16 of The Oldest Castles in the World
Human beings have needed fortification for the whole length of their history. In the beginning, the natural formations of rock and wood played the role of shelter, to be built upon and improved in later eons and across countless generations. Forts and fortifications from once-mighty civilizations have changed hands and been added to throughout the centuries, providing a timeline for the great bastions of the ancient ages in the very working of earth and stone.
As time rolled inexorably on, so to did humanity’s pursuit of settled lands rather than nomadic trails, and those settled lands required defenses. As the nature of conflict between the settled areas of the world altered, and as weaponry advanced and shifted in form, the nature of those defenses changed as well. Earth forts were replaced by tall castle walls, only to be replaced again by trenches during the First World War.
Castles, as we think of them in the West, often have a medieval fairytale aesthetic, which stems from mythology more than a practical understanding of what these great fortifications were and how they were used. The very concept of “castle” has entered our mythic consciousness, building on the ancient roots of our fortified civilizations through the ages, and carrying with it both an aesthetic and an emotional resonance that is impossible to ignore.
Castles, citadels, forts, oh my!
What’s the difference between all of these things anyway? What makes a castle different from a fort, or a fort different from a citadel?
From the Latin word castellum we find the root of the word Castle. In Roman times, these were generally small fortified fortlets or watchtowers, but during the Middle Ages in Europe “castle” specifically referred to a residence for nobility. Castles came in various styles and forms, with many Japanese castles dotting the landscape during the Japanese Middle Ages. Generally, we can think of castles as “fortified homes” for nobility.
“Palace” doesn’t actually refer to anything specific, since it could mean anything from residence for an important figure to a central place of State governance.
Forts, are defensive military constructs. These have been built throughout history, and at times may have been built in conjunction with some form of greater settlement. Generally, they were military installations, designed to house soldiers and provide for the defense of a region. Modern “star forts”, for instance, became popular constructs with the growing usage of gunpowder weapons and can be found dotting much of Europe’s countryside.
Citadel refers to the fortified center of a town or a city, and in this way, it could be a fortress or castle, or any sort of fortified installation. Even the word itself is a diminutive of the word for city, literally meaning “little city.”