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Castle (Latin castellum,”small fortified place”), fortified residence of a feudal lord or monarch. Derived from the walled cities of ancient Rome and the fortified palaces of Byzantium, the castle became virtually ubiquitous in western Europe during the wars of the late Middle Ages.
At first the castle consisted of a simple wooden structure on top of a mound, surrounded by a ditch. If a lord's domains were flat, he constructed an artificial mound, or motte. As medieval siegecraft developed, a wall or series of walls or palisades was raised around the motte and at a distance from it; the open area within these walls became known as the bailey. By the 11th century the motte-and-bailey form of castle was widely prevalent. Outer walls gradually became thicker and were topped with wide battlemented parapets.
The next step in the development of the castle was the addition by the Normans of a towering masonry keep, or donjon, within the bailey. The keep, often some 12 to 15 m (some 40 to 50 ft) high, had thick walls and small windows. The White Tower within the Tower of London is an example of a Norman keep. Wide, deep moats replaced the crude ditches; ideally filled with water but often dry, these moats were crossed by drawbridges that could be raised from within the castle. At the castle end of the drawbridge was an opening in the wall, containing a portcullis, a thick, iron-plated wooden door that could be raised to clear the entrance. Within the Norman keep were private apartments, a well for water, and everything else necessary to sustain the inhabitants of the castle through a long siege. At first the keep was rectangular; later, it was learned that a round keep was easier to defend. In the 13th century the castle became increasingly sophisticated. Living and administrative quarters were moved from the keep into new buildings raised within the bailey. The keep, made smaller and stronger, became the final defensive position within a series of battlements.
A castle was often built on the edge of an impregnable cliff, ideally at a bend in the river where it could command a view of the surrounding countryside. The Château Gaillard, built by Richard I, King of England, in Les Andelys, France, is an example of a strategically located castle. The use of gunpowder in projectiles brought to an end the impregnability of the medieval castle. After 1500 the construction of castles was no longer feasible, and castle became a term for an imposing residence. Information provided by http://encarta.msn.com
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