Medieval Castles In 1494 the armies of the French king, Charles VIII, invaded Italy to capture the kingdom of Naples. They swept through the country and bombarded and destroyed many castles. This invasion signaled the end of the castle as a stronghold of defense. For centuries it had been the dominant fortification in Western Europe for the defense of kings, nobility, and townspeople. Ancient cities were often walled to keep out invaders, and within the walls there was usually a citadel, a strongly built fortification occupying the highest or militarily most advantageous position. A castle is much like such a walled city and its citadel contracted into a smaller space. Castles were basically fortified locations. The word itself comes from the Latin castellum. Up to the 6th century fortifications were primarily communities in which most of the population lived. But in the middle of the 6th century, the armies of the Byzantine Empire began to build strong forts as defensive positions. For the next few centuries this castle building was confined to the Byzantine Empire, but later hordes of Islamic warriors who swept out of Arabia to conquer the Middle East, North Africa, and much Byzantine territory also started building such forts. Western Europe, in the depths of the Dark Ages from the 5th through the 9th century, had no such works. But late in the 9th century, as local lords and kings began to consolidate power, castle building began probably in France. Once begun, castle building spread rapidly to other areas. But it was not until the 12th and 13th centuries, after the Crusaders returned from their wars against Islam in Palestine, that castles as imposing as those of the Byzantine or Islamic empires were constructed in Europe. Many of the stone castles of the late Middle Ages still stand. Some are tourist attractions, in various states of repair, along the Rhine River from Mainz to Cologne in Germany, dotted about the French countryside, or perched on hilltops in Spain. The original French castles had been built on open plains. Later ones, however, were situated on rocky crags, at river forks, or in some position where advancing enemies would find approach extremely difficult, if not impossible. The fortifications became more elaborate with time, with considerable attention paid to making the living quarters more comfortable. A typical castle was usually guarded on the outskirts by a surrounding heavy wooden fence of sharp-pointed stakes called a barbican. It was intended to prevent surprise attacks by delaying the advance of assailants and giving those within the castle compound time to prepare to resist and attack. Inside the barbican stretched the lists, or wards: strips of land that encircled the castle. The lists served as a road in time of peace and as a trap in war; once within the barbican the enemy was in the range of arrows shot from the castle walls. In peacetime the lists also served as an exercise ground for horses and occasionally as tournament grounds. Between the lists and the towering outer walls of the castle itself was the moat, usually filled with water. Across it stretched a drawbridge, which was raised every night. At the castle end of the drawbridge was the portcullis, a large sliding door made of wooden or iron grillwork hung over the entryway. It moved up and down in grooves and was raised every day and lowered at night. In times of danger it blocked the way to the heavy oak gates that served as doors to the castle compound. These gates were so large that they were rarely opened except on ceremonial occasions. A smaller door was built into one of them to provide easy entrance and exit for those who lived in the castle. A person known as the chief porter was charged with the responsibility of making sure that only friends passed through. The outer walls of most castles were massively thick, sometimes as much as 15 feet. At intervals were high towers, each a small fort in itself with provisions to withstand a long siege. When an attack was expected, wooden balconies were hung over the outer edges of the wall. During an attack, large stones were thrown or boiling oil poured from the balconies onto anyone