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Town Defenses: Castra, Fauxbourgs, Circulades, and Bastides

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Castra, Fauxbourgs, Circulades and Bastides

 

 

Castra

Fauburgs

Circulades

Bastides

 

Cordes sur Ciel (rising above the clouds), France

 

 

Castra - Fortified Towns

 

The word castrum denotes a Roman fort but it has a second meaning. It also denotes a defended town or city. In medieval times most substantial towns possessed many features associated with castles, including surrounding walls and gates that could be closed and locked at night.

A vestige of these times is the practice of offering the keys of the city to honoured guests. Only the most trusted citizens were entrusted with the keys to the city gates

In the popular mind there is a clear distinction between castles and towns, but in medieval times the distinction was far more hazy. A large castle might accommodate a whole township with its walls. Similarly a town might look indistinguishable from a castle. Many "Cathar Castles" were really castra, and it may well be that the distinction is arbitrary - contemporary chroniclers sometimes made a distinction, but often did not, and often failed to use the the same terms as each other for the same places.

Sometimes a castle within city walls looks like one massive castle - an excellent example is Carcassonne, shown on the right. There is a large castle, the Château Comptal, set within the fortified cite.

The castle has its own curtain walls and towers and a semi circular barbican within the cite. Even if the cite were taken by an enemy the château comptal could still hold out.

The City itself is like a giant castle, with two rings of city walls and intramural towers, and its own barbican at the Narbonne gate. As the castle is set against the city walls (or perhaps the city walls represent the castle's bailey) an addition entrance into the city leads straight into the castle. (There is third barbican here, at the Aude gate). This provides the maximum possible flexibility for defenders.

When towns were taken, besiegers would often destroy the city walls, partly to deter a repeat and partially as a punishment. The destruction of the city walls of Toulouse by Simon de Montfort in the thirteenth century left scars that still sting today. Simon's death while besieging the rapidly rebuilt city walls is still widely celebrated.

Carcassonne - The Old Cite, Aude, France
 
Carcassonne - The Château Comptal , Aude, France
 
 

 

Fauxburgs

 

Fauxburgs are literally "False Towns". They were towns that often grew up spontaneously outside of the city walls. In time they became permanent features and sometimes their inhabitants would build their own city walls.

From a military point of view fauxburgs were a mixed blessing. On the one hand they made the city bigger, with more defenders. On the other they tended to weaken overall defences. Attackers would often go for the fauxburgs first, and then use them as bases to attack the city itself, enjoying the benefits of adjacent stronghold, often with common gates and always with shared walls.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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Circulades

 

In many areas even small villages, hamlets or even farms needed to be defended. This was especially true in areas such as the Languedoc, that saw centuries of invasion and lawlessness.

Circulades were small fortified settlements, often located on hill tops - successors to what had earlier been called oppida.

Circulades and other small fortified towns are often called bastides - which is confusing because the term has a completely different meaning:

Aerial view of a Circulade
 
 

 

Bastides

 

Bastides are towns built in medieval Languedoc, Gascony and Aquitaine during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Almost seven hundred new towns were built between 1222 (Cordes-sur-Ciel, Tarn) and 1372 (La Bastide d'Anjou, Tarn) in an effort by the French to colonise the wilderness especially of what is now southwest France,

Bastides began to appear in numbers under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1229), which permitted Raymond VII of Toulouse to build new towns in his shattered domains, though not to fortify them. When Alphonse of Poitiers inherited the County of Toulouse, under a marriage stipulated by the treaty, this "bastide founder of unparalleled energy" consolidated his regional control in part through the founding of bastides.

These bastides were also an attempt by landowners to generate revenues from taxes on trade rather than tithes (taxes on production). Farmers who elected to move their families to bastides were no longer vassals of the local lord — they became free men; thus the creation of bastides was a force in the waning of feudalism.

New inhabitants were encouraged to work the land around the bastide, which in turn attracted trade in the form of merchants and markets. The lord taxed dwellings in the bastides and all trade in the market. The legal footing on which the bastides were set was that of paréage with the local ruling power, based on a formal written contractual agreement between the landholder and the ruler (the count of Toulouse, King of France or King of England. The landholder might be a cartel of local lords or the abbot of a local monastery.

Responsibilities and benefits were carefully framed in a charter that delineated the franchises ("liberties") and coutumes ("customs") of the bastide. Feudal rights were invested in the sovereign, with the local lord retaining some duties as enforcer of local justice and intermediary between the new inhabitants — required to build houses within a specified time, often a year — and the representatives of the sovereign. Residents were granted a houselot, a kitchen garden lot (casale) and a cultivable lot (arpent) on the periphery of the bastide's lands. First constructions of the hall and the church were often of carpentry: stone constructions came after the successful founding of the bastide.

There has been some scholarly debate about the exact definition of a bastide. They are now generally described as any town planned and built as a single unit, by a single founder. The majority of bastides have a grid layout of intersecting streets, with wide thoroughfares that divide the town plan into insulae, or blocks, through which a narrow lane often runs, and a central market square surrounded by arcades (couverts) through which the axes of thoroughfares pass, with a covered weighing and measuring area.

The market square often provides the module into which the bastide is subdivided The Roman model, the castrum with its grid plan and central forum, was inescapable in a region where Roman planning precedents remained in medieval cities like Béziers, Narbonne, Toulouse, Orange and Arles.

Most bastides were built in the Lot-et-Garonne, Dordogne, Gers and Haute-Garonne départements of France, because of the altitude and quality of the soil, and some were placed in important defensive positions. The best-known today is probably Andorra la Vella, but the most populated is Villeneuve-sur-Lot, the "new town on the River Lot".

When the cite of Carcassonne fell the French did not trust the locals to continue living in such a strategic stronghold. The king therefore obliged the inhabitant to move out and found a new town without city walls. This late Medieval settlement survives today as the Ville Basse also known as the Bastide de St-Louis, on the other side of the River Aude from the old cite. It was later allowed to build its own city walls, some of which survive. As in many other French cities, the outer defensive ditches have been filled in to provide spectacular wide boulevards.

 

Plan of the Bastide St-Louis at Carcassonne, Aude, France
 
Dubrovnik
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

More on Types of Castle and History of Castles

 

Click on any of the following links to learn more about specific types of castle

 

 

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Château de Sceaux, Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine,France

 

Alcazar Castle, Segovia,Spain

 

 

 

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