Each Battle Castle episode stands alone.
In this special online segment we look at castle design to compare and contrast the features shared by the castles. This time we examine a Castle Feature that is important in protecting a castle against siege: Machicolations.
Sometimes referred to as “murder holes”, machicolations are defensive innovations engineered to guard against close-range assaults. If a besieger manages to get to the base of the walls or an entrance, these gaps in the castle’s design allow a garrison to rain down arrows, crossbow bolts, corrosive quicklime, boiling water … even feces.
Conwy Castle: Unlike Crac des Chevaliers – which has machicolations all around its outer wall – or Chateau Gaillard – where machicolations are thought to have been limited to the keep – Conwy Castle’s “murder holes” are positioned exclusively at the weakest parts of the castle – the two entrances. Its western and eastern gates are topped with a line of these defensive features, positioned at regular intervals between two flanking towers.
Chateau Gaillard: The machicolations at Richard the Lionheart’s Norman stronghold are believed to be the earliest examples of these defensive features in Western Europe, though this point has been debated. These “murder holes”, shaped like an upside down pyramid, are only evident at the heart of the castle – its keep, and have been credited to the influence that Eastern architecture had on Richard while he was in the Middle East during the Third Crusade.
Crac des Chevaliers: Crac des Chevaliers’ machicolations circle the entire outer wall and are evident in some areas of the inner section. Box machicolations built by the Knights Hospitaller appear in groupings of three stones spaced apart by approximately twice their width. This discontinuity may have stemmed from fears that continuous “murder holes” would weaken the walls – as evidenced by subsequent construction, this concern has since proven to be unfounded.
To see these Machicolations in more detail, check out our Flickr Gallery