Why Do Castles Have Turrets?

Castle turrets are conspicuous beauty features for castles such that they are almost impossible to miss! But whose idea was it to attach a tiny tower to the top of a building? Is it just aesthetics, or is there an exciting history behind turrets?

In the medieval era, castle turrets served as security towers from where soldiers defended a castle. But as time advanced, their purpose changed. History shows that towards the 17th century, they became wholly decorative.

Castle Turrets
Picture by neil roger on flickr.com

What are castle turrets?

The word ‘turret’ is a derivative of the Italian word ‘torretta’ which means little tower. Its Latin equivalent is ‘turris’, which translates to mean tower in English.

 So, technically, castle turrets are little towers. However, they are not just any kind of tower; they are little towers attached to a castle at the top. They usually tilt outwards from the building and also have a clear open roof (as in turrets in medieval times) or a decorative pointy top (as in most recent turrets). 

The History of Castle Turrets

Why castle turrets? 

Castle turrets have initially been attached to castles as a military defence system. Master masons built the earliest turrets with access from the main castles through which soldiers could enter and repel any attack.

In the medieval period, military threats came by way of swords, knives, arrows, slings, and the likes; there were no guns at the time.

 Due to how castle turrets were designed and built, it was easy to defend a castle from there with the very minimal casualty. So, castle turrets were famous at the time for their safety benefits.

The defensive design of castle turrets – beauty plus purpose

The medieval engineers always built turrets with class and purpose in mind:

  • Castle turrets were made of tall walls/ towers all around it so that no attack could easily reach those hiding behind the walls. The stones used for constructing turrets were usually similar to the ones on the main building.
  • Castle turrets had slit windows through which the soldiers could shoot, but other areas were primarily covered, making it difficult for arrows to penetrate.
  • Castle turrets were designed to slant away from the castle in a way that from there, a person could see 360 degrees (roundabout) the castle to which it was attached.
  • They had stairs or access doors into the castles through which soldiers can enter, but usually no access point from the outside.
  • Castle turrets were attached to the top of the building; to evenly distribute their weight and not cause harm to the castles, its builders support them with corbels (a solid piece of material in the wall attached to the edges of the building and giving support). 

What were castle turrets used for?

The architects used Castle turrets for military fortifications; they were excellent weapons of war and one of the most robust defences front-line for castles. Some of the uses of turrets are as follows:

  • Castle turrets were perfect for surveillance of the environment, such that persons approaching the castle could be spotted from miles away.
  • It was safe to launch attacks/defence for the soldier (due to lower contact and higher casualty for those outside).
  • From castle turrets, soldiers can easily see the adjacent walls and environment and could shoot at them.
  • Towards the 18th century, castle turrets started to lose their military value (because new assault weapons like guns had begun to surface). From then on, it started gaining its current decorative purpose, especially in Scottish Baronial Style. 

In 1800, castle turrets resurfaced again alongside the vast popularity of Victorian architecture.

Castle turrets vs towers

Castle turrets are different from towers in the following way: Castle turrets are attached to the top of the castle and supported by corbels, whilst castle towers are entire structures built from the ground. 

Also, a castle tower may or may not be attached to the castle itself, but a castle turret is always an offshoot of the main building.

Medieval castles had turrets, and many courts still do today.

Modern castle turrets are, however, very different from ancient ones. They are now desired solely for decorative purposes. The slit windows have now been replaced with broad windows, and they are no longer loaded with ‘ready for war’ equipment.

The most famous Castles with turret

Lastly, what’s a meal without a little bit of dessert. Having served you the main course of the origin and uses of castle turrets, let us add a list of the most famous castles with turrets. 

If you are a castle turret lover, then these places are a must-visit!

  1. Balmoral Castle of 50 000 acres estate which has housed the British Royal family since 1852
  2. Glamis Castle of 1372
  3. Belem Tower: a beautiful 30 meters high castle built with lion limestone in Lisbon.
  4. The Caernarfon Castle: the 11th century Motte and Bailey castle, rebuilt by King Edward I in 1283 – 1300.
  5. Bodiam Castle of 1385, which was built on a lake.
  6. Dunrobin castle 
  7. Castillo de Los Tres Reyes is known as Morro Castle Magos de Morro in Cuba.
  8. Eltz Castle
  9. Alcazar de Segovia
  10. Neuschwanstein castle of Southwest Bavaria.

Many modern castles were modelled after these landmark structures. So, there you have it, the origin uses and features of turrets. 

That will be all for now. You can trust this page for updates on castle turrets any and every time.

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Mihail Ghelbur

I have been a castle lover since I remember myself, couldn't go past a castle without finding all I could about it. Now my goal is to visit every single one of them and share it with you! https://castletourist.com/about-mihail-ghelbur/

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