a defensive wall; crenelations

belfry—a tall wooden tower which could be moved up against a castle or wall in times of siege

Benedictine—from the monastic order founded by St. Benedict in 530

blazon—a coat of arms

blockhouse—a small square fortification

burg—a German fortified castle

capital—top of a column

casemate—a chamber in a wall with openings for arrows

castellan—an officer in charge of a castle

catapult—a device used for hurling stones over a castle’s walls

chevron—a zigzag molding or design

chivalry—the rules for polite and honorable behavior that knights were expected to follow

Cistercian—a branch of the Benedictine monastic order

corbel—a projecting stone bracket from a wall or corner which helps support a beam

cornice—a decorative projection along the top of a wall

crenel—the open spaces between the merlons of a battlement

crenelation—the notched fortifications on top of a wall; battlements; a license to “crenelate” was official permission to fortify a structure

curtain—a connecting wall between two towers surrounding a courtyard

daub—a mud and clay mixture applied over wattle to strengthen and seal it

doge—a chief magistrate of Venice, Italy

donjon— a castle’s main tower

dormer—a window partly in the wall and partly in the roof

dovecote—a shelter for doves

drawbridge—a heavy bridge that could be raised or lowered over a moat

Elizabethan—from the period of Queen Elizabeth I of England (1558-1603)

embrasure—a space in a wall that has a wide opening on the inside tapering to a narrow slit on the exterior used for shooting at the enemy

enceinte—enclosure or courtyard

escutcheon—a shield on which a coat of arms is depicted

feudalism—a political and economic system under which land was granted by a landowner to a person in exchange for military service or other duties

finial—a slender piece of stone used to decorate the tops of merlons, towers, or balustrades

forestair—an external open stair leading to the upper floors

Franciscan—from the monastic order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century

fresco—painting on wet plaster wall

gallery—a long covered walkway or corridor

garderobe—a medieval toilet

gatehouse—a large structure containing a fortified gate

Gothic—a style of architecture from the 12th to 16th centuries characterized by pointed arches and ribbed vaults

great hall—a principal building that held the meeting and dining areas or a throne room

half-timber—a medieval construction in which walls were made of a wood frame filled with wattle and daub

heraldry—the rules concerning a nobleman’s use of patterns used on flags, armor, and shields

herringbone masonry—stone or brick work laid diagonally instead of horizontally

Jacobean—from the period of King James I of England (1603-1625)

keep—the main tower of a castle often containing living quarters

keystone—the central wedge-shaped stone in top of an arch

laird—a minor baron or small landholder

lancet—a long, narrow window with an arched top

lintel—a horizontal beam or stone placed over the top of a door or window and supporting the wall above

loophole—a tall, vertical slit in a wall for air, light, or shooting through

machiolation—openings in a floor of a projecting parapet or platform on a castle or tower’s outside allowing castle defenders to pour hot oil or throw rocks on the enemy below

mangonel—an offensive weapon with projectile arms that turn and hurl rocks

mantle—a simple curtain wall without towers

Manueline—from the period of King Manueline I of Portugal (1495-1521)

merlon—the piece of solid stone between two crenels on a wall or battlement

minstrel’s gallery—an area where musicians performed

moat—a water-filled, protective ditch that surrounds the castle

motte and bailey—an early style of castle in which a wood or stone tower was built on an artificial or natural mound of earth

Mudéjar—a Gothic style of Islamic art with a strong Moorish influence which developed in Spain after the Christian reconquest from the 11th to the 15th centuries

mullion—a vertical piece of stone or wood dividing a window

murder hole—an opening in a roof over a passageway through which hot oil, rocks, and arrows could be thrown down on the attackers below

oratory—a small private room for prayer usually in a private house

oriel window—a large projecting window similar to a bay window

oubliette—a dungeon entered by a trap door where prisoners were left to die; from the French word oublier—“to forget”

palisade—a defensive wooden fence

parapet—a low wall on the outer side of a main wall or rampart

pilaster—a rectangular wall projection that imitates a column

pinnacle—an ornamental crowning spire

Plateresque—an intricate style of stonework decorating building faades in Renaissance Spain; from the Spanish word plata because the effect resembled fine silver work

portcullis—a heavy grating made of wood or iron that dropped in front of a castle entrance to prevent passage

postern—a small door or gate away from the castle’s main entrance that was often hidden to allow castle defenders to enter or exit without detection; a castle entrance located in the back of the castle

quadrangle—an inner courtyard

quattrocento—an Italian designation referring to the 15th century

rampart—a defensive stone or earth wall surrounding a castle or town

refectory—a communal dining hall

revetment—a retaining wall to prevent erosion; to face a surface with stone slabs

rib—raised molding dividing a vault

Romanesque—a style of architecture from the 9th to the 12th centuries which used heavy masonry, round arches, and barrel vaults

schloss—a German castle or baronial mansion, usually a little more refined than a burg

siegework—an earthwork raised for the protection of a force besieging a castle

solar—the private living quarters of the lord often over the great hall

tracery—decorative intersecting ribwork in the upper part of a window

transom—a horizontal bar of stone or wood in a window ; a crossbar

tufa—a white porous limestone rock seen in French castles

turret—a small round tower often used as a lookout

vassal—a person granted land in return for military service

vault—an arched ceiling usually of stone

wall walk—walkway on a wall top which is protected by a parapet

ward—courtyard enclosure of a castle; a bailey

wattle—a mat of woven sticks and weed used in wall construction

wicket—a small door forming part of a larger one

windlass—a mechanical device used to raise and lower the drawbridge

yett—an iron lattice gate