The fortified castle, along with the cathedral, is the quintessential structure of medieval architecture. And indeed, those towering stone giants that dot the French countryside are part of every child’s imaginary world. Yet our knowledge of medieval castles is limited, and many of their secrets remain to be disclosed. Why were they built? How, given the technical know-how of the day, were such massive structures built? And who designed and supervised the constructions?
Twenty-five years ago, a group of daring individuals decided to take on an unprecedented challenge: to build a fortified castle using materials and techniques from the Middle Ages alone. In Guédelon, in the heart of the forest in Burgundy, a castle gradually began to rise from the ground, and the work continues today. Why take up such a challenge nearly a thousand years later? Because putting an archeology of trial and error into practice allows us to advance our knowledge of the Middle Ages, and because putting 21st-century theories to test, via 12th century practices, allows us to deconstruct preconceived ideas and to shed new light on age-old questions. In short, the fortified castle is like an abridged edition of the knowledge, techniques, and ways of life of the Middle Ages, especially given the identical stakes of the other constructions of the day, whether cathedral or a city. Thus, the Guédelon construction laboratory provides the ideal opportunity for discovering the secrets of the master-builders. With a step-by-step analysis of the different features of medieval castle-building, an inside look at how the most emblematic castles of the Middle Ages were built.