Life during the Middle Ages was hard. People were always at war. Therefore, castles were built to protect people from their enemies.
The castle was the home of a lord and his family. It was also the home of the soldiers. The soldiers were there to protect the castle, the load and his family. They also protected the village from attack. The castle was also the prison and the treasure house. It was even the center of local government.
Most castles were built on a hill or high ground. This made the castle easy to defend. A moat ( a deep ditch filled with water) was built around the castle. A drawbridge, which could be raised and lowered with winches and chains, lay across the moat.
During the Middle Ages, most castles were built in the shape of a square. They had a large tower in each corner. These towers were usually made of stone. A thick stone wall ran from tower to tower and formed an area called the inner ward. A large central tower was called the keep. This was always the very strongest part of the castle. The load and his family lived on the upper floors of the keep. The soldiers lived on the lower levels. The keep had many secret rooms and getaway passages. It was here, in the keep, that all the village people would hide during times of great danger. There were many underground tunnels leading to the keep. The other towers were used for the prison. The great hall was the place for town meetings. The kitchen and bake shop were also part of the castle.
The space outside the towers and wall was called the outer ward. This outer ward was surrounded by another wall. This second wall also ran around the whole village. The top of this wall had a walk for the soldiers and battlements (high stone shields). From behind the battlements the soldiers could hide and shoot their arrows and cast stones at the enemy.
At the end of the Middle Ages, castles disappeared. They were replaced by forts. But many rich homes, homes of loads and earls, were still built in the shape of a castle. Castles have always held the interest of people. Even today in European countries the old romantic castles are a big tourist attraction. Many people flock to see these buildings of time.