Country Directory

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A Castle by Any Other Name

One of the cool things about having a project that requires searching the whole world and trying to find information about castles and forts in numerous languages, is that I actually get a learn a few words in those numerous languages. I'd like to share the translations of some of the more common words that I deal with every day. While having a full dictionary of fortification-related words would be interesting, words like couvreface aren't exactly applicable to locating relevant sites. The list of words included are: bastion, battery, blockhouse/pillbox, bunker, casemate, castle/chateau, fortress, gatehouse/barbican, palace, star fort, and tower. Most words share identical or very similar spellings (especially among Romance languages), but greater variations do occur and it's always nice to have a handy guide to help out just in case.

1. Bastion 

A bastion (or bulwark) is a defensive work that protrudes out from a curtain wall. They can be towers or angular features like in the image.

"Bastion" is the same in Dutch, English, French, and German. In Spanish it's baluarte; Italian is baluardo; Hungarian is bástya; Russian is Бастион; and Turkish is kale burcu.

2. Battery

Battery Ledyard, Angel Island, California. The two large guns have been removed.

A battery is any unit of artillery that is grouped together to help facilitate greater firing power (concentration of power), to defend a specific part of the fort, and to help communication and general functioning. 

In Bosnian it's baterija; Danish is batteri; Dutch is batterij; French and German is batterie; Spanish is batería; Polish and Portuguese is bateria; Russian is Батарея; and Turkish is batarya.

3. Blockhouse and Pillbox

Blockhouse at Fort McClary, Maine, US 

A blockhouse is a small stand-alone fortification (built of either wood, stone, or concrete) that is meant to serve as a defensive strong point. The 14th century Cow Tower in the UK is an early example of blockhouses. Over time they became shorter in height as artillery became more powerful. Most are squared in design but others are round, hexagonal, and come in other shapes as well. Smaller blockhouses were built during World War I and because of their familiar shape, they were nicknamed "pillboxes". During WWII, over 28,000 of these were constructed by the British to help repel the anticipated Nazi invasion. Pillboxes are generally smaller than typical blockhouses.  

In Dutch it's blokhius; German is blockhaus; French is fortin; Polish is blokhauz; Spanish is blocao; and Russian is Блокгауз

A small pillbox in Crimea.

The Spanish word used to describe pillboxes is fortín (diminutive fort). In Turkish it's korugan.

4. Bunker

A bunker in Hirtshals, Denmark

Bunkers are pretty much anything designed to protect people and material from bombs or other forms of attack. They can be small concrete structures or enormous underground complexes. In Europe, most think of bunkers in relation to World War II, particularly along the Atlantic and West walls, however, Albania has a very interesting (though largely pointless) system of over 170,000 bunkers

"Bunker" is largely the same in most languages. In French, though, it's casemate. However, in English, bunkers and casemates represent different things with subtle differences. In Polish, it's schron; Portuguese gives it some flourish with búnquer; Russian is Бункер; and in Turkish, sığınak.

5. Casemate

An integrated casemate at the 15th century Fort Bkar.

Like the aforementioned bunker, a casemate is a hardened defensive structure. However, casemates are different in that their main function is firepower. A bunker can be to hide in or shot from, casemates are fortified gun emplacements. Until the 19th century, they were integrated parts of larger fortifications. During the 19th century, free-standing casemates were developed.  

In Czech it's kasematy; Danish is kazemat; Spanish is casamata; Polish is kazamatta; and Russian is kаземат.

6. Castle and Chateau

Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland.

At its most basic definition, a castle is a fortified residence for a noble or other important person (like a bishop or military commander). The French word for castle is chateau, however, chateau is also used to describe any manor house. These include structures built well after "real" castles stopped being constructed (the vast majority of real European castles had been built by the 16th century). Because of this, chateau has come to be strongly identified with 16th-18th century manor houses and estates (that often produced wine) and with French Renaissance architecture. While these can be very impressive structures (like Chateau de Chambord), they are not true castles/chateau in the original meaning of the word. This makes it important to do a little research on each place to know for certain if they are fortified places, or simply extravagant homes.

Castles can also be used to describe tower houses, which were fortified homes that are a simple tower and no attached curtain wall. An example of a "castle tower house" is Kinlochaline Castle in Scotland. Tower houses are most identified with the UK and Ireland, but they exist in other parts of the world as well.

As mentioned, "castle" in French is chateau (may also be chateau fort); Bosnian and Croatian is dvorac; Czech is hrad; Danish is borg; German is burg; Spanish is castillo; Italian is castello; Lithuanian is pilis; Hungarian is vár; Dutch is kasteel; Polish is zamek; Portuguese is castelo; Russian is Замок; Turkish is kale. An additional variation on kale that is common among Central Asian nations is qala. In German, a castle that was built completely surrounded by moats (or another source of water) is called a wasserschloss. The Polish zamek can also be used to describe a manor house or palace (see below).

7. Fortress

Fortress at Deal, UK

A fort is a military construction (a single building or larger complex) that is used to defend a particular area. Forts can be anything from a 3,000 year old hillfort, a castle that no longer serves as a primary residence, a massive star fort, and any number of other things. They can be relatively small (like Fort de la Conchée) or positively enormous like Pakistan's Ranikot Fort. While soldiers will obviously live at a fort, a fort isn't their primary residence except for their duty tour; whereas castles are primarily a home.

In Dutch it's vesting; German is festung; Italian is fortezza; Polish is twierdza; and Spanish is fortaleza.

8. Gatehouse and Barbican

Gatehouse of the 16th century Château de Fleury en Bière

There are subtle differences between a gatehouse and a barbican, but many times the words are used interchangeably. A gatehouse is the entrance point into a building (any kind of building, basically) to control the flow of people. It can be simple or well defended. A barbican is a strictly defensive work that often protects a city or castle as a fortified gate. 

Warsaw's reconstructed Barbican (destroyed during WWII)

Gatehouse in French is porterie; German is torhaus; and Spanish is casa del gaurda.
Barbican in French is barbacane; German is barbakane; Spanish is barbacana; Polish and Croatian is barbakan; and Russian is Барбакан.

9. Palace

Palacio Real Aranjuez (Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Spain)

Palaces are large, typically royal, residences. They are an evolution of the castle but one that has lost all of its defensive features (with some exceptions, as always). Palaces are often constructed on the site of a former castle or incorporate older structures, like keeps, into them. 

In German, the schloss is a related term. They can be manor houses, palaces, or castles that have been expanded and turned into grander residences. To review, chateau, palace, schloss, and zamek all have similarities and are often used interchangeably with "castle". However, there are technical differences between a palace and a castle, as well as distinctions based on time period between a chateau, schloss, and zamek, so the history of the building needs to be taken into account.

In Czech it's palác; Danish is palads; French is palais; German is palast; Hungarian is palota; Italian is palazzo; Latvian is pils; Polish is pałac; Spanish is palacio; and Turkish is saray.

10. Star Fort

The Citadel of Jaca, Spain.

Star forts, aka bastion forts, were developed in Italy in the mid-15th century as a response to the ever growing threat cannons posed to earlier fortifications. As artillery advanced, these forts evolved into "polygonal" forts which continued to be constructed into the 19th century. Aerial warfare and super cannons made static fortifications obsolete. Star forts are my favorite type of fortification, and to-date I have been able to locate over 1,600 of them worldwide.

The Italian term for these forts is trace Italienne (which literally means Italian outline); Spanish is traza italiana; Hungarian is Olaszbástya; Dutch is gebastioneerd vestingstelsel; Polish is twierdza gwiazda; Portuguese is fortificação abaluartada; Russian is Бастионная система укреплений; and Turkish is Yıldız kale.

11. Tower

Towers in Strasbourg.

Towers have long been an important part of fortifications. They have been included as part of city walls, castles, and as stand alone structures (such as Martello towers). The tower's height lets defenders see potential dangers at a greater distance, they make it possible to fire arrows or cannons farther, and they provide a projection of force, enabling defenders to fight attackers before they get to the main fortified structure.

There is also the related bergfried, which is a "fighting tower" of a castle. Bergfried's are different from donjon's (or keep) in that they were not meant to have permanent living quarters. Sometimes these towers make up the bulk of the remains of ruined castles.

In German you may come across either wehrturm or simply turm; French is tour; Italian and Spanish is torre; Dutch will be either weertoren or toren; Polish is baszta or wieża; and in Russian it's башня.

--Jacob Bogle, 10/30/18