My story is set in an abandoned medieval castle. I am having a hard time describing the effects of time on the place. What would happen if a place gets abandoned and neglected across the years? What could be the effects on the furniture, roofs, and walls, after 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years?

To draw comparison with our world, the castle would be fully functioning in the 14th century and abandoned thereafter. Furniture and structure elements would date medieval technology. We're assuming normal earth-like central-European weather conditions.

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    $\begingroup$ You should probably add info on when the place was abandoned (e.g. furniture from 2001 will behave differently to furniture from 1830; goes especially for textiles, etc.) $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ Good point, thanks for the suggestion. I have edited the question accordingly: I think about medieval or pre-renaissance technology. $\endgroup$
    – FraEnrico
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ Also, climate is important. There is nothing worse for a building than freeze-thaw cycles. On the other hand, consider the state of preservation of Mayan and Inca structures. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ As I said, let's assume an average central-european continental climate. Humid summers, slightly freezing winters, temperate mid-seasons. My question is about non-extreme weathers (such as nordic frost lands or african deserts or tropical jungles) $\endgroup$
    – FraEnrico
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ @FraEnrico Good question! If there's anything particularly specific you're wondering about, let us know and I'll try to expand my answer below. I could go on about this stuff all day. $\endgroup$
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 19:13

2 Answers 2


Probably the first thing which would happen is that people would break in to loot any portable items as well as the obvious valuables like furniture etc abandoned buildings have historically been informally demolished over time as a source of building materials. In this case doors, flooring and roofing would probably be the first to go. Indeed it is not unknow for lead and copper to be stolen from roofs while a building is still occupied.

An interesting real-world example is the dissolution of the monasteries in England, begun under Henry VIII. In this case most of the portable assets were confistacted and sold and the lands redistributed. In some cases the Monastary buildings were demolished or converted to other uses and in others just abandoned.

Fountains Abbey for example was stripped of timber, lead and some masonry was reused but a lot of the stone st ructures are in reasonable condition even now.

In terms of structural integrity entirely stone structures can survive for a long time whereas anything with significant timber elements especially in floors and roof will potentially decay a lot more quickly once the interiors are exposed to the weather.

In practice it is rare that a building is abandoned and left entierly undisturbed. But if it was a well consructed medieval building should last a long time before it really starts to decay. A fact attested to by the fact that many medieval churches and cathedrals are still standing. If you have a building with stone walls and an oak and lead roof there isn't actualy that much which can happen to it.

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    $\begingroup$ The forces if nature that will affect such a building are lightning and wood-eating insects. The former can spark a fire that destroys all roofs and wooden walls in hours. Old wood is dry and highly flammable. The beetles take decades or centuries but are certain to collapse the roof if it is not maintained. The thick stone walls of a castle will last centuries if the stone is not re-used. England is full of such ruins. $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 20:25

I'll try to answer in terms of time frames, since you asked about that specifically.

(If you haven't seen it yet, this answer may be of help to you.)

It sounds like you're envisioning a scenario completely devoid of human influence post-abandonment -- no looters or squatters or whatnot? Left unchecked, first the natural environment will move back in very quickly. Within a few months, any nicely-pruned grounds will have long lost their kempt appearance, and in only a couple of growth seasons the foliage will be clearly overtaking the walls. Animal life will move in essentially immediately.

Here's a neat article illustrating this in a town that is still even occupied.

Structurally, the stonework will last centuries; medieval castles continuously visited by tourists today are still intact with minimal (if any) maintenance. The rate at which any wooden constructions will rot away depends on several factors, such as climate, insects, and wood-loving fungi. Wood can last a long time if weather isn't a factor (in the more extreme cases, there are wooden tombs thousands of years old still standing, not to mention the wooden items like furniture and decorations inside). A fully intact, well-maintained roof suddenly abandoned will likely last at least two decades or more before any large problems begin to manifest. Such a roof could potentially stay more-or-less structurally sound for at least a hundred years; the main beams themselves could last a couple hundred, perhaps more. None of this takes into account severe weather or fire, of course.

Anything left undisturbed inside dry rooms will stay in good shape until exposed to the elements (which will happen, eventually).


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