Castle Preservation and Restoration

Castle Preservation and Restoration

We could create a stand along blog on the subject of castle preservation and restoration. The fact that many castles have survived for many hundreds of years with varying degrees of intervention gives them a sense of permanence, but ruins of castles like Richard the Lionheart’s Château Gaillard (pictured above) remind us that survival is often politically motivated and always requires a passionate visionary. Dan Snow described the challenges faced by visitors and researchers to Malaga’s Gibralfaro Castle, which were subject to improvements made during Franco’s regime.  This type of restoration project is motivated by attracting tourists and not necessarily historical preservation. As mentioned above, Château Gaillard now lies in ruins.  We have heard that it was used as a rock quarry at some point in the past to build a nearby abbey or church.  I believe this happened was because Chateau Gaillard was build by an English king on French soil.  It’s very existence  didn’t mesh with the power narrative put forward by the French victors. Thus it wasn’t considered worth preserving, despite the fact when it was built it was considered the finest castle of its age. The granddaddy of military fortification restoration was Eugène Viollet-le Duc.  Perhaps, his most ambitious monument was the walled city of Carcassone, but he also did work on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He also wrote treatises on French architecture and much of how we imagine castles to be can be ascribed to his nineteenth century romanticism of Gothic architecture. A Masters thesis written by Francesc Xavier Costa Guix called Viollet-le-Duc’s Restoration of the Cite of Carcassone: a nineteenth century monument describes the challenges inherent...
Medieval Plumbing and Castle Crappers

Medieval Plumbing and Castle Crappers

Lots of assumptions have been made about the state of personal hygiene and the disposal of human waste in medieval times.  But unlike towns and cities where raw sewage was dumped in the streets well past the Middle Ages, we are able to draw on numerous examples from the castles we visited to demonstrate that castle builders seemed to have a clear understanding of the vulnerability created by human waste and went to great lengths to construct strategies to deal with it. Medieval plumbing was much more than buckets. The earliest adaption we found was the so called Toilet Tower at Crac des Chevaliers.  As you may recall, Crac was constructed by the Knights Hospitaller who provided medical care and refuge to pilgrims in the Holy Land.  As a result, their castles contained a hospital wing or ward.  Very wisely, when designing Crac, they located the bank of toilets very close to the ward where they would receive great use. One of the most famous toilet castle legends dates to the siege of Chateau Gaillard.  According to this story, after having taken the Outer Bailey, Philippe Augustus’ men probed the perimeter of the castle looking for a weakness by which they could enter the Inner Bailey.  Apparently, the only opening they found was a latrine chute.  The two intrepid soldiers climbed the chute and set fire to the Chapel.  In the resulting chaos, the French were able to gain access to the Inner Bailey.  Researchers have since argued that it was a window into the Chapel itself (installed by King John) that allowed the French to take their objective.  This...
Dan Snow Demos Medieval Weapon: Battering Ram

Dan Snow Demos Medieval Weapon: Battering Ram

While standing at the top of the high tower at Malbork Castle, we could see a siege tower off in the distance.  We had come here to film one of our Battle Castle episodes but could not believe our good luck when we stumbled onto this medieval weapon. It turned out to be a treasure trove in the form of scale versions of siege engines!  Their builder Bartek Styszyński constructed ten scale models by selling everything he owned to create the exhibition of medieval weapons.  He was a gracious and generous host to us on location and even appeared in the Château Gaillard episode, climbing to the top of the siege tower with Dan Snow to explain the use of the battle bridge. Check out this clip with Dan Snow and the Battering Ram.  We can only imagine the trepidation we would feel if someone showed up at our door with this one!  It must have shaken the walls of the castle as its blows landed. The detail of these models was incredible.  Note the cover over the battering ram itself to protect the attackers from defensive actions from the castle walls. Watch here if you’d like to hear more about the man who inspired Bartek to build his collections of siege...