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Gates & Barbicans

 

Gateways, like all openings, were recognised weak points in any defensive fortress. For this reason defenders tended to take two simple precautions. The first was to minimise the number of openings, including gateways. The second was to provide additional defense for gateways.

The first was acheived by severely restricting the number of gateways. Except for postern gates, a typical castle would have only a single entrance gate. Some had not at all - everthing that came in did so by being hoisted up over the walls, and everything that left did so be being thrown over the walls or hoisted down.

Towns would also have few gateways, often one, rarely more than four, even for the largest cities.

The second method - protecting gateways - offered more opportunities for imaginative solutions:

 
The Barbican of Warwick Castle, in England

Gates

 

Gates were made of wood, which made them vulnerable. To maximise the strength they were made as thick at practicable, often with layers of wood alternating beween vertical and horizontal.

Some doors were reinforced by metal plates as shown on the right.

In India external doors are often fitted with long spikes to deter barging by elephants. The picture on the left is of the Lohapol gate, Jodhpur, India

In Europe the architectural style of doorways provides important clues for dating a building.

 

The simplest sort of door lintel. This one is in Saudi Arabia

 
 

 

 

Door handle

 
 

Elevated doorways

 

Everyone knows about moats and drawbridges - but not so many people know that most external doors in castles were well above ground level.

The Keep (donjon) at Montségur

 

This obviously made them more difficult to attack, but how could they be used in peacetime? The answer is that there were wooden structures providing access for pedestrians, and sometimes for horses too.

You can see an outstanding example at the White tower in the Tower of London (right), and a slighly less impressive example at Montségur (left)

 

Raised doorway inside Carcasonne

 

Saint Catherine's Monastery commonly known as Santa Katarina, Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai, Egypt.

The monastery has a door, but it is new. For many centuries the only way in and out was by being winched over the walls.

 

Sabada, Cinco Villas. between Aragon and Navarra, Spain

For defensive purposes the ideal castle has no doors or external windows.

 

The White tower - The Keep (donjon) of the Tower of London

 

Flanking Towers

 

Flanking towers provided the means to house a number of defensive features including meutriers, draw bridges, port cullises, etc

Below is a diagram showing a model of Carcassone. The main ("Narbonne") gate is flanked by twin towers which guard the gateway and also the barbican and drawbridge just outside the gates.

 

© Philippe Biard / centre des Monuments Nationaux de France

 

 

 

 

 

The Keep (donjon) at Carcassonne
 

The Narbonne Gate, west elevation, reproduction.

 

The Narbonne Gate, west elevation, today

 

© Philippe Biard / centre des Monuments Nationaux de France

 
 
 
 

The Keep (donjon) at Arques Mortes
 

Portcullis grooves at Carcassonne

 

A portcullis at Carcassonne
© François Brosse/ Centre des Monuments Nationaux

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The Drawbridge

 

Medieval castles were usually defended by a ditch or moat, crossed by wooden bridge. In early castles the bridge might be designed to be destroyed or removed in the event of an attack, but drawbridges became common. A typical arrangement was to have the drawbridge immediately outside a gatehouse, consisting of a wooden deck with one edge hinged or pivoting at the gatehouse threshold, so that in the raised position the bridge would be flush against the gate, forming an additional barrier to entry. It would be backed by one or more portcullises and gates. Access to the bridge could be resisted with missiles from machicolations above or arrow slits in flanking towers.

The bridge (or sometimes just the end part of the bridge - as at Doornenburg shown on the right) would be raised or lowered using ropes or chains attached to a windlass in a chamber in the gatehouse above the gate-passage. Only a very light bridge could be raised in this way without any form of counterweight, so some form of bascule arrangement is normally found. The bridge may extend into the gate-passage beyond the pivot point, either over a pit into which the internal portion can swing (providing a further obstacle to attack), or in the form of counterweighted beams that drop into slots in the floor.

The raising chains could themselves be attached to counterweights; in some cases a portcullis provides the weight, as at Alnwick.

By the 14th Century a bascule arrangement was provided by lifting arms (called "gaffs") above and parallel to the bridge deck whose ends were linked by chains to the lifting end of the bridge; in the raised position the gaffs would fit into slots in the gatehouse wall ("rainures") which can often still be seen, as at Herstmonceux Castle.

Inside the castle the gaffs were extended to bear counterweights, or might form the side-timbers of a stout gate which would be against the roof of the gate-passage when the drawbridge was down, but would close against the gate-arch as the bridge was raised.

 

Drawbridge at Doornenburg Castle

 
Drawbridge at the fort of Ponta da Bandeira; Lagos, Portugal showing the gaffs
 
 
 

Barbicans

 

Barbicans are defensive structures controlling access to a gateway. They are fortified outposts or gateways, typically forming the outer defence to a fortified city or castle, (The Barbican in London marks the site of a barbican defending an important entrance to the City of London)

Barbicans sometimes take the form of a tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defensive purposes.

Usually barbicans were situated outside the main line of defences and connected to the city walls with a walled road called the neck. With improvements in artillery in the 15th century, barbicans lost their importance. Few barbicans were built in or after the 16th century.

The old Cite of Carcassonne possesses no fewer than four barbicans. They are all different and give a good idea of the range of structures described as barbicans.

Barbican at the Narbonne Gate, Carcassonne
 

Barbican at the Narbonne Gate, Carcassonne

 

The main entrance to Carcassonne was the Narbonne Gate, a substantial gate in the inner curtain wall. It was defended by a barbican, shown on the right, in the outer curtain wall.

A Postern Gate at Carcassonne
© Philippe Biard / centre des Monuments Nationaux de France

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the inside of the semicircular defence, part of the Barbican at the Narbonne Gate at Carcassonne. This structure allows defenders to provide massive covering fire to the adjacent fortified drawbridge.
 
Barbican at the Narbonne Gate, Carcassonne
 
 
 

Barbican at the Chateau Comptal at Carcassonne from the Cité

 

© Philippe Biard / centre des Monuments Nationaux de France

 

© Philippe Biard / centre des Monuments Nationaux de France

 

 

 

Photograph of the Barbican at the chateau Comtale at Carcassonne,
taken from the hourdes on top of the chateau wall

 

External view of the Barbican gate in front at the chateau Comtale at Carcassonne (a fortified gateway defending the barbican which is itself defending the cite entrance to the Chateau Comtale)

 

Illustration of the Barbican at the chateau Comtale at Carcassonne, looking down from the cite side of the exterior of the chateau
 
Illustration of the Barbican at the chateau Comtale at Carcassonne, looking down from the direction of the chateau
 
Photograph of the Barbican at the chateau Comtale at Carcassonne, taken from the dry moat just by the chateau wall (ie below the point of view of the photo on the left)
 
Internal view of the Barbican gate in front at the Chateau Comtale at Carcassonne. It is not incomplete - the gateway is built "open a la gorge" deliberately so that even if attackers should take it, they will still be vulnerable to fire from the Chateau Comtale
 
 
 

Barbican at the Aude Gate at Carcassonne

 

Although Carcassonne was supplied by a number of wells inside the city, water could still be a problem - as the siege of the cite in 1209 was to prove.

Carcassonne possessed an unusual external structure providing access to the river Aude and dominating the banks of the river. It is shown here in the right, drawn by Violette le Duc in the nineteenth century.

The circular structure was removed and replaced by a church, but the walled walkway remains and is accessible to the public.

(You can make out two other barbicans in this diagram, the Aude Gate and at the top the barbican of the Chateau Comtale within the cite.

 
Carcassonne

 

 
 

 

The Aude Gate at Carcassonne
 
 

The Fourth Barbican at Carcassonne

 

© Philippe Biard / centre des Monuments Nationaux de France

 

 

 

This is the fourth Barbican at Carcassonne, defending a postern gate

 

© Philippe Biard / centre des Monuments Nationaux de France

 
 

Postern Gates

A postern is a secondary door or gate, particularly in a fortification such as a city wall or castle curtain wall.

Posterns were often located in a concealed location, allowing the occupants to come and go inconspicuously.

In the event of a siege, a postern could act as a sally port, allowing defenders to make a surprise sortie on the besiegers.

 
Postern Gate at Termes

 

 

A Postern Gate at Carcassonne seen from the inside.
It is deliberately built to be easily defensible if the door were breached. This gate is located next to the barbican directly above - or rather the barbican is located next to the gate to defend it.

 
A Postern Gate (into to lists) at Carcassonne
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