Fortified tower

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Gate towers at Harlech Castle SDJ Harlech Castle Gatehouse.jpg
Gate towers at Harlech Castle

A fortified tower (also defensive tower or castle tower or, in context, just tower) is one of the defensive structures used in fortifications, such as castles, along with curtain walls. Castle towers can have a variety of different shapes and fulfil different functions.


Shape of towers

The Tour des Penitents in Mende, France, a horseshoe-shaped tower remaining from the former medieval city walls Mende Tour des Penitents.jpg
The Tour des Pénitents in Mende, France, a horseshoe-shaped tower remaining from the former medieval city walls

Rectangular towers

Square or rectangular towers are easy to construct and give a good amount of usable internal space. Their disadvantage is that the corners are vulnerable to mining. Despite this vulnerability, rectangular towers continued to be used, and Muslim military architecture generally favoured them. [1]

Round towers

Round towers, also called drum towers, are more resistant to siege technology such as sappers and projectiles than square towers. The round front is more resistant than the straight side of a square tower, just as a load-bearing arch. This principle was already understood in antiquity. [1]

Horseshoe-shaped towers

The horseshoe-shaped (or D-shaped) tower is a compromise that gives the best of a round and a square tower. The semicircular side (the one facing the attacker) could resist siege engines, while the rectangular part at the back gives internal space and a large fighting platform on top. [1] The large towers at Krak des Chevaliers and the gate towers at Harlech are good examples. Armenian castles such as Lampron also favoured this style.

Polygonal towers

A common form is an octagonal tower, used in some bergfrieds and at Castel del Monte in Italy.

There are also hybrid shapes. For instance, the keep at Château Gaillard is slightly bent forward, but also has a triangular beak to deflect projectiles.

Towers with specific functions

Wall towers, also known as mural towers, provide flanking fire (from crossbows or other projectile weapons) to a straight part of the curtain wall. Corner towers enfilade the two adjoining wall faces. If corner towers are far apart, additional flanking towers may be added between them. Towers in an outer curtain wall are often open at the back.

Particularly large towers are often the strongest point of the castle: the keep or the bergfried. As the gate is always a vulnerable point of a castle, towers may be built near it to strengthen the defences at this point. In crusader castles, there is often a gate tower, with the gate passage leading through the base of the tower itself. In European castles, it is more common to have flanking towers on either side of the gatehouse.

See also

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Concentric castle

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Castel del Monte, Apulia

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A gatehouse is a type of fortified gateway, an entry control point building, enclosing or accompanying a gateway for a town, religious house, castle, manor house, or other fortification building of importance. Gatehouses are typically the most heavily armed section of a fortification, to compensate for being structurally the weakest and the most probable attack point by an enemy. There are numerous surviving examples in France, Austria, Germany, England and Japan.

Kerak Castle

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Sahyun Castle

Sahyun Castle, also known as the Castle of Saladin, is a medieval castle in northwestern Syria. It is located 7 km east of Al-Haffah town and 30 km east of the city of Latakia, in high mountainous terrain on a ridge between two deep ravines and surrounded by forest, the site has been fortified since at least the mid 10th century. In 975 the Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes captured the site and it remained under Byzantine control until around 1108. Early in the 12th century the Franks assumed control of the site and it was part of the newly formed Crusader state of the Principality of Antioch. The Crusaders undertook an extensive building programme, giving the castle much of its current appearance. In 1188 it fell to the forces of Saladin after a three-day siege. The castle was again besieged in 1287, this time both defender and belligerent were Mamluks. In 2006, the castles of Qal'at Salah El-Din and Krak des Chevaliers were recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The site is owned by the Syrian government.

Château de Puivert

The Château de Puivert is a so-called Cathar castle situated in the commune of Puivert, in the Aude département of France. The castle has been classified as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1902. This building, on top of a hill overhanging the village and its lake, reaches an elevation of 605 m. The site is in the Quercob region, 60 km (37 mi) south of Carcassonne and 45 km (28 mi) east of Foix.

Château de Lagarde

The Château de Lagarde is a ruined castle situated near the village of Lagarde, 8 km (5.0 mi) southeast of Mirepoix in the French département of Ariège.

Inner bailey

The inner bailey or inner ward of a castle is the strongly fortified enclosure at the heart of a medieval castle. It is protected by the outer ward and, sometimes also a Zwinger, moats, a curtain wall and other outworks. Depending on topography it may also be called an upper bailey or upper ward.

Château de Rully

The Château de Rully is a castle in the commune of Rully in the Saône-et-Loire département of France. Located on the side of a hill, the castle dominates the whole region, facing the plain leading to the Saône. To the west, it commands the valley towards Nantoux and Chassey-le-Camp.

Spur castle

A spur castle is a type of medieval fortification that is sited on a spur of a hill or mountain for defensive purposes. Ideally, it would be protected on three sides by steep hillsides; the only vulnerable side being that where the spur joins the hill from which it projects. By contrast, a ridge castle is only protected by steep terrain on two sides.

Bailey (castle)

A bailey or ward in a fortification is a courtyard enclosed by a curtain wall. In particular, an early type of European castle was known as a motte-and-bailey. Castles can have more than one bailey. Their layout depends both on the local topography and the level of fortification technology employed, ranging from simple enclosures to elaborate concentric defences. In addition to the gradual evolution of more complex castle plans, there are also significant differences in regional traditions of military architecture regarding the subdivision into baileys.


Bergfried is a tall tower that is typically found in castles of the Middle Ages in German-speaking countries and in countries under German influence. Friar describes it as a "free-standing, fighting-tower". Its defensive function is to some extent similar to that of a keep in English or French castles. However, the characteristic difference between a bergfried and a keep is that a bergfried was typically not designed for permanent habitation.

Bretèche Type of castle architectural element

In Medieval fortification, a bretèche or brattice is a small balcony with machicolations, usually built over a gate and sometimes in the corners of the fortress' wall, with the purpose of enabling defenders to shoot or throw objects at the attackers huddled under the wall. Depending on whether they have a roof, bretèches are classified in two types: open and closed. The open ones were accessed from the battlement's wall walk, or from a crenel.

Flanking tower

A flanking tower is a fortified tower that is sited on the outside of a defensive wall or other fortified structure and thus forms a flank. From the defensive platform and embrasures the section of wall between them could be swept from the side by ranged weapons. In High and Late Medieval castles and town walls, flanking towers often had a semi-circular floor plan or a combination of a rectangular inner and semi-circular outer plans. There were also circular and rectangular towers. Corner flanking towers are found, for example, in the fortifications of the Alhambra and at the manor house of Hugenpoet Palace; Wellheim Castle has a square flanking tower. Semi-circular flanking towers were common in Sasanian architecture.

Albarrana tower

An Albarrana tower is a defensive tower detached from the curtain wall and connected to it by a bridge or an arcade.


A Zwinger is an open kill zone area between two defensive walls that is used for defensive purposes. Zwingers were built in the post-classical and early modern periods to improve the defence of castles and town walls. The term is German and usually left untranslated. However, it is sometimes rendered as "outer courtyard" presumably referring to the subsequent role of a Zwinger as a castle's defences became redundant and it was converted into a palace or schloss, however, this belies its original purpose as a form of killing ground for the defence. The word is linked with zwingen, "to force", perhaps because the Zwinger forced an enemy to negotiate it before assaulting the main defensive line. Essenwein states that the "main purpose of this feature was so that the besieging force could not reach the actual castle wall very easily with battering rams or belfries, but had to stop at the lower, outer wall; also that two ranks of archers, behind and above one another, could fire upon the approaching enemy"

Château de Druyes

Château de Druyes is a medieval castle located in Druyes-les-Belles-Fontaines in Yonne, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. It was built in the 12th century by the Counts of Nevers, and remained in their possession until the 18th century. It was as much a noble residence as it was a fortified castle. It was a frequented dwelling place of Peter II of Courtenay, the Emperor of Constantinople in the 13th century, and his daughter Matilda, Countess of Nevers, Auxerre and Tonnerre.


  1. 1 2 3 Kennedy (2000).