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So the scenario for my story involves an abandon castle that is located in a taboo area so no one goes near it and so no one is maintaining it anymore. Assume the castle was almost 1000 years old before it was abandoned, but it was well maintained up to the point of being abandoned. There is no magic or anything special about the castle that would allow it to survive any longer than normal.

  • How long before the castle is no longer capable of serving as a castle (like walls have been compromised or the roof has caved in)?
  • How long before the castle is nothing more than a pile of rubble?
  • Would being near a forest and/or river expedite the process and if so by what order of magnitude are we talking?
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    $\begingroup$ Depends what you consider a castle. Something like an Iron Age Hillfort could be noticeable for millennia due to being based off of earthworks. One example is Maiden Castle, whose walls still exist today. $\endgroup$ – Kys Jul 13 '16 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ Older "castles" may last longer. The Romans learned to build in real concrete maybe around 100 BC. The Colosseum is concrete - it has/had brick veneer. | The last castle to fall in the English civil war was Castle Raglan in Wales. The main walls were 14 feet thick in stone. The main tower was breached subsequently but proved to hard and was left as was. It is still standing today - VERY solid - if it had not been breached at the time it would be an INSTANTLY viable castle now. $\endgroup$ – Russell McMahon Dec 22 '19 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ "Walls have been compromised or the roof has caved in": those two happen on vastly different timescales. The roof will go in a matter of years. The walls will resist for centuries. (Hint: roofs are flimsy structures made of wood. Second hint: the roof can be repaired in matter of weeks or at worst, one or two months.) And the question cannot be answered unless you tell what is the castle made of (sun-dried brick, fired brick, wood, concrete, stone) and where it is situated (e.g., Krak des Chevaliers was abandoned in the 13th century). $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 23 '19 at 13:49
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I found this question interesting and started doing some research. However, it is hard to pin down an answer. It really comes down to how it was constructed. The earliest traditional castles were built from 1060 AD and later. Castles made from stone and mortar do not last long without regular maintenance. The mortar begins to crack, which allows water to seep in. Water is the bane of all buildings. During the winter, water will freeze causing more cracks, which in turn allows more water to seep in. These cracks allow plants to start growing in them. The roots of the plants further break up the mortar. In the pictures below, you can see plants how the mortar gets destroyed and plants take over.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

Being near a forest or river definitely would expedite the process, as the moisture and plants are close by to start breaking down the castle.

It would also appear being in an arid desert doesnt help that much either. The heat fluctuations also cause the mortar to crack. Wind carrying sand slowly eats away at the mortar as well.

enter image description here enter image description here

There are always exceptions to this, but it would appear that a few hundred years is the maximum a castle will survive without maintenance.

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    $\begingroup$ If erosion of mortar and gaps within stonework are the primary issues, then would a dry stone construction, like the iconic sort created by the Inca, endure for much longer? $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode May 25 '17 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ Unless it's in a dry environment and gets buried in the sand. Burial protects it from temperature shifts and wind erosion and dry protects it from water erosion. Most all of the oldest ruins we know of were buried in dry sand for at least the majority of the time since they were abandoned. $\endgroup$ – Perkins Aug 18 '17 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ That particular castle photo looks more like it was cannon-blasted than erosion. Observe the extreme directional-ness to the damage. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Sep 1 '19 at 16:12
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A very well built castle will last "indefinitely".

Older "castles" may last longer than more recent ones.
The Romans learned to build in real concrete maybe around 100 BC.
The Colosseum is concrete - it has/had brick veneer.

The last castle to fall in the English civil war was Castle Raglan in Wales in 1646.
The main walls were 14 feet thick in stone. The free standing 'castle in it's own right' Great Tower was "slighted" subsequently but proved to hard to destroy and was left as was.

  • The tower wall breach was a product of labour intensive "slighting". The tower's top storey was removed but, when this proved excessively labour intensive, the tower was undermined with a propped tunnel, and once the foundations were gone on one side fires were lit to destroy the props - see photo below. Without this process I'd expect those walls to be good for far beyond the 400 years that they have stood so far. Based on the Colosseum ('pure' concrete) a lifetime of 2000+ years would not be unexpected.

    The tower, and the main castle are still standing today - VERY solid - if it had not been 'slighted' at the time it would be an INSTANTLY viable castle now. You may need to add a new drawbridge - it is accessed on the 2nd or 3rd level from the main castle over a moat via a drawbridge. If that has fallen in over the years it makes it almost instantly defensible.

I have many photos of Castle Raglan (taken in 2003).
A few only

Access to the Great tower:

enter image description here

Cross sectional view.

Floors would have been destroyed at the time.
You may wish to posit stone floors of some sort to allow survival.
Spiral stairways are stone slabs set into walls. Some survive, some have collapsed - try not to be on a collapsing one.

enter image description here

enter image description here


A less well built castle - lifetime - not so long.

Macduff castle - my photos from 2003 in Scotland (needless to say).

enter image description here

Location and more photos

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You have to remember, the Romans used volcanic sand in concrete and mortar, which works better, but too costly to ship to other locations.

But here it looks like stacked stone with no mortar lasts very well. The trick would be to shape them so they don't move.

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  • $\begingroup$ The OP (the person who asked the question) is asking about a general date, not construction methods. While your facts are correct and applicable, you need to apply them. Also, on a side note, you might want to read your posts aloud before you click submit. I have found that this really helps with grammar. $\endgroup$ – Marvin the Paranoid Android Jan 9 at 20:09

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