Saturday, July 12, 2008

Medieval Castles fascinate me

One of the most fascinating aspects that continually draws me into the medieval era, is the mystery and antiquity of castles. Of course, living in western Canada affords little opportunity to see castles first hand. The closest I can come to experiencing a medieval castle is visiting the Banff Springs Hotel.

It has a medieval theme throughout and even a wonderful great hall.

I love castles, everything about them. I think that's why I'm always writing in the medieval era - it was vastly different, more violent, crueler. This opens up a realm of opportunities for heros to stand out.

Here is a fascinating article I found about medieval castles and how they were built. I give the author credits at the bottom of the article.


Medieval Castles were structures that changed dramatically over the centuries of the Middle Ages. These changes were brought about by many factors like changes in warfare and the influences of different cultures. Here is a brief history of how the Medieval Castle developed over the five hundred years of the Middle Ages.

Around the tenth century the first castle-like structures were being built as defensive positions. These defensive structures were called Motte and Bailey and they were large mounds of dirt that were capped by wooden stockade fences and buildings. Hundreds of these structures were built during the century and they were very practical because they were made from local and easy to get materials. They didn’t require the massive resources that later stone castles would require.

During the eleventh century many changes were sweeping through Europe and among these changes was an engineering revolution that enabled architectural building with stone. But this engineering growth alone was not enough for the building of large fortresses because that required a substantial commitment of time, resources and money. But there was also a social change sweeping through Europe. Lords and Kings were consolidating large kingdoms and gaining the wealth that made the building of large stone castles possible. In order to protect their lands or to gain a hold in adjoining lands lords and kings built stone fortresses. These stone fortresses were very similar to the Motte and Bailey structures of the previous century and they were often called "shell-keeps".

It was during the twelfth century that the massive stone keeps we normally consider to be medieval castles took shape. As crusaders returned to Europe they brought with them the engineering and design knowledge they learned from the Greek and the Turkish. Both of these cultures were very proficient with stonework and this new knowledge of architectural building enabled the building of large and elaborate stone fortresses throughout Europe.

Castle building reached a feverish climax during the thirteenth century with over five hundred massive and very intricate castles being built throughout Europe. These castles were the masterpieces that we now think of as medieval castles and they had many design and engineering elaborations such as round towers. Up until this century the towers in castles were square but the square shape was vulnerable to battering rams and had blind zones. Round towers were stronger, less vulnerable, and had no blind spots.

It was during the fourteenth century that the building of castles went into decline and then its eventual demise. Further developments in technology, and in particular the development of gunpowder and artillery brought about the demise by making it impractical and futile to spend ten years or more to build a castle that could be totally destroyed by a few days of artillery fire. But the castle didn’t disappear. It evolved into less of a security structure and more of a living quarters for royalty and wealthy families or what we now think of as a Palace.

The medieval castle was an amazing art and engineering form that evolved dramatically over a period of about five hundred years and reflected changes in warfare, culture, engineering and society.

To learn more about Medieval castles visit the author’s website at: Medieval Castles

To learn more about Medieval Knights visit his site

Article Source:

Friday, July 11, 2008

The History of Chocolate

The Story of Chocolate

It would be quite unthinkable to even attempt to produce good chocolates without
knowing the fabulous history of chocolate which dates back to the 10th century.

The Aztecs were the first to start working with cacao beans. At that time their God,
Quetzalcoatl, was the Gardener of Paradise, which explains why cacao beans were
used as their form of currency. At this stage they served no culinary purpose
whatsoever, and it was only on observing the monkeys that the Aztecs started to
become interested in the culinary properties of the cacao tree fruit.

To begin with only the pulp of the tree was used and it was not until later on that the beans themselves started to be consumed. We do not know who actually had the idea to roast the beans and then grind them into a paste, but whoever it was had hit on something fantastic.

This mixture of cocoa and spices was to bring happiness to a
whole population. That is until the day a strange vessel sailed into their harbours.

When in 1502 Christopher Columbus set foot in this "New Spain" he received a gift
of cacao beans from an Indian Chief. He had no idea of the immeasurable value of
what he held in his hands.

Meanwhile the legends of Quetzalcoatl continued. As a King cum Priest seeking
immortality he lost his way and finally became mad when he swallowed a potion
prepared by an evil magician. Before moving eastwards he prophesized saying "I will
return in a year of the reed and exercise my authority once again". The cult
continued to live on under the name of Votan until 1519, a year of the reed. Chance
had it that on 21 April 1519, the time Quetzalcoatl was due to return Hernan Cort├ęs
actually landed on the shores of belonging to King Moctrezuma. Convinced that the
"Great Plumed Serpent" had returned, the Aztecs were invaded and easily
conquered, and endured only bitter hardship until they finally disappeared. The
Conquistadors who were in the search of a new El Dorado also went through terrible
times. The cocoa prepared for them by the Aztecs was not to their liking because it
was too fatty and bitter, but since they had already exhausted their own supplies
they had no other choice but to get used toit. Cocoa served either with cane sugar
or as a drink gradually gained a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. This
reputation was of course reinforced by what the legends had to say about cocoa.
The Spanish soon became very fond of this beverage.

But it was not until 1580 that cocoa reached Europe and the first chocolate makers
began to set up along the Iberian Peninsula. Their recipe for the cocoa drink was
kept secret for a long time until the Netherlands and the Flemish Kingdom
eventually discovered it. It was not before the beginning of the 17th century that
Europe finally discovered the virtues of cacao beans and it was only in 1671 that the first Parisian ³Drinking Chocolate House² opened.

It was not until 1674 that the "chocolate bar" from Great Britain finally caught on.
But there was still a long way to go and it was as late as 1850 that chocolate ceased to be a product solely reserved for the aristocracy and started to enjoy widespread public distribution.

A new industry started to replace the handmade production market, with Menier et
Poulain leading the way in France. Other large names started to appear over the
years: Van Houten who introduced a manufacturing process for chocolate powder in
1825, Peter from Switzerland who introduced milk into chocolate in 1875, Caffarel
from Italy who created Gianduj, Neuhaus from Belgium who invented praline and the
box of chocolates as we know it today, and finally Suchard who made the bar of
milk chocolate the popular success it is today.

Bonnat came onto the scene in 1884 and the famous French praline was only the
beginning of what has turned out to be a long story full of chocolate delights and
surprises. It is worth noting that Chocolatier Bonnat was the first chocolatier to
make Chartreuse chocolates. Bonnat remains the exclusive supplier today.

Despite the fact that chocolate traditions began over 5 centuries ago the love,
passion and pleasure which kindled desires then, still live on today. Chocolate the
perfect partner for all gourmet discoveries.

Article Source:

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