Analysis of Roman Castles

This past week’s lecture by Eva on Crusader Castles in the Levant was quite interesting. She spoke about the differences in castle layouts which often depended on the function of the castle. We were even able to glimpse heat maps that detailed the usage of each room and hallway in any one castle. We primarily looked at military, civil, and monastic palaces.


The reading by Ronnie Ellenblum was insightful and helpful in breaking down the basic archetype I had for how a castle looked and functioned. Ellenblum mentions in their book Crusader Castles in the Levant, ” but there is no reason to classify a settlement by the fact that it had some type of fortifications, just as it is useless to characterize a settlement by the existence of a church, or by the fact that its residents engaged in agriculture. It is possible, however, to classify a settlement on the basis of the size of its church and its importance in the ecclesiastical framework, or by the size of the settlement and its importance in the economic, social, or security structures of the area” (Ellenblum 2007, 182). Ellenblum breaks down the construct we have been taught to have about the function and purpose of castles and details how we must look at these structures through a new lens if we hope to gain a better understanding of how they functioned and impacted society. In order to understand the influence and purpose of castles, we must analyze the impact the castle had on its surroundings. What were the economic and social structures that came out of, or were changed due to the castle being in its place?


I was thinking about these questions when looking back on a trip to Rome I took last summer. I visited a multitude of “castles” which were perfect examples of how castles can be so different based on who resided within or what the function was. I want to discuss two specific castles I was thinking about and demonstrate the differences I noticed in both, similar to what Eva was saying during lecture. The first castle is the Castel Sant’Angelo, which operated as a military fortress from about the 5th to the 14th century. As you can see from the floor plan layouts, the Castel has a very centralized area that leads to the rest of the castle. It is very structured, much like many of the defense-oriented castles that Eva showed us. The pictures below are two different floor plans of the Castel, both showing a central middle area that opens up and allows movement to the different areas of the castle.




These next few pictures are of the Vatican City and the Pope’s actual residence. When visiting Vatican City, it was very clear that there was no one central location. As you can see in the picture of the map of the City, the main feature is of St. Peter’s Basilica, which is located at the bottom of Vatican City. Zooming out, you see that the top half is relatively empty compared to the bottom half. This falls in line with the theme we were discussing in class last Monday, how there was often a lack of centralized structure in civically-oriented, non-defense castles. The final map is of the Pope’s private residence. The layout is also relatively unstructured. There is a small plaza a bit south of center which allows access from one area of rooms to another, but this seems to be less a structure that allows easy access to the rest of the palace, and more an aesthetic adoption due to the building’s nature as the residency of the Pope.



I am currently on my way to Spain, which is what spurred flashbacks of the last time I was in Europe. I am excited knowing the time we have spent in class will offer me a new perspective when analyzing architecture for the first time, and I am excited to see what my travels hold.



Ellenblum, R. (2007) “Crusader Castles and Modern Histories” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 11