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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Seeking a Likeness

Wartburg and Montfort Castles

The thing about castles is that no two are quite the same. T.E. Lawrence knew that when, on trying to deal with how they evolved in form over time, he made his droll comment on the crusader castles being 'a series of exceptions to some undiscoverable rule".* Indeed, it often seems there was hardly a rule at all, and that is because castles filled a number of different functions beyond that of defence. They were built in different, often starkly different places, by individuals and institutions, some of meagre means, others with vast wealth, and the forms they took, the elements they contained and the dangers that they faced, evolved greatly over time.

I once picked up a beautiful old volume in a second-hand bookstore titled Di Wartburg. I was captivated by the photographs of a fortress that I had not previously been acquainted with, and at the time that I began working at Montfort Castle in 2006, I recalled this volume and noted some interesting similarities between the well-preserved (and much restored) Thuringian castle and my Teutonic fortress in the Galilee. In 2016, a dear friend and colleague, Philipp (with whom I once discovered and excavated the Teutonic hospital in Akko) took my wife and me to see Wartburg, and I discovered that there were rather more differences than I had expected. It made me appreciate that one's understanding of a building based on a book of text and photographs, even a very good one, can be rather misleading.

There are many fundamental differences between these two buildings. But there are also some very interesting similarities. The idea that the Teutonic fortresses in the crusader states owed something to the German origins of their owners was raised in the past, and it finds support in some aspects of design in castles like Montfort and Judin in the Galilee and Harunia in Armenian Cilicia.** Driving back from Wartburg to Mainz we also took a look at Münzenberg, a fortress of bleak and powerful aspect with its two tall round towers rising like dark sentinels on either side.

Münzenberg Castle with its two towers

Here too, despite obvious differences, a comparison can be made, for Montfort also possessed towering structures at either end - the great D-shaped keep on the east and the three-storey administrative building on the west, which although topographically lower rose to a great height of well over 30 metres (from its base on the southern side). A closer comparison for Münzenberg is with Judin, a castle which, uniquely in the Latin East, had two, huge free-standing keeps. But here as well there are vast differences, notably, the round form of the German towers. With a few exceptions, such as Hospitaller Margat in the principality of Antioch, keeps within larger crusader castles are square in section. But the German towers are different not only in form. They are of a type known as Bergfried, and their function was to serve as fighting and guard towers, whereas the function of towers in most crusader castles; both the isolated keeps that dot the countryside and those which served as strongholds in larger fortresses; while certainly prominantly including defense, also often fulfilled the domestic needs of the garrison, and sometimes, as in Montfort, Sidon, Chastel Blanc and Harunia, they served in addition as fortified chapels.

Gatehouses with machicolation and towers at Wartburg and Montfort

Despite the obvious differences between castles in Germany itself and German castles in the Latin East, I was not mistaken in my original impression that there are similarities between Wartburg and Montfort. This should not come as a surprise considering that the most-famed grand master of the order, Hermann von Salza, the man who championed the building of Montfort in its early stages, was himself from Thuringia.

* T.E. Lawrence, Crusader Castles, Oxford, 1988 edition, p. 37.

** The nineteenth century French scholar, Emmanuel Rey suggested that Montfort belonged to the type of castle built on the Rhine between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. See Emmanuel G. Rey, Étude sur les monuments de l'architecture militaire des croisés en Syrie et dans l'île de Chypre, Paris, 1871, p. 147, and more recently the British archaeologist Denys Pringle made similar comments with regard to both Montfort and Judin. See Denys Pringle, "Architecture in the Latin East, 1098-1571", in, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, ed. Jonathan Riley-Smith, Oxford, 1995, p. 172.

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