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(CC) Image: John Stephenson
The ruined twelfth-century keep of Scarborough Castle, England. The west wall was destroyed during the English Civil War.

A castle is a building which was designed to protect people and property inside, and typically belonged to an important or wealthy person such as a lord or monarch. Castles originated in the Middle Ages and were built for several centuries. Today most castles are either forgotten ruins or tourist attractions.

While a fort may well be a simple, temporary structure, frequently with a military focus, castles were often at the heart of medieval communities. A castle might well have served as a focal point for trade as well as warfare, and a settlement would grow in or around its grounds. The local lord would collect taxes from the local populace in return for the castle's protection. In wartime, sieges could go on for months or even years, with the castle's defenders surviving on water drawn from the castle's own wells, and food stockpiled in its chambers.

(CC) Photo: John Stephenson
Sixteenth-century Himeji Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site; unusually for Japan, the castle is built of wood rather than stone.

A variety of building materials would be used to construct a castle, and successive owners might have made many improvements or modifications. In Europe, although wood structures existed, there was a move towards stone for greater protection. For example, while the first known castle at Scarborough, England was made of wood, its replacement, the existing Scarborough Castle, was built of stone.[1] On the other side of the world, many castles were built in Japan, typically also of wood.[2]


  1. Binns (2002: 15-16).
  2. Himeji Castle: 'Virtual Tour - Himeji Castle'.