Castles are inherently fascinating. They evoke images of medieval royalty, knights on horseback, and dragons flying through the sky (well, maybe not the last one). Although these structures have long captured our imaginations, many of us don’t know much about them. Here are some really interesting facts about castles that will make you appreciate them even more.

image
iStock

The design feature that you’ll notice about just about every castle is the moat. This served as the first line of defense during a castle siege and made it difficult for an invading horde to break through. Without it, attackers could potentially put up ladders to scale the giant walls.

Not only did the moat serve to limit the entry points in a castle, it also prevented people from tunneling under the castle walls. If they tried to go under the moat, those tunnels would flood. This was important because if an army got under the wall, it would potentially collapse. That’s why the only way to get into the castle was over the drawbridge.

image
iStock

That drawbridge, however, didn’t open to the main part of the castle. Instead, it led into an enclosure that was protected by another door.

If an invading army managed to get over the moat and through the castle gate, they then had to fight off the defending army in this room while breaking down another fortified door. In many cases, the defenders had perches up above this attacking army and dropped boiling oil on them.

image
iStock

If that attacking army did manage to get through those defenses, the castle denizens would run up the stairs and into the towers for protection. The stairwells in these towers were all very narrow and all went clockwise. They were designed like this for a very good reason.

If attackers were going up the stairs, they would be carrying their sword in their right hands. Because of the narrow, curved staircase, it was difficult for these attackers to swing their swords. And because the stairs were so narrow, the attacking army had to go up single file. This gave the castle defenders an advantage during a siege.

image
iStock

Even if these attackers managed to break through all these defenses, the residents of the castle still had an opportunity to escape through secret passageways. Every castle had hidden stairwells that led out of the castle. These could be used to escape during an attack and could also be used to bring in supplies during a siege.

The threat of a siege was the greatest a castle could face. Although the castle was generally self-sufficient, if it could be cut off from the rest of the world, it was possible for the residents to starve or get so desperate that they surrendered. There had to be a secret way out just in case they needed to get supplies.

image
iStock

Although castles look majestic and stately, their entire purpose was to defend the people inside it. That’s why they’re so strong that they are still standing today. They certainly have an impressive, ornate appearance, but their main goal was to serve as a fortress.