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A castle is a very large stone building built for defence. Most true castles were built in Europe between about 1100AD-1500AD. Powerful Kings and rich aristocrats often had many castles. This way they could defend their whole kingdom. When there was a war, all the people who lived near the castle took their animals inside the castle. They stayed there until the danger was gone.

The soldiers attacking the castle sometimes tried to knock down the castle walls, or dig under them. A siege was when the attackers just sat outside and waited. When the people inside were starving they had to give up and come out, which is called surrender. A siege could go on for months, if the castle had plenty of food and water.

Castles were built for defense until about 500 years ago, at the end of the Middle Ages. After that people still built very big stone buildings. They looked like castles, but they had bigger windows and more fireplaces and were much more comfortable. Really they were just great big houses. When castles were built to be homes instead of fortresses, the word ‘Castle’ was often put at the front of the name. One example is Castle Oliver[[1]] in Ireland. This had 215 windows and 65 chimneys, as well as dozens of bedrooms. It was built about 150 years ago. It is very light and bright inside, because it was built to have parties, not to keep out soldiers.

Many castles are very beautiful and the public. Sometimes you can see furniture and clothes, armour, musical instruments, cannon and other weapons that once belonged to the people who lived there. Some castles have legends of ghosts. Some had very famous owners, like mad King Ludwig of Bavaria. Some, only a very few, are still lived in by the families who built them. Many others have become hotels or museums.

Most castles have towers and very high walls. The tops of the walls were cleverly made. Imagine a mouth smiling, but with every other tooth missing. The soldiers could hide behind the stone teeth and be safe, while they fired down at the soldiers attacking the castle. This feature was called battlements. The rooms inside the castle sometimes had small holes, or slits, cut in the walls, so the soldiers could fire out through them without being hit. These were called arrowloops.

Castles seem romantic and mysterious to us now, but the y were cold, dark places to live, often damp. Because the walls were so thick, sometimes 12 feet (4 metres) or more, they never got warm. They might have been safe, but they were not very comfortable.

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