Featured image of Castle Barbican

Castle Barbican

It is hard to find a person who is not fascinated by the Castles and their anatomy. And it’s amazing how architects used to design such amazing castle structures years ago with fewer machinery, equipment, and working hands. Castle Barbican is one such special part of the castle that gives the feel of a high-walled funnel but is much more than that.

Castle Barbican is usually noticed in mediaeval castles because wars and invasions were at their peak during that time, and kings and queens had to pay special attention to defending the castle and their people. The word ‘Barbican’ is derived from an Old Iranian word ‘Parivraka’ that means protective.

During the Mediaeval period, Barbican was considered as a defensible forward structure designed outside or in the front of the castle to ensure that enemies couldn’t enter the castle and become the easy target for castle inhabitants. It is also called ‘Death Trap’ because of its characteristic of solving external defence requirements. However, by the late 15th century, the artillery and siege tactics improved, and Barbicans began losing their significance.

Purpose of Castle Barbican

Castle Barbican served many purposes, but overall it was seen as a defence mechanism. It allows defenders to invade enemies in the narrow passage and make them their easy target. This way, fighting with them became easy.

The holes in the ceiling, also known as ‘Murder holes’, allowed defenders to throw hot water, sand, or oil and heavy stones on their enemies while keeping themselves safe. Additionally, the Barbican projected the front of the Gatehouse, which helped defenders fire arrows from the loopholes present in the wall passage. Unlike other castle defending parts, mediaeval castle barbican only required a few men to defend the castle.

Due to multiple defence purposes served by this part of the castle, it is famous for its lethal nature and ‘Death Trap’. Barbican is still considered an essential part of the castle allowing mediaeval castles to maintain power in historical battles.

Design of Castle Barbican

Castle Gatehouse and Castle Barbican
Castle Gatehouse and Castle Barbican”, by Glen Bowman, is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The design of Castle Barbican was focused on defending the castle from enemies while keeping defenders safe. It was a tower constructed near the Gatehouse, usually over the gate or bridge, because they both increased the castle’s protection to the next level; The gate protected the entrance in the castle, and Barbican worked as the deathly obstacle for preventing attackers from reaching the gate.

Barbican was a thin passageway for attackers, and they had to steam through this thin funnel to reach the Gatehouse. That’s why the Barbican was considered ‘Protection of the castle’s entrance’. The defendants could also design the Barbican as death traps by creating holes for arrows and slits for pouring hot substances.

How Did A Mediaeval Castle Barbican Work?

Barbican of Warwick Castle
Barbican of Warwick Castle”, by One lucky guy, is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Mediaeval Castle Barbican was designed to solve many defensive reasons. It worked as trapping and invading necks for enemies and keeping the castle safe. For instance, if the castle was attacked and enemies tried to enter the castle from the main gate, they were trapped in a barbican and fighting them became easier.

Additionally, the grilled door, also called Portcullis, gave the effect of a normal gate, but it got closed while trapping the enemies and blocking their passageway when any suspicious activity took place. Inside the Barbican, the enemies were attacked from the small holes with hot water, oil, or sand, arrows, and dropping heavy stones, helping defenders to injure multiple people simultaneously. In short, Mediaeval Castle Barbican worked in several defensive ways and made attacking enemies easier.

History of Castle Barbican

Castle lovers may have heard about Moats and Drawbridges, but many of them are not aware of Barbicans. It is because barbicans have always been the secret chamber of the castle. There is no trace of when castles began using Barbicans for defensive purposes, but they were used for eras.

In the 15th century, the siege tactics and artillery improved considerably, and the barbicans lost their worthiness. Defenders of the castles found many other ways to attack their enemies and keep their castles safe. However, many barbicans were built in the early 16th century also. Now, you can find the layout of Barbicans in many old castles and explore their structure.

Castle Barbican was a part of the forwarded defensive structure of the mediaeval castles. It is still considered the oldest and most effective defence mechanism that helped defenders keep their castles safe from enemies.

If you enjoyed reading about Castle Barbican, you should definitely read about Castle Turrets!

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