Curtain wall (fortification)

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Beaumaris Castle in Anglesey in North Wales, with curtain walls between the lower outer towers, and higher inner curtain walls between the higher inner towers. Beaumaris aerial.jpg
Beaumaris Castle in Anglesey in North Wales, with curtain walls between the lower outer towers, and higher inner curtain walls between the higher inner towers.

A curtain wall is a defensive wall between two towers (bastions) of a castle, fortress, [1] or town. [2]

Contents

Ancient fortifications

Reconstruction of the 9th-century BC defensive walls around ancient Tel Lachish in modern Israel. General view of Lachish,Tell ed Duweir, looking east Wellcome L0005979.jpg
Reconstruction of the 9th-century BC defensive walls around ancient Tel Lachish in modern Israel.

Evidence for curtain walls or a series of walls surrounding a town or fortress can be found in the historical sources from Assyria and Egypt. Some notable examples are ancient Tel Lachish in Israel and Buhen in Egypt. Curtain walls were built across Europe during the Roman Empire; the early 5th century Theodosian Walls of Constantinople influenced the builders of medieval castles many centuries later. [3]

Curtain wall castles

The 12th-century curtain wall of the Chateau de Fougeres in Brittany in northern France, showing the battlements, arrowslits and overhanging machicolations. Castle of Fougeres 13.JPG
The 12th-century curtain wall of the Château de Fougères in Brittany in northern France, showing the battlements, arrowslits and overhanging machicolations.

In medieval castles, the area surrounded by a curtain wall, with or without towers, is known as the bailey. [4] The outermost walls with their integrated bastions and wall towers together make up the enceinte or main defensive line enclosing the site.

In medieval designs of castle and town, the curtain walls were often built to a considerable height and were fronted by a ditch or moat to make assault difficult. Walls were topped with battlements which consisted of a parapet, which was generally crenellated with merlons to protect the defenders and lower crenels or embrasures which allowed them to shoot from behind cover; merlons were sometimes pierced by loopholes or arrowslits for better protection. Behind the parapet was a wall walk from which the defenders could fight or move from one part of the castle to another. Larger curtain walls were provided with mural passages or galleries built into the thickness of the walls and provided with arrowslits. If an enemy reached the foot of the wall, they became difficult to see or shoot at directly, so some walls were fitted with a projecting wooden platform called a hoarding or brattice. Stone machicolations performed a similar function. [5]

Early modern fortifications

Two sections of the 16th-century curtain wall around Berwick-upon-Tweed, at the eastern end of the Anglo-Scottish border. Berwick-upon-Tweed.jpg
Two sections of the 16th-century curtain wall around Berwick-upon-Tweed, at the eastern end of the Anglo-Scottish border.

The introduction of gunpowder made tall castle walls vulnerable to fire from heavy cannon, which prompted the trace italienne style from the 16th century. In these fortifications, the height of the curtain walls was reduced, and beyond the ditch, additional outworks such as ravelins and tenailles were added to protect the curtain walls from direct cannonading.

See also

Notes

  1. snowlaw 1846, p. 44.
  2. Curry & Hughes 1999, p. 134.
  3. Turbull 2004, p. 59
  4. Friar 2003, p. 86.
  5. Hull 2006, pp. 66-67

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Medieval fortification

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Glacis Protective slope built into a fortification

A glacis in military engineering is an artificial slope as part of a medieval castle or in early modern fortresses. They may be constructed of earth as a temporary structure or of stone in more permanent structure.

Castle Fortified residential structure of medieval Europe

A castle is a type of fortified structure built during the Middle Ages predominantly by the nobility or royalty and by military orders. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble. This is distinct from a palace, which is not fortified; from a fortress, which was not always a residence for royalty or nobility; and from a fortified settlement, which was a public defence – though there are many similarities among these types of construction. Usage of the term has varied over time and has been applied to structures as diverse as hill forts and country houses. Over the approximately 900 years that castles were built, they took on a great many forms with many different features, although some, such as curtain walls, arrowslits, and portcullises, were commonplace.

Defensive wall Fortification used to protect an area from potential aggressors

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Fortification Military defensive construction

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Bastion

A bastion or bulwark is a structure projecting outward from the curtain wall of a fortification, most commonly angular in shape and positioned at the corners of the fort. The fully developed bastion consists of two faces and two flanks, with fire from the flanks being able to protect the curtain wall and the adjacent bastions. Compared with the medieval fortifications they replaced, bastion fortifications offered a greater degree of passive resistance and more scope for ranged defence in the age of gunpowder artillery. As military architecture, the bastion is one element in the style of fortification dominant from the mid 16th to mid 19th centuries.

Merlon

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Battlement

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Concentric castle

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Bastion fort early modern fortification style built to withstand cannon fire

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Enceinte

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Arrowslit

An arrowslit is a narrow vertical aperture in a fortification through which an archer can launch arrows or a crossbowman can launch bolts.

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Rampart (fortification) Defensive bank or wall surrounding a fortified site, such as a castle or settlement

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Fortifications of Valletta

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Fortifications of Mdina

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References

Fortification (architectural elements)