Dec 12, 2011

What is the difference between a castle, a palace, a fort, etc.?

This is a very common question. If you type it in Google, you'll find it's been asked & answered many thousand times. The truth is, there are a lot of terms and sometimes it's not easy to distinguish them. In other cases, one building can be called palace, while in fact it isn't. So, I'll try to explain some of these terms in short:

- Palace most commonly refers to royal residences. It doesn't have to be the residence of a king, it can be of any head of the state, even of bishop or archbishop. Today, the term is also unoficially used for other types of buildings, such as aristocracy homes, parliaments, museums...

- Château is pretty confusing. It comes from French language, and unlike palace, chateau has always been in rural settings, while palace has always been urban. However, château can also impy a larger country house, and most notably, wine estates characteristic for Bordeaux region. I've noticed that there are many chateâux in Czech Republic. Sometimes they are refered to as castles, other times as 
chateâux, so in the end I don't know if it's just etymology or there are some differences. I guess I'll have to ask that when I visit Czech Republic next time. Maybe someone can help?

- Castle refers to fortified structures built primarily in the Middle Ages throughout Europe and the Middle East. It is usually a private residence used by nobility.

- Fort is very similar to castle, but forts are exclusively used for military purposes.

- Fortress is a type of fortification which is usually larger than fort. So, in theory a fortress can include a couple of forts. It's also a more permanent settlement, and may include town. Today, fort and fortress are often used interchangeably. Unlike castle, which defends king and or/nobility, fortress should in theory defend the whole community. Fortresses should defend from enemies from the outside (i.e. war between two countries, regions, etc.), while castles can defend from the inside too (in case of some revolution, for example). This last is just my conclusion, so it may not be true though.

There are some regional terms like Italian palazzo, which is much wider than its usual translation counterpart palace, and can imply any kind of grand building. To make things complicated, German schloss is wider than palace, but more restriced palazzo. It implies palace, chateâu or a large country house.

So, there it is. Did you get a headache? Don't worry- even scholars can't seem to agree on some of these terms, so some basic knowledge is sufficcient.

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