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Updated: June 13, 2004


The formidable and impressive castles that were created and built to protect and control people and areas, and as bases for expansion. Some have seen horrendous action and seiges, some fell some invincable. Medieval castles, whether in ruins or restored, dominate the varied landscapes of Europe. Stone fortifications were nothing new to the continent, but during the Middle Ages, there was an explosion of castle construction as feudal lords sought to consolidate their power and provide fortresses for the inhabitants of their kingdoms. Some were described to be little more than dirty, cold stone boxes, but others evolved to become impressive reminders of years past. Soon after the collapse of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes began to construct heavy stone fortifications. Near the first millennium, another force would greatly spread the use of castles in Western Europe. William the Conqueror, from Normandy, France, invaded England in 1066 and changed the medieval landscape forever. Medieval societies soon witnessed the erection of stone towers and walls in every country. Simple Norman donjons evolved into more elaborate strongholds with towering walls, defensive systems and could house sometimes thousands of people. The castle remained a prime military resource for much of the Middle Ages. Military tactics centered on the taking of castles, and weapon technology improved over the centuries to exploit any weakness that could be found in castle architecture. It wasn't until the late 1600s, when gunpowder and artillery became more effective, that the castle became obsolete. Many fell into ruins during the succeeding centuries, but there remain excellent examples of medieval castle architecture that have been beautifully restored.

Alcazar, Segovia, Spain - The Alcazar, built in the 12th century upon a Roman fortress ruin and later enlarged, is ringed by 10 semicircular turrets and overlooks the rivers Eresma & Clamores. Christopher Columbus met with King Ferdinand and Isabella in this castle. This beautiful castle fortress has a wealth of history. It was first mentioned in 1122 in a document as a hill-fort on a rocky outcrop formed by the rivers Eresma and Clamores. Its location gave it the secure identity of an impregnable fortress and, at the same time, gave it the distinction of having a location of beauty with famous hunting grounds in the mountains nearby. This may have been the first mention, but there is evidence of even earlier occupation of the area, perhaps back to the prehistoric Celtic culture and later Roman occupation. Segovia still has the working remains of a Roman Aqueduct on the south-east extreme that dates back 2000 years; no mortar is used to hold up this wonder. By 1155 the reference to the castle became "Alcázar", an Arabic word for royal residence, which is situated on the northwest extreme of the medieval wall which surrounds Segovia. It was in this Alcázar that Queen Isabella promised Columbus the backing he needed to fund his venture that discovered America.The Guadarrama Mountains provide a panoramic back drop for the castle and separate the area from Spain’s capital, Madrid, and its populace of 3 million. In the two first photos you are looking at the west end of the palace, showing the keep and the round tower which was used as the treasury. Alfonso VI was the first of the nobility that reign successively during the years that follow, altering the look of the castle. Moorish art is also seen in some of the decorations. Alfonso X "The Wise" made this Alcázar into one of his favorite residences. In the 14th century Segovia suffered through the fighting between the factions of nobility. Use of artillery caused the Alcázar to strengthen its walls and extend its defenses as the struggling factions of nobles fought for control. The fortress was pivotal in gaining control of Castile, and it was from this castle that Isabella proceeded to the main square of Segovia to be crowned Queen of Castile. Her marriage to Ferdinand, the King of Aragon, gave them equal authority in both realms, thus unifying Spain. Through them, the Spanish Inquisition was carried out earning them the title of "the Catholic" from the Pope for purifying Spain and unifying it under one faith. Alterations began on the Alcázar to enlarge it around the beginning of the 13th century, as Romanesque transitions to the Gothic style of architecture. King John II (1405-1454) enlarged the defensive moat which reached a depth of 26 meters and was spanned by a drawbridge at the front of the castle. He also enlarged the east tower which was named after him. The Alcázar was visited by Austrian monarchs who did extensive alterations to the castle. King Phillip II (1558-1598) married his fourth wife, Anne of Austria, at the Alcázar. He fashioned the patio in the Herrera style and covered the roofs with conical slate spires which were popular in Central Europe. The Alcázar remained important during the civil wars from the reign of Juana the Mad to the Caflist wars in the 19th century. It was used as a state prison until 1764, when it became the Royal School of Artillery. 1862 brought a fire that destroyed the roofs causing the School to be moved to the Convent of Saint Francis.

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Castillo de Manzanares, Spain - El Castillo de Manzanares, Northwest of Madrid, built in the 15th century after the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. Manzanares el Real Castle lies 50 kilometers from Madrid on the southern slope of the Guadarrama mountain range, between Santillana reservoir and the crags of La Pedriza. The Castle is an impressive example of xv century Castilian military architecture, and one of the last of its kind in Spain. In fact, after initially being user as a fortress, it became a residential Palace of one of the noblest families in Castilla since the Middle Ages: the Mendozas. However, Manzanares Castle is also closely tied in with Madrid's recent history, because the process leading to the autonomy of Comunidad de Madrid (1981) was started there, as was the project for the Statute of Autonomy, which would be approved in Congress and the Senate in I 983. The Mendoza family, whose lineage goes back to the XI century and who were linked to the Spanish monarchy, received titles of nobility and considerable inheritances for their services to the Crown. The connection between the Mendoza's and the territory of Real de Manzanares dates from the XIV century when Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza (1340-1385), faithful servant of Enrique II of Trastamara, was granted extensive estates in the Somosierra mountain range from Buitrago to Colmenar. His son, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (1365-1404), who was "Almirante Mayor" of Castilla under the reign of King Enrique II, received the Real de Manzanares estate from Juan II in recognition of the services of his father Don Pedro. He ordered a Castle to be built on his new estate, close to the present-day site, and its ruins are still visible today. However, the old castle near the river became too small and uncomfortable for the Mendozas, who continued to prosper in the service of the monarchy, they had to start thinking about building a new fortress. Don Diego was succeeded by his son, Inigo Lopez de Mendoza (1398-1458), a brave soldier and an educated man who served Juan II, who received the title of first Conde de Manzanares and first Marques de Santillana after participating in the battle of Olmedo. The latter title would pass on to posterity, more as a result of his lyrical poetic works than his military deeds or political ambassadorships. The Mendoza family reached the height of their power and influence during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs. The first-born of the Marques de Santillana, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, a man greatly trusted by the Monarchs, was given the title of Duque del Infantado together with new possessions and privileges. His brother; Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza (1428-1494), became a close adviser to Fernando and Isabel and a great Cardinal of Spain. The whole building is surrounded by a permiter barbican, with a single entrance via a beautiful west-facing door, flanked by two strong turrets and defended by stone deer. All the walls of the barbican contain loopholes in the shape of the Jerusalem Cross in homage to the first duke's brother, Cardenal Mendoza, who was given the title of Cardinal of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem Basilica by the Catholic Monarchs in 1480.The south facade boasts a portico, the outer face of which is made up of low arches with a flamboyant Gothic style pillar between each one. It contrasts sharply with the solid walls, and shows how lnigo Lopez changed the look of his residence with the help of the skilled architect Juan Guas. The latter also designed the magnificent portico, galleries around the central courtyard, with late Gothic and Mudejar influences particularly on the ceilings and the corridors containing the coat of arms of the Mendozas, Lunas and Enriquezs.
The Castle’s stately appearance, contrasting with the harmonious blend of Moorish and Renaissance details and the elegance of the mock Arabic cornice on which the battlements are supported, is only interrupted on the south-facing facade by the splendid portico which gives it
A special grace and uniqueness.

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Aigues Mortes in southern France is one of the finest examples of a fortified medieval city. Built for Louis IX before the crusade of 1248 it remained a wealthy city until the 14th century when canals to the mediteranian filled with sand. Built in 1240 by Saint Louis to establish the Kingdom of France's first Mediterranean seaport. Saint Louis embarked on the Seventh Crusade from Aigus-Mortes and then to Tunis in 1270 where he died. The castle was completed by Philip the Bold, who finished the  massive ramparts, thirty feet high and twenty feet thick containing twenty towers and ten gates. During the Hundred Years War, Burgundians captured the town but were then massacred while sleeping and their mutilated bodies thrown into what is known as The Tower of the Burgundian. 

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Castle of Foix. At that time Foix was the capital of the Comté de Foix. Its counts were very tolerant to the Cathars. Two square towers built in the 11th century and a round one added in the 15th century were the main defences of the castle. The towers are linked together by machicoulis. These towers were built on a big rock that surmount the town. It was also a shelter for the Parfaits. Inside the castle there is now the Museum of Ariege. It has two sections. The "Palaeontology-Prehistory and History" shows the skeleton of a big mammoth discovered in 1901 at Baulou in Ariege. The section "Art an Tradition" presents "an Ostal" (the only living quarter in the old houses of the Vicdessos valley). There is no Cathar exhibit on show. The castle was attacked by Simon de Montfort but it was not taken. Its owner, the count of Foix, gave it to the Pope's Legate in 1215. He got it back in 1218 but he lost it again during the Royal crusade. Foix was a fief of king Pedro II d'Aragon, which provided some protection from attack by the crusaders. Simon de Montfort made a daring advanced on this stronghold in 1210. Meeting stern resistance, Montfort burned a suburb of the town in 1214. The three towered castle (dating from the tenth-century) remains an impressive sight. Perched on a rocky peak overlooking the town, the Foix castle was impregnable, resisting numerous assaults, the most infamous of which was that by Simon de Montfort during the Albigensian crusade. Between the 12th and 13th centuries the chateau was composed of 2 square towers; the round tower was constructed in the 15th century.

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Castle of Montsegur (Safe Mountain) in the French pyrennes, was built in 1204 by the Cathares (Pure People), and was the capital of their faith. In 1244 a crusade to wipe out the Cathares ended here after a 10 month siege and the burning of 200 believers. ( but their treasure escaped and has never been found). Placed on a called cliff " pog ", in 1207 meters in height, the castle dominates the village which has curious one architecture. Montségur was one of the centres of the Cathar religion in the 13th Century. The castle was built at an altitude of 1207 metres (3960 feet) on a rocky cliff called the "Pog." During the Albigensian Crusade, the fortress became the symbol of resistance for the Southern Counts. In March 1244, after a 10 month siege, it fell into the hands of the royal army. Steadfastly refusing to renounce their religion, some 200 Cathars were burned to death at the foot of the "Pog."

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Castle of Carcassone, France - The finest restored fortified town in France was continually built on from the 2nd century BC when it was a Roman outpost. It has seen Romans, Visigoths, Saracens, Franks, feudal Lords, and French Kings hold the town. Even the 'Black Prince' did not attack the fortress in his 1355 campaign during the Hundred Years' War. The exterior wall was completed in the 13th century, but by the mid-nineteenth century, not much of the original fortress was left. However, Viollet-le-Duc rebuilt the Cite when interest in medieval France reached its peak. What you see today is for the most part a 19th century reconstruction. The Counts' castle is overpowering because of its immense size. The Trencavel dynasty of viscounts built their new houses on the highest point of the Cité. In 1150 Bernard Anton Trencavel constructed the castle on remains from Roman times; Roman mosaics are still visible under the basement of the Counts' castle.The Castle reached its current size only after the French conquest in the 13th century. The highest and oldest parts of the castle are to be seen in the courtyard. Two buildings, the western and southern wings and the ground floor of the Pinte Tower, go back to the Trencavels' period. The Pinte Tower, a watchtower, is the highest in Carcassonne. This tower, more than 30 metres high (90 ft), dominates the area. It is hard to say what the castle looked like in medieval times as it has been added to and remodeled many times over the centuries. The castle was built by Bernard Aton Trencavel in 1120 after deciding a new residence would be better on the highest elevation of the Cité. The Pinte tower was also built at that time, and is the highest tower in Carcassonne at 30m high; you can see it in the photo at the corner of the keep. As we get into the inner part of the Cité, one of the areas of interest is the entrance to the Counts' castle. After having taken Béziers whose population was massacred, Simon de Montfort, in August 1209, took control of Carcassonne from 24 year old Raimond-Roger Trencavel, Viscount of Albi, Béziers and Carcassonne. Trencavel gathered the greatest possible number of his knights and withdrew to his Carcassonne fortress. The Viscount had been tolerant of the Catharism, and there was a large majority of his vassals that were followers. Following a two week siege the viscount surrendered and, by papal decree, gave up all his possessions to Montfort. Trencavel died shortly after. In 1240 his son tried to reclaim the Carcassonne fortress and after a 24 day siege, was not successful. The Trencavels, who had ruled from the year 1067, lost their final bid to rule the Cité. It passed to the holdings of the Kings of France. Then the Castle was greatly fortified by the Northern French that gained control.

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Castle of Tarascon. Built on the riverside of the Rhône, the castle of Tarascon stood as a protection for the Counts of Provence's possessions. The construction of the current castle of Tarascon was started in 1401 by Louis II of Anjou and completed half a century later by King René, after the previous castle was destroyed. The construction was continued by his first son, Louis III of Anjou, and was completed in 1449 by his second son, Rene I of Naples. The Castle Of Tarascon, on the Rhone river in southern France, was the royal residence of the Anjou-Provencal dynasty. In the 16th century it became a prison. In 1794 during the Revolution many of Robespierre's partisans were thrown off the walls to their death.

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Castle of Beaucaire, in southern France, was built over the site of the Roman Ugernum and was later the Merovingian capital of Pagus Argenteus. This fortress, which is one of largest of France, was rebuilt under Saint-Louis after the annexation in 1229 of Languedoc to the Royal field. It supervised the Rhone, then border with Provence, and was destroyed on the order of Richelieu. The castle, which lasted seven centuries was destroyed in 1632 and was later restored. During the Albigensian Crusade, Raymond of Toulouse besieged Beaucaire in May 1216. The efforts of Simon de Montfort to relieve the town were repulsed. The city fell after a three month siege. Beaucaire was captured from the crusaders by Raymond VII, son of Raymond VI, comte de Toulouse, in 1216. The event marked the revolt that eventually led to Montfort's defeat. The castle (dating from the eleventh century) is open to the public.

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Castle of Puivert in the French pyrennes, was another Cathar castle toped with a signal platform to communicate with Montsegur. During the Middle Ages it was the scene of the famous "Romantic Courts" made famous by the minstrels songs. Puivert Castle - 14th century castle keep remains of this Cathar stronghold. Puivert, in the French pyrennes, was another Cathar castle toped with a signal platform to communicate with Montsegur. During the Middle Ages it was the scene of the famous "Romantic Courts" made famous by the minstrels songs. Puivert certainly is one of the best preserved. In 1210 the castle was taken after a 3-day siege by the army of Simon de Montfort controlled by Pons de Bruyères.With its 35 meters high keep in which four splendid rooms are superimposed, its 6 towers incorporated in its enclosure wall, this castle dominates the old glacial lake of Puivert below. To the west there is Castle Montségur with the summits of the Pyrenees behind it and to the east of the peak of Bugarach.

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The castle occupies a highly strategic vantage point, dominating the sea in a wide arc from the bay of Pozzuoli to the acropolis in Cuma and out to the islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia. The fortress already existed in Aragonese times and was enlarged by the Spanish viceroy don Pedro de Toledo after the ruption of Monte Nuovo (1538 A.D.). In 1619 was uses  as a prison. Ferdinando IV added the shops: a long wing of factories and a small lighthouse. The headland in tufa rising sheer out of the sea, the deep valleys behind running inland known as the "Fondi di Baia", and the fortifications - walls, moats and drawbridges - made it a virtually unassailable stronghold. The site was first fortified during Aragonese rule in 1495, when the Kingdom of Naples was threatened with imminent invasion by the forces of Charles VIII of France. Alfonso II of Aragon persuaded Frederick, Duke of Montefeltro, to send him the most renowned military engineer of the age, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, a native of Siena. He put him in charge of reinforcing the defences throughout the kingdom, with responsibility for both the overall project and the design of individual fortresses such as this one.
As part of a system covering the whole territory, the castle of Baia ensured control of the bay of Pozzuoli and prevented enemy vessels sailing in and landing troops which could have attacked Naples itself from the rear. In the years 1538 to 1550 the Spanish viceroy Pedro di Toledo carried out extensive rebuilding works on the Aragonese castle, strengthening and enlarging it until it took on the aspect we know today.
It continued to serve as a fortress under Spanish and Austrian domination (1503 -1734) and also during Bourbon rule (1734 -1860). With the unification of Italy, up until 1887, it fell into disuse and a state of disrepair.

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Bouillon Castle in the Luxembourg province of Belgium guards the natural route of all north-south invasions through the Ardennes. It is about 10km north of the French border and 200km south of Brussels and is the earliest and best preserved medieval fortress in Belgium. The castle is built in three main parts linked together by bridges on a steep bluff overlooking the town and the Semois valley. The Duke's house was in the main courtyard where the only trace now of the original keep is a scrap of wall. The first fortified castle was built around 1050, probably on the site of an 8th century stronghold. It was owned by the Dukes of Ardennes until 1096 when Godfrey of Bouillon sold it for a huge amount of money to Otbert, the prince-bishop of Liege, to pay for the First Crusade which he led. Otbert desperately wanted to own the castle and plundered the churches and monasteries of his diocese to pay for it. Godfrey conquered Jerusalem in 1099 and died there in 1100 having been given the title of Protector of the Holy Sepulchre as he refused to be crowned King of Jerusalem where Jesus had worn a crown of thorns. In 1551 the Austrian Tower at the end of the guard walk was built which gives a marvellous view of the whole castle.

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Manzanares el Real Castle, combining the solidarity of a large fortress of the low Middle Ages and the elegance of a Renaissance residence, is a proud symbol of one of the most powerful families in Castilla during the XIV and XV centuries, the Mendozas. The Palace Castle, which the Duques del Infantado had built during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs, is located near Madrid and set in the breathtaking rocky landscape between La Pedriza and Santillana reservoir. Although the castle is equipped with some traditional military features, such as double machicolations and turrets, it was used mainly as a residential palace by the Duke of Infantado. Below the castle is a 16th century church, a Renaissance portico and fine capitals.

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