Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Medieval Tower

 What do you think when you picture a medieval tower in your mind? Do you see a dirty, frightened face peering from behind two clenched fists that cling to cold iron bars or do you see, as depicted here, a clean tall structure with ivy and roses trailing round its brickwork.

Medieval towers can be found in the inner sections or enclosures of a castle as well as on the outside walls. Often these tall buildings had up to three or four floors and sometimes even a cellar or basement, all reached by spiral staircases that were built into the walls. The floors were always made of wood that were covered with reeds and sweet smelling herbs. Only the third and fourth floors had windows, the first two floors would have only had arrow holes. The fourth floor was not usually a room at all but an open platform that circled the building, whose wall on all sides were capped with what are called Merlons, those zig zaggy patterned walls we all drew on our castle pictures as children. This platform lead to the final floor, which was the lookout tower that was sometimes topped with a conical roof. These towers were not only used for defending the castle, their other uses were as a chapel, a prison, servants quarters or even a separate area for guests. The chapel tower was often quite different from the normal tower in that it had one room that was two stories high with small stained glass windows and an alter. The family would sit in the first floor and look down whilst other church goers would stand on the wooden floor above the basement. The prison towers were, as we would imagine, a hole dug or cut into rock that was reached through a trap door from above where the guards would live. They were dismal and dark with shackles attached to the damp slimy walls. 

The most famous of all towers is our Tower of London, which would have been clearly seen from the River Thames. The tower is made up of three enclosures, the central of which contains the White Tower which has square capped towers on each of its corners. Encircling the tower is the north, east, and west enclosures, built during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. Finally, there is the outer enclosure which surrounds the castle, this was built during the reign of Edward I.

Whether it be the Princes in the Tower or the story of Rapunzel, mediveal towers have always fascinated us.

Whats your favourtie tower tale?

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