Castle (architecture)

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A castle is a building or building complex that was built on behalf of the sovereign or other members of the nobility ; It uses this name regardless of the size or the artistic design of its facade. Stately castles often went from medieval castles indicate some locks also based on earlier monasteries . From the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the 20th century, the castles were cultural and political centers in many regions of Europe and are therefore classified as architectural monuments today .

As architectural monuments, castles are a cultural asset and part of the cultural heritage. Many locks have corresponding markings (see Blue Shield International ).

This article covers the art history of residential buildings known as castles in Europe .

For a listing of locks in different countries, see List of Locks .


Palace, castle and manor house

Residenzschloss Sondershausen , emerged from a castle with visible construction phases from six epochs

The terms palace and castle originally had a similar meaning. The term castle was used in many ways in the Middle Ages : for the allodial castles of larger or smaller noble families as well as the fortified houses occupied by or lent to ministerials or castle men for purposes of border defense, road security, tithe and customs collection and regional administration; These "manor castles " (castrum) were also referred to as locks after the door bolt or gate lock that secured them . Fortified towns, i.e. walled villages or towns, which were also owned by aristocratic authorities in the times before local self-government, were also referred to as castles in the broader sense (oppidum) ; Citizens in this sense were the conscript residents of such fortified "castle towns", which to this day often have the -burg in their name.

Etymologically (see: Etymology of bŭrgus ) the verb bergen is contained in the word castle , from which the security is derived, which in early history meant the escape to the mountain (where the refuges were often located) - so it was mainly about the The castle and palace served as security against attacks in troubled times and this was the main purpose .

The terms castle and palace have therefore been used synonymously for a long time and castles are still often referred to as castles, but not the other way around. Because in the present the term castle is mostly applied to medieval fortified castles, while the castle generally describes an unfortified manorial residential building, mostly from the modern era . There are, of course , intermediate types , especially from the Renaissance period and historicism .

A clear delimitation of the terms is not possible, but there are typifications, such as the fixed house , the manor house or in Tyrol the residence (the latter has a legal character). In the Middle Ages, castles were mostly referred to as hûs ("house" in the sense of a permanent house - see Burg Niehuus ), which has remained in use to this day, especially in northern Germany, especially in the Rhineland , Westphalia and Lower Saxony , where castles and palaces of the lower Aristocrats are mostly referred to as a house (e.g. Lüttinghof house ). Castles were also often associated with the word stone (because of the stone construction or the location on a rock, such as " the Kriebstein " ).

In the Baltic Sea region, especially in Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg , the concept of the castle was even expressly reserved for the sovereign seats, regardless of their size, while the terms house , manor house , manor house or noble estate for lower-class seats, also regardless of their size or their Architectural style, can be used. In principle, the same applied to the Pomeranian duchies, with the exception of the houses of the most important noble families in the country, who were expressly awarded the title of castle seated by the Pomeranian dukes , again regardless of the type of house they were built. The state description of the Margraviate of Brandenburg from 1373 also includes the category of those who were seated in the castle . Castle was (and is) in these countries a historical-legal (not an architectural) designation, which is nowadays often ignored due to ignorance or marketing needs. In southern Germany (starting with Saxony, Thuringia and Hesse and the formerly Saxon parts of Brandenburg-Prussia, i.e. Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Lusatia, historically also in Silesia), as well as in Austria and Switzerland, however, small mansions are often referred to as castles.

From the 15th and especially the 16th century, wealthy citizens had castles and castle-like mansions built or bought them; one example of this is the Klaffenbach moated castle in Saxony. Manor house and castle are also differentiated by their function: The manor house or manor house is always the center of an estate with agriculture, a forest estate or a winery . Special, and while legally style concepts provide the manor and the Schleswig-Holstein nobles Good and the Tyrol Ansitz . In connection with the exercise of political rights caught the knighthood in the late Middle Ages, to organize themselves into associations, as Ritterschaften were called. These corporations exist in Lower Saxony to this day and are not private associations, but corporations under public law , regionally organized according to the former principalities in which the respective landowners are registered, regardless of the historical distinction between nobility and middle class; this used to be associated with special class rights, some of which have been preserved in rudiments to this day, for example through the membership of knights in a landscape (state estates) , for example the landscape of the former principality of Lüneburg . In addition, the landlord - who could come from the nobility, but did not have to - was not only landowner and employer, but - until the peasants were liberated - the owner of a manorial estate with backers or serfs ; also he mostly held the lower jurisdiction , in rarer cases also the high jurisdiction . He thus exercised both magisterial and judicial functions.

If, on the other hand, a castle was only used for representative purposes and had no farm operations, it was never a mansion. If the country house of a wealthy, non-manorial citizen, mostly from the 19th century, was particularly large and similar in design, the villa was sometimes colloquially ennobled as a castle. Due to the separation of farms and manor houses as a result of sales, the terms are often mixed up today.


There is no generally binding definition of the various terms and they are therefore often used side by side in German - depending on the circumstances. A distinction is made between terms that refer to the (former) function, such as residential palace, residential palace (as a pure residential palace residence without fortifications) or hunting lodge, and those that refer to formal peculiarities, such as moated castle (location), city palace (location) , Baroque castle (style) or fort complex (type). The first case is construction tasks or building types, while in the second case a formal typology is in the foreground.

Castle types:

  • A residential palace is the palace of a sovereign who, in addition to his main residence and that of his family members, also housed the seat of the state administrative authorities . Residences are referred to as summer and winter residences if the prince and his court moved depending on the season. Summer residences of the lower nobility, on the other hand, are called summer or country castles.
  • A hunting lodge was used exclusively for hunting, which was usually a privilege of the nobility, so it could have been a sovereign hunting seat as well as the elaborately designed hunting lodge of a manor, provided it is not identical to the manor house itself.
  • A pleasure palace is a building that is more modest in its dimensions, but often more playful in architecture than the actual seat of government, and was mainly used for the entertainment and pleasure of sovereigns and their brief retreat from state affairs. Usually a garden or park is also part of it.
Wörth Castle on the Danube , summer residence of the Prince-Bishops of Regensburg

Lock types:

  • The city ​​palace of a sovereign is usually referred to as the city palace . The city ​​palace , on the other hand, is the urban, the country palace the rural seat of a nobleman ; The former usually only served social interests and had a garden or park, but not agricultural property.
  • With country castle one is usually mansion (or farmhouse ) meant, that the seat of a lordship or an estate or the manor , which was usually equipped with extensive economic infrastructure (farm, storage, stables, mills). Such noble residences could be isolated in the country, in villages or even in small towns.
  • A facility that is surrounded by ditches or built in a river or lake is usually referred to as a moated castle .
  • As Palace is a particularly representative equipped, usually country princely living and seat of government understood in a town in the German, the term is therefore largely identical to Royal Palace (about Buckingham Palace , Apostolic Palace , Palace of Caserta ). This term, which is often used in connection with oriental or ancient rulers' seats, is borrowed from the Italian palazzo and originally goes back to the Latin palatium , the proper name of the residence of the Roman emperors on the Palatine . The palace or city ​​palace , on the other hand, was an urban residence of a noble family.
  • In other languages, the same terms often have different meanings: in England are - very representative palace buildings - similar to the German Palace called castles contrast Castle , country castles often House , smaller manor houses Manor . In French, a palais is a representative city palace, usually for royal or episcopal residents (in contrast to the hotel , the city palace of a noble family; a country palace is referred to as a chateau , but it is always called Château de ... , except for wineries where the de is omitted becomes), a small manor house is a manoir . In Polish, however, simple manor houses are also referred to as palac . In Italian, a castello is a fortified medieval castle, a palazzo a modern city or country palace, a villa a rural manor house, a reggia a royal country residence.

Development of palace construction in Europe

The history of palace construction in Europe began at the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era . With the invention of firearms , the old castles , which combined defense and residential functions, increasingly lost their protective function. Analogous to the development of firearms, the art of war changed and from many border disputes, inheritance conflicts and wars of conquest (but also through clever marriage policies), small kingdoms, princes and duchies slowly grew into larger states. Local conflicts decreased. Smaller castle complexes in particular offered hardly any protection - due to their vulnerability to the increasingly effective firearms - and were redesigned into representative residences. At the time when aristocratic splendor was beginning to develop, new castles were built in many places, the art-historical development of which can be summarized in the following major epochs .

middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, castle buildings in the sense of unfortified aristocratic seats were rare. Attention was paid to security and the nobility preferred castles as places of residence since the high Middle Ages . These protected from hostile neighbors and in many places formed the focal points of future castles and cities.

Wealthy lords of the castle initially had their fortresses decorated using the Romanesque and later Gothic styles adopted from church construction . Impressive evidence of these castle palaces emerged in France, for example, with the early Loire castles , which changed their appearance over the centuries, but whose original shape has been handed down in the Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry around the middle of the 15th century. In the area of ​​the Holy Roman Empire , palace -like structures emerged with the Palatinate , which accommodated the traveling court and served the king and emperor as temporary residences. In Italy, especially in Venice and Florence , the first city palaces, such as the Ca 'd'Oro, were built . Although these were not yet “castles” in the narrower sense and often they “only” belonged to rich merchants instead of the nobility, but the art developed here and the combination of living comfort and representation soon served as a model for the secular buildings of the next epochs.


Chenonceau Renaissance
Castle , France
The renaissance castle of Montsoreau (1453) is the only one of the Loire castles built on the Loire riverbed .

In Renaissance Italy , in addition to the city ​​palazzi, the first free-standing villa buildings since antiquity emerged from the 15th century , for example the La Rotonda near Vicenza . These houses, built for the wealthy city nobility, are the first buildings of the European modern times, in which the desire for comfort and / or representation was in the foreground and the building plan included the immediate surroundings, nature or the city. In the rest of Europe, too, more and more princely residences, which are viewed as castles, have been renewed since the middle of the 15th century. Initially, they often still showed features of the Gothic architectural style, while their spatial structures and dimensions already met the demands of the Renaissance era. Examples are the Coudenberg Palace in Brussels , which has now been destroyed, or the Albrechtsburg castle above Meissen.

The architectural style of the Renaissance was based on the architecture of ancient Greece and the old Roman Empire and was soon adopted and copied across Europe. In addition, building concepts from antiquity were adopted, such as room types or the staging of the view of the surroundings. Excavations were used to imitate Roman villas (such as Hadrian's Villa ) or the proportions and structural details of old temples or the Colosseum, and the new buildings were decorated with classic column arrangements and mighty gables. The city palaces were given even facades with wide rows of windows and decorated portals formed the entrances. Many of the existing aristocratic residences were rebuilt or expanded based on the new style (which was often interpreted very freely , as hardly any master builder actually saw the models); such as the German Heidelberg Castle or the French Amboise Castle . The castles of this time were initially staggered very irregularly and seldom followed a uniform construction plan, gradually individual buildings were converted or newly built. In other places, the military defenses were exempted and new, free-standing castles were built, such as Chambord Castle in France or the Escorial in Spain (which is also a monastery).


Baroque Belvedere Palace , Austria

The Baroque era began in the 17th century and went hand in hand with the form of rule of absolutism . The princes concentrated more and more power in their hands and wanted to express this through representative buildings. The symmetry became the canon and the evenness of the locks of the late Renaissance to the dictation. Sometimes entire cities were aligned with the baroque castles, which not only became the focus of entire regions, but also of culture, politics and society. The most famous example is the Palace of Versailles , from which one was inspired throughout Europe and often took as a model, examples can be found in Rastatt Palace in Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna or in the Russian Peterhof .

Most famous Rococo palace: Sanssouci in Potsdam

The buildings were decorated with columns , pilasters and statues . While the baroque style was implemented quite strictly in England and France as well as in northern Germany and Scandinavia and developed a matter-of-fact, classicist-baroque dynamic, the palace architecture was very dynamic, especially in Catholic Europe, and the facades were often brimming with ideas and a wealth of details. The interior of the building housed a series of parade rooms and ballrooms; the outbuildings and side wings rose rhythmically to form the large corps de logis in the center, which was usually preceded by a large court of honor . The floor plan itself became an ornament and gigantic palace parks extended the architecture outwards into nature. The era ended with the Rococo , which playfully brought baroque art to its final bloom.


In the course of the Enlightenment , the perception of art changed from the second half of the 18th century and the lively, dynamic style of the Baroque was now perceived as pompous and exaggerated. Similar to two centuries before, the builders turned their style back to antiquity , and the discovery of Pompeii was reflected in art everywhere.

The classicism created new buildings were the quieter and cleaner lines, such as the Neuhardenberg Castle or the Electoral Palace in Koblenz . The old baroque castles were redecorated, the rocaille of the interior decoration was considered old-fashioned and outdated. Examples can be found in the main building of Ludwigsburg Palace or in Sondershausen Palace . The facades of the castles were adorned with mighty, temple-like gables that replaced the system of staggered structures and pavilions . With the opulence of the Baroque and Rococo, the symmetrical, well-planned gardens also disappeared and increasingly gave way to the more natural- looking landscape parks based on the English model , Wilhelmshöhe Castle can be mentioned here as an example . In many of the grounds, however, the garden styles were also mixed, as was the case with Schwetzingen Castle .


Babelsberg Palace in Potsdam

From the 19th century onwards, historicism in all its forms and manifestations, from neo-Romanesque , neo-Gothic and neo-renaissance to neo-baroque, set the tone. While the earlier styles were still very much shaped by local influences, an intra-European understanding of art has now developed and models from other countries and previous eras have been freely adapted. Sometimes even exotic designs were chosen, such as for the Royal Pavilion in Brighton or the Palácio da Pena in Sintra , Portugal.

The old European architectural styles were redesigned and imitated, often even mixed up with colorful elements. In many places, in the course of the Romantic era, old castle ruins were rebuilt after major overhauls, such as Stolzenfels Castle , medieval castle complexes were historically expanded, such as Windsor Castle , or existing older buildings were given neo-Gothic facades and interiors, such as Hohenschwangau Castle . In doing so, the architects again resorted to Baroque and Renaissance forms, such as at Schwerin Palace .

Some of the world's most famous buildings of this era were created under King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who with Neuschwanstein was a Romanesque-Gothic knight's castle, with Herrenchiemsee Palace a neo-baroque palace as a copy of the main building of Versailles and with Linderhof Palace a pleasure palace in a splendid fantasy Neo-Rococo resurrected. The later Emperor Wilhelm I also had the Babelsberg Castle rebuilt by Karl Friedrich Schinkel , one of the most important architects of historicism, the King of Hanover the Marienburg , Queen Victoria and Prince Albert built Balmoral Castle in Scotland, Napoleon III. the Pierrefonds Palace , the Romanian king the Peleş and Pelişor castles , and at the beginning of the 20th century, Emperor Wilhelm II had various castle and palace projects implemented, for example the residential palace in Posen or the Hohkönigsburg in Alsace; his son Crown Prince Wilhelm built the Cecilienhof in Potsdam as an amalgam from Anglo-Norman Cottage and Tudor styles during the First World War . But not only the monarchs of Europe competed for fashionable new buildings of this type, also small princes and the lower nobility tried, as far as their economic circumstances allowed, to rebuild or redecorate in the style mix of the time (for example the castles Lichtenstein in Württemberg or Frauenberg and Eisgrub in the Czech Republic ).

But the time of the really big palace buildings was now over in most countries, due to the growing bourgeoisie, the nobility slowly lost power and influence and large building projects became rarer. Due to the strengthening of the wealthy middle class, representative conversions or new buildings of large, representative villas were also referred to as a palace by their users or in the vernacular, such as the Eckberg Palace in Dresden , which was built as a manufacturer's villa . The same applies to a number of manor houses and mansions .

Magnificent buildings from the 20th century

Reconstruction of the facade of the Braunschweig Castle

With the First World War and the abdication of most of the European monarchies , the building of the palace was finally over. In the 21st century, only a few large, once sovereign royal palaces still belong to their original owners and are inhabited, in contrast to smaller palaces and manor houses. For many facilities, new usage concepts had to be found, such as in the Castle of Münster or the Leineschloss in Hanover . If they survived revolutions , fires or the Second World War , the castles are now museums or centers of culture, often a challenge for monument protection and expensive to maintain and look after . At the same time, however, they are also valuable witnesses to bygone eras, a point of attraction for many visitors and therefore sometimes also an important economic factor.

Where the castles are missing after their demolition, such as in Berlin or Potsdam , there was controversial discussion about the meaning and benefits of rebuilding. On the one hand, many castle buildings formed the core area of ​​the settlements, which later became cities and are therefore inseparable from a region in the historical context. In addition, the center of politics that shaped the region in question used to be here. On the other hand, those in favor of reconstruction are also aware that this will incur high costs, that the works of art to be restored are no longer historical, but reconstructions and that the buildings are no longer originally used.

Examples of different epochs and countries

Classicism: Wilhelmshöhe Palace

This list represents a selection of castles from different epochs. It does not claim to be complete, but is intended to describe the art-historical development of castle construction in different regions in more detail.


(largely unfortified) Romanesque and Gothic castles

Late Gothic palace buildings

Renaissance castles

Locks of Mannerism

Baroque castles

Early Classicism in Prussia : the Marble Palace , Potsdam

Classicist castles

Historic castles

The Residenz and the Bavarian National Theater (with green roof)

Large residence castles, used over various building periods


Early baroque: Hellbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace was built in the late Baroque era, but changed from 1817–19 by Johann Aman in line with Biedermeier classicism. The former baroque garden was also changed in the 19th century.

Renaissance castles

Locks of Mannerism

Baroque castles

Classicist castles

Historic castles

Large residence castles, used over various building periods


Venetian Gothic: The Doge's Palace in Venice
Renaissance: Villa Farnesina in Rome
Renaissance / Mannerism: Cortile della Pigna in the Vatican Palace , Rome
Late Renaissance (Palladio): Villa Barbaro in Maser
Late baroque: Stupinigi Castle near Turin

Romanesque castle buildings

Gothic castle buildings

Renaissance castles

Mannerist palace buildings

Baroque castles

Classicist castles

Large residence castles, used over various building periods


Renaissance: Montsoreau Castle
Early baroque: Palais du Luxembourg
Historicism: Palais du Rhin

Renaissance castles

Baroque castles

Classicist castles

Historic castles

Large residence castles, used over various building periods

United Kingdom

Renaissance: Holyrood Palace

Renaissance castles

Baroque castles

Large residence castles, used over various building periods


Late baroque: Catherine Palace

Renaissance castles

Baroque castles

Classicist castles

Historic castles

Special locks

See also

Portal: Castles and Palaces  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of castles and palaces


  • Uwe Albrecht: From the castle to the palace. French palace architecture in the late Middle Ages . Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, Worms 1986, ISBN 978-3-88462-042-7 .
  • Thomas Biller, G. Ulrich Großmann : Castle and Palace. The aristocratic seat in the German-speaking area. Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2002, ISBN 3-7954-1325-7 .
  • Rolf Hellmut Foerster: The baroque castle. History and architecture. DuMont, Cologne 1981, ISBN 3-7701-1242-3 .
  • Mark Girouard: The fine life in the country. Architecture culture and history of the English upper class . Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt / New York 1989, ISBN 3-593-34131-X .
  • Mark Girouard: The Victorian Country House. Yale University Press, New Haven, London 1979, ISBN 0-300-02390-1 .
  • Ludwig Hüttl: Castles. How they became, what they looked like, and how they lived in them. Knaur, Munich / Zurich 1982, ISBN 3-426-03666-X .
  • Heiko Laß: Exploring terms. Lock. In: Castles and Palaces . Journal for Castle Research and Monument Preservation. Volume 60, No. 4, 2019, ISSN  0007-6201 , pp. 245–247.
  • Heiko Laß: Hunting and pleasure castles. Art and culture of two sovereign building tasks. Shown on Thuringian buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries . Imhoff, Petersberg 2006, ISBN 3-86568-092-5 .
  • Ulrich Schütte: The castle as a fortification. Fortified castles from the early modern period in the old empire . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1994, ISBN 3-534-11692-5 .

Web links

Wiktionary: lock  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Castle (architecture)  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Michael Mitterauer : Herrenburg and Burgstadt. In: Friedrich Prinz u. a. (Ed.). History in society. Festschrift for Karl Bosl on his 65th birthday. Stuttgart 1973. Reprinted in Wolfgang Mitterauer: Market and City in the Middle Ages. Stuttgart 1980
  2. ^ Max Döllner : History of the development of the city of Neustadt an der Aisch up to 1933. Ph. CW Schmidt, Neustadt ad Aisch 1950. (New edition 1978 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Ph. CW Schmidt Neustadt an der Aisch publishing house 1828-1978. ) P. 43, 221 and 229 (for the New Palace in Neustadt an der Aisch, which was built between 1575 and 1626 as one of the first such residential complexes in Germany or even in the western cultural area).
  3. Most are at the same time to visit the still inhabited residences, about Nymphenburg Palace , St. Emmeram Palace , Schloss Babenhausen , Langenburg Castle , Schloss Büdingen , Berleburg Castle , Castle Arolsen , Bückeburg , Glucksburg and others. Exceptions - so purely private use - are about Castle Wallerstein , Schillingsfürst Castle , Castle Bartenstein , Schloss Zeil or Schloss Wolfegg .
  4. Albrechtsburg Meissen - Trendsetter since 1471
  5. ^ Elfriede Iby & Alexander Koller: Schönbrunn , Verlag Christian Brandstätter, Vienna, 2000, pp. 247 & 251
  6. in its current form (as of 2018)