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Castle types

Location types

Bodo Ebhard [3, p. 1 en 22] groups castles after the strategic advantages that the location of the castles offers. This location and the building materials available determines the unique character of a castle1: "Nach lage der Baustellen ergibt sich daher eine Unterscheidung der verschiedenen Burgenarten".

Type Description Example
Mountain castles Höhenburgen: The approach to the castle is hampered by its high position. Siege engines cannot reach the castle. Schloß Vaduz
Rock castles "Felsenburgen": Castles that are build on top a mountain rock. Parts of the castle, including its main entrance, can be inside the rock. The Wasgau border region of France and Germany is famous for its rock castles. The rock defends the castle against sapping and is considered to be the strongest castle type. Château d'Haut-Köningsbourg
Water castles Wasserburgen: Surrounded by water in a moat or a lake. The water defends the castle against siege engines and sapping. In long sieges a moat can be filled with earth like demonstrated in the computergame Stronghold. Bodiam
Harbour castles Hafenburgen: One side is defended by water of a river or sea. Mostly used to defend harbour. Château de Chillon
City castles Stadtburgen: Castles build to defend or control a town. The castle can be shut of from the town. Because of its location against a town only one or two sides of the castle can be defended by height or water. Castle Limerick
1 Other castle types described by Ebhart are left out because there are too few castles listed in the top 100: Hole castles (Hohlenburgen), Valley defences (Talsperren), "Ganerbenburgen", "Befestigte Burgen" and "Stadtturmen".

Building structure types

Janssen [1, p. 17] and Toy [2] both describe classifications of structure types. Of these types deducted eight concepts that define the main groundplan of a castle. The concepts differ in three aspects:
  • the use of separate towers to defend the curtain walls;
  • the presence of a donjon as a last defence tower;
  • the defensive position of the donjon: inside, in or outside the curtain wall.
Variations and combinations of these concepts consist of extra curtain walls (Harlech Castle), donjons (Castle Duurstede) or or extra baileys (Château Gaillard).

Buidling concept Description Drawing2 Example
1. Motte-and-bailey castles (early norman castles) Een centrale toren of donjon op een heuvel, verdedigd door een weermuur. This castle type was introduced by Scandinavian invaders in England and France in the 10th and 1th century. Château de Gisors, Arundel Castle, Windsor Castle
2. Later norman castles A motte-and-bailey castle that is afterwards enclosed by or connected to a new curtain wall with flanking towers.
Château de Gisors, Arundel Castle, Windsor Castle
3. Ringwork castles Or shell keep: A round or multi-angular castle, located on a hill, without a separate tower or donjon without towers in the curtain wall. Restormel Castle, Castel del Monte
4. Tower or compact castles Stand-alone tower or donjon, compact castles without a bailey, can be equiped with small flanking towers in the outer wall. Threave Castle, Bunratty Castle, Burg Elz
5. Rectangular or polygonal castles Rectangular or polygonal shaped castlewith flanking towers in the curtain walls but without a central tower or donjon. Egeskov Slot, Muiderslot, Harlech Castle, Caernarfon Castle
6. Castles with donjon inside curtain wall Rectangular shaped classical castle with flanking towers in the curtain walls and a central tower or donjon positioned inside the curtain wall. The central tower or donjon can't assist in defending the curtain walls directly and can't be accessed from the curtain walls. Dover Castle, Tower of London
7. Castles with donjon in curtain wall Rectangular shaped classical castle with flanking towers and a central tower or donjon positioned in the curtain wall. The central tower or donjon can assist in defending the curtain walls directly and can be accessed from the curtain walls.
Kenilworth Castle, Château de Najac
8. Castles with donjon outside curtain wall Rectangular shaped classical castle with flanking towers and a central tower or donjon positioned outside the curtain wall. The central tower or donjon can assist in defending the curtain walls directly and can't be accessed from the curtain walls.
Castillo de Bellver, Tour de Constance - Aigues Mortes,
2Meaning of the colors:


The present condition of the castle

Condition Description Example
Intact The castle is mostly intact, all characteristic parts of the castle (gate, donjon, mote, defence works) are intact and accessible. Corroy le Château
Rebuild/Restored The castle appears intact but some or all characteristic parts of the castle have been rebuild or restored. Château de Pierefonds
Damaged The castle is not intact but the characteristic parts of the castle (gate, donjon, mote, defence works) are still recognisable. Kasteel Teylingen
Ruined/Partly remained Some characteristic parts of the castle (gate, donjon, mote, defence works) are lost. Some parts like the donjon can still be intact, rebuild or restaured. Ruïne van Brederode
Destroyed All characteristic parts of the castle (gate, donjon, mote, defence works) are lost. Château de Bastille


  • [1] Janssen, H.L. e.a., "1000 jaar kastelen in Nederland", Utrecht, 1996
  • [2] Toy, Sidney, "Castles - Their construction and history", London, 1939
  • [3] Ebhardt, Bodo, "Der Wehrbau Europas im Mittelalter - Ein Standardwerk der Burgenkunde", Braubach, 1939

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