In addition to being hearth and home for kings, lords and other nobles, castles were also fortifications designed to defend. The medieval era was a violent period and castles had to withstand sieges and assaults. However, they were also the hubbub of activity for the surrounding village or town and so, some architectural aspects were designed to accommodate gatherings.
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The Great Hall
The great hall was the nucleus of castle life. Typically, they were large and had high ceilings. Tapestries covered the walls to act as decoration and to ward off the cold. The floors were made of stone and were covered with straw rushes intermixed with herbs, such as mint, lavender and basil to overcome odours. Fireplaces were either in the centre of the room or set in the walls. To accommodate large dining parties, there would be long wooden tables and benches. According to the book, "Eyewitness Castle" written by Christopher Gravett, windows were typically set in recessed large alcoves and had rounded arches. The great hall was where weddings and other celebrations took place.
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The word dungeon is derived from the French word "donjon" that means tower. Though some think dungeons were always in the belly of the castle, they were most often in guarded high towers. Doorways to individual cells were wooden grilles. Some prisoners would be further restricted with iron manacles around the wrists and neck. The neck manacles could weigh up to 15.9 Kilogram. A specific type of cell was the oubliette, an enclosed space where the only way in or out was via a hatch in the ceiling. Oubliette is a translation of the French term "to forget," an apropos name as oubliette prisoners were ignored.
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Due to the danger of fires, kitchens were often separated from the main body of the castle by a narrow passageway. They were surrounded by other food-related rooms, such as a buttery, pantry and brew house. A buttery stored bottles and beverages, a pantry housed food and a brew house came equipped with kilns to steep barley and make ale. Inside the kitchen were sinks, ovens and fireplaces. Kitchen utensils included skimmers that would take food from a cauldron and drain the water, cooking pots with legs and decorated jugs used to serve wine and ale.
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Religion was an important part of daily life. Some prayed four times a day. Often, a chapel was built in stone and decorated with Biblical images to communicate religious stories to a largely illiterate populace. An example of an image would be the Adoration of the Magi. It was not uncommon for chapels to be attached to the royal crypt and to be close to the great hall. Some chapels were two stories. Important nobles sat in the upper echelon while servants occupied the lower level. Frequently, chapels would have alter chests, a royal cup that was decorated with colour enamel and a rood screen, which was carved from wood or stone and divided the nave from the chancel of the church, also known as the area around the alter.
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Castles had many architectural touches for security purposes. One defence mechanism was a moat, a body of water that encircled the castle. A drawbridge could be raised so attacking forces would have to figure out a way over the moat if they were to breach the fortress. There were also narrow windows or loopholes in the castle so that stone could protect archers while they fired at the enemy. Many Medieval castles also had spiral staircases so that besiegers would not have a straight route to the upper level chambers. There were also murder holes in the roof of the entrance to the castle. Burning oil or hot water could be poured through the holes and on soldiers who were storming the castle.