Medieval Facts: Why Were Castles Built on Hills?

why were castles built on hills

So, you’re on a fabulous vacation, taking a trip to see a castle. But it’s just going on for too long. You spot the fortress at the top of the hill, but it seems like you are not getting any closer. At a certain point, a question pops into your head — why were castles built on hills?

Building a fortress on top of the hill offered many advantages. Making the castle highly inaccessible and displaying the king’s power were only some of the reasons for having a stronghold on high ground. Keep reading to discover why many castles were constructed on a hill.

7 Advantages of a Castle on a Hill


Imagine yourself as a king or a queen, and your next order of business is to build a castle. What would be your top priority? If you gave it enough thought, the answer would undoubtedly be security.

Being able to fend off enemy attacks was crucial to every Lord and Lady. And the hills provided this security more than any other place.

1. It’s Hard to Reach a Castle High Up the Hill

If you had trouble reaching the castle on your tour, imagine how a soldier in full body armor felt.

Attacking a castle also meant carrying a whole lot of equipment — including weapons, a battering ram to break the main gate, etc. Transporting all of that would be difficult even on a flat surface, let alone a hill. That’s why the higher ground was a perfect place for a castle.

Another advantage of a castle on a hill is that it was extremely hard for enemies to approach it. They had to go a long way up the hillside, which made them slower in their advance. Because of that, they were more vulnerable to attacks from the castle.

2. Great Vantage Point

Because the castle on a hill was the highest point in the surrounding area, guards in the watchtowers could see miles in the distance. That was useful for spotting the enemy as early as possible.

The lookouts could then warn the army, and the soldiers would have enough time to prepare their defense. This early warning system could not be possible if the fortress weren’t on a hilltop.

3. Underground Security

Another answer to the question “Why were castles built on hills?” is that hills offered you protection from an underground attack. After all, a hill is one huge rock that no one could penetrate. If you built your castle on a hill, the enemy could not count on digging beneath your castle and attacking you from below.

4. A Rocky Hill Is Dangerous to Climb

Not only were castles built on a hill, but they were also usually built on a rocky cliff. And entering the castle via a cliff wasn’t the best idea. Firstly, it was easy to fall off the cliff. A rockface, you will agree, is very hard to climb on its own. Now add the battle equipment that weighs you down, and falling to your death is all but inevitable.

Secondly, even if the soldiers could manage not to fall off the cliff, they would still be easy targets. They had to watch their every step when climbing, which made it easy for the archers to rain a storm of arrows on them. The invaders could not defend themselves or counter-attack, so any charge on the castle in this way was destined to fail.

It comes as no surprise, then, that building a strong main gate was a priority because that was the only way for enemies to attack. They could not invade from underground, the sides, nor the air. So they had to worry only about constructing a secure front door — all because the castle stood on a hill.

5. No Spies

Enemy spies couldn’t get higher than the castle to gather information. The only way for them to see what people in the fortress were doing was to climb the walls, which was an almost impossible task.

6. The Castle Would Stay Stable

Castles deteriorate when they aren’t built on solid ground. We have seen this throughout history. You won’t have this problem if you construct it on top of a rock, as it will remain stable and strong for centuries to come.

7. Power and Prestige

Monarchs didn’t think only of military advantages when building castles. Kings and queens were always hungry for power and prestige. They went to war for them, conquered countries, built empires.

But most of all, they took pride in their strongholds. When they constructed their castles, monarchs wanted them to represent the royal family that constructed them.

Building a castle on a hill added to this feeling of power that monarchs desired so much. The fortress was the highest object in the whole area, making it a symbol of great power, as nothing could challenge it.

Additionally, the castle appears more beautiful when it stands on top of a hill. Its peaks touch the sky, unmatched in its beauty by anything surrounding it. Much like we admire them today, the folk of the time did so too, maybe even more.

A Guide to Castles Built on Hills

Now that we’ve answered the main question — “Why were castles built on hills?” — here’s a list of absolutely stunning hilltop castles you may wish to visit.

1. Eltz Castle, Germany

Eltz Castle

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Eltz Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in all of Germany. It’s located on a hill in the Rhineland-Palatinate region, surrounded by a thick forest. The castle is a favorite tourist spot as you can take great pictures there, especially when the fog comes down. The region is also famous for its savory Riesling wine.

The Eltz family still owns the castle. Throughout its history, many have attacked it, but no one could ever destroy it.

2. Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle

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This castle needs no introduction. One of the most famous castles in the whole world, Edinburgh Castle is located in the magnificent capital of Scotland.

Scots built it with one thing in mind — security. The English were constantly attacking them, so the Scots needed a secure fortress to defend themselves. Being on the hill that overlooks the capital proved crucial on so many occasions.

Edinburgh Castle was under siege countless times, especially during the First and Second War of Scottish Independence. The control of this fortress changed a lot during that period. Today, you can take guided tours through the castle and experience something quite unique.

3. Castel del Monte, Italy

Castel del Monte

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Castel del Monte doesn’t fit the usual image we have of a castle. You will see that it features a rounded design instead of the more-common jagged edges. It looks very stylish, just like you would imagine everything in Italy to be.

It’s located in Southern Italy and has elements of the Islamic Orient, as well as classical antique architecture.

4. Lindisfarne Castle, England

Lindisfarne Castle

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You could say that this is the counterpart to Edinburgh Castle. It’s located only two hours from Edinburgh, and it too has seen many battles.

As we said before, the English and the Scottish fought constantly, and Lindisfarne Castle served as a great stronghold to the English in all of those conflicts. It was built on a volcanic plug shortly after Henry VIII’s death.

5. Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria

Hohenwerfen Castle

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Moving from England to Austria, we have the magnificent Hohenwerfen Castle. The Austrians built it in the late 11th century on a hilltop in the Alps. If you ever visit Salzburg, we strongly recommend visiting this castle as it is only a 25-mile drive.

It has served as a stronghold for the Austrian army and is now a museum where you can see the history of this great castle. Old weapons lovers can also go through the illustrious weapon collection.

6. Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, France

Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg

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This castle overlooks the Black Forest, and visitors can find it in the Vosges mountains.

The constructors of Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg used pink sandstone, something you can see in many other castles in France and Germany.

It is in a perfect place, high up in the hills surrounded by a forest. The guards could spot the enemy from miles away, which meant the army could retreat and regroup, knowing that the enemy would have trouble getting to it.

7. Alhambra, Spain


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You will find this mesmerizing fortress complex in Granada. Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada built it in the 13th century, and you can see the Islamic Oriental influence in its design.

If you want to visit this complex, you should schedule your visit ahead of time. But don’t let that discourage you from going there. It is a beautiful palace, where one of the most important events of all time happened.

Many believe that Christopher Columbus got the endorsement from Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II for his journey to America right there at Alhambra.

8. Burghausen Castle, Germany

Burghausen Castle

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Burghausen Castle is located near the border between Austria and Germany. In the past, the dukes of Lower Bavaria used to call this castle home. Today, this impressive building holds the Guinness World Record for the longest fortress complex in the whole world.

Not only that, but it is also incredibly well-preserved, so if you go there, it will seem like you have gone back in time. Many of its fortifications look exactly like they did when they were first erected.

Gretchen Walker
Gretchen is a homemaker by day and writer by night. She takes a keen interest in life as it unfolds around her and spends her free time observing people go about their everyday affairs.