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Medieval Donjon Lion Knight’s 10305 Alt Builds Review | Madaboutlego

The freestanding great tower, or large tower, was actually known as the donjon until the end of the 16th century AD. The name comes from French, which means the lord’s area (it was only a long time later that it evolved into “dungeon” and acquired the meaning of prison, and then it was dungeons and dragons as we know it). Historians don’t quite agree on the purpose of the Great Tower.

What’s clear is that strong defensive shelters don’t always match the relatively peaceful times of the Great Tower. If those towers were just a grand gesture to impress the local population with the wealth and power of the castellan, they were a very expensive way to go. Furthermore, castles had limited practical use, if not as primary residences of barons or monarchs, and were rarely visited by locals. Visible from a distance, though, the towers are sure to impress local residents and would-be attackers, and their high cost may be why they were commissioned.

The earliest large towers in castles were often extensions of existing buildings. In 10th-century France, a clear example is the great tower of Doué-la-Fontaine, built around 950 AD, on top of a ground-floor hall building. Sometimes an existing fortified gate was used as a base on which to build a larger tower, as in Richmond Castle in Yorkshire, England (mid 12th century AD). From the end of the 11th century onwards, freestanding great towers began to really appear in most castles. One of England’s earliest towers is so impressive that it gave the entire castle its name: the Tower of London, built by William the Conqueror in AD 1078-1100.

Doue-la-Fontaine (source: Combedouzou Voyages)

Richmond Castle (source:English Heritage)

The main building can be square or rectangular, usually with its own small tower on top; alternatively, some castles are polygonal, with a curved wall, or completely circular, which allows the defenders unobstructed 360-degree views.

The stone used for the towers was usually local, but limestone from Caen, Normandy was the most requested. In some cases towers can reach a height of 40 meters (although around 20 meters is more common), and the enormous weight requires good foundations. Ideally, a solid rock foundation is used, as this prevents any damage from attacking forces. Another method is to dig trenches, fill them with rubble, and drive oak stakes into them. Thick walls usually consist of a core of crushed stone and mortar with ashlar blocks on the face. The base of the wall generally had a worn plinth that sloped outwards, making it more difficult for enemy sappers to damage and remove the stonework.

Dover Castle By Chensiyuan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Typically, the basement of the main building was used to store food, weapons, and equipment. There is usually a deep well to provide drinking water, which can be replenished by collecting rainwater and channeling it into a storage tank. The ground floor was the kitchen and sometimes the stables. The ground floor usually has a hall for banquets and audiences. It was a room designed to impress, and so often had a beautiful wooden beamed ceiling or impressive stone vaults, with large windows (opening on the safe inside of the castle) and a large fireplace. On this level, and perhaps the one above, were private rooms and often a chapel. The top floor, sometimes called the attic (solar) or “sun room” because it is secure enough, has larger windows, and has an unclear purpose. Heating is provided by fireplaces and portable fire pits, while the windows have wooden shutters to keep the heat in when needed since there is little glass. The toilet (privy or garderobe) was usually located in a frescoed passage within the thick walls of the tower, usually in a corner.

The keep tower or keep at Dover Castle in Kent, England. Originally built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century AD, the castle was extensively rebuilt by Henry II (1154-1189 AD) with the addition of new walls and keep.

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