For centuries, medieval castles—huge, isolated masonry triumphs—have held a special place in the Western imagination, evoking a sense of history, fantasy, war, and romance at the same time. They are timeless backdrops for historical dramas and children’s books, travel brochures and fashion spreads.
But in his latest book, The Stone Age: Ancient Castles of Europe, writer and photographer Frederic Chaubin set out to break the stereotypes by using prose and photography to connect the Middle Ages with modernism.
“Instead of simply considering them as historical remains, I was much more interested in establishing a connection between this very primitive architecture and the foundations and principles of modernism, which were more or less established at the beginning of the 20th century through the theoretical works of Adolf Loos or Le Corbusier,” he explained in a telephone interview, referring to influential theorists and architects who opposed ornament and revered pure forms. ”
The Romanesque castle of Almourol in Portugal belonged to the Knights Templar, who were very active in spreading Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula. Credit: Frederic Chaubin/Courtesy of TASCHEN
When castles first appeared in the 10th century as an alternative to wooden buildings, they were conceived as the fortified dwellings of the ruling class. Protection over decoration: tall towers were built to protect residents from outside threats, moats served as defenses rather than water features, and design was adapted to the changing rules of war or the domestic needs of castle residents.
The Stone Age is Chauben’s second book after 2011’s CCCP: Photographed Space Communist Constructions, a stylish tome that features photographs and studies of the architecture of the Soviet Union over seven years. However, for his new book, he armed himself with a traditional wide-angle camera and traveled to Britain, France, Spain, Germany, the Baltic States and beyond, photographing over 200 castles built between the 10th and 15th centuries.
In Spain, there is the Renaissance palace of La Calahorra, built in the 16th century. Credit: Frederic Chaubin/Courtesy of TASCHEN
In making his final choice, Chaubin prioritized the castle’s impressive location and architectural simplicity—in keeping with its overarching theme—rather than its historical significance. “It’s about (context) much more than the buildings themselves,” he said. “The most interesting ones are those that are really isolated; you feel like you’ve discovered them.”
Typically, Shoben photographed castles as they approached, capturing their grandeur as they first came into view – for example, Grimburg Castle in Germany appears as a shadowy silhouette against a frost-covered landscape, while a serene lake separates the photographer from the Scottish castle. Stalker. Chauben hoped to convey “specific moments when you first see the building”.
“I draw a castle in the distance quite often, because usually you find buildings in the distance,” he explained. “I invite people to travel with me.”
View of the fortified Stalker Castle in Scotland, which dates from the 15th century. Credit: Frederic Chaubin/Courtesy of TASCHEN
The photographer was particularly struck by the ruined sandstone castles of Château de Quéribus in southern France, or Manqueospese, in Ávila, Spain, which were built from local granite – castles that convey a natural connection to the environment and “seem to come out of home.” land,” as Chauben put it.
The book is divided into thematic chapters dealing with the origin and evolution of castles, the geopolitical context of their development and, later, their abandonment. While the structures of Chauben’s searchlights are similar in terms of material and basic shapes, he found it difficult to organize them in chronological order.
Manqueospese Castle in Spain that seems to melt into a lunar granite landscape. Credit: Frederic Chaubin/Courtesy of TASCHEN
“Tying them to a specific period is extremely difficult, because the European medieval castles that I photographed (beginning of construction) somewhere in the 10th century, and then underwent transformations over the centuries and centuries,” he said.
For example, the 13th-century castles he photographed in Wales have evolved over time in line with the evolution of weapons and military strategies; The Moorish castles in the Iberian Peninsula were radically rebuilt by the Catholics, who later took them over. As the Renaissance approached and the almost constant threat of invasion faded, decorative elements and large windows were often introduced to facilitate the castle’s transition from fortress to palace.
The 12th-century German castle of Grimburg rises through the mist. Credit: Frederic Chaubin/Courtesy of TASCHEN
“Starting from the 15th century, they had no reason to be (a defensive structure), so castles were turned into mansions or palaces or left in disrepair,” Chauben explained.
Dividing castles by location seemed just as useless, given that the borders of Europe were constantly changing over the centuries described in the book. The abundance of invasions (which explain the path of Crusade-era Norman castles between modern England and the Middle East) and intermarriage between monarchies also meant that architectural styles were widely exported and adapted to incorporate local vernaculars.
But, ultimately, this lack of visual coherence was a source of fascination, not frustration, for Chaubin.
“I was much more impressed by the many differences (than the similarities),” he said. “The very large typology of these castles made this subject more complex, but at the same time more interesting.”
Stone Age: The Ancient Castles of Europe, published by Taschen, is now available.