A machicolation is a floor opening between the supporting corbels of a battlement, through which stones or other material, such as boiling water or boiling cooking oil, could be dropped on attackers at the base of a defensive wall. The design was adopted in the Middle Ages in Europe when Norman crusaders returned from the Holy Land. A machicolated battlement projects outwards from the supporting wall in order to facilitate this. A hoarding is a similar structure made of wood, usually temporarily constructed in the event of a siege. Advantages of machicolations over wooden hoardings include the greater strength and fire resistance of stone.
The word derives from the Old French word machecol, mentioned in Medieval Latin as machecollum, probably from Old French machier 'crush', 'wound' and col 'neck'. Machicolate is only recorded in the 18th century in English, but a verb machicollāre is attested in Anglo-Latin. The Spanish word denoting this structure, matacán, is similarly composed from "matar canes" meaning roughly "killing dogs", the latter being a reference to infidels.
One of the first examples of machicolation that still exists in northern France is Château de Farcheville built in 1291 outside Paris.
Machicolation was later used for decorative effect with spaces between the corbels but without the openings, and subsequently became a characteristic of many non-military buildings (for example, Scottish baronial architecture from the 16th century onwards, and Gothic buildings of the 19th and 20th centuries).
Machicolations were a common feature in many towers and rural buildings in Malta until the 18th century. Buildings with machicolations include Cavalier Tower, Gauci Tower, the Captain's Tower, Birkirkara Tower and Tal-Wejter Tower.
- Brown, R. Allen (2004) . Allen Brown's English Castles. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. ISBN 1-84383-069-8.
- Hoad, T. F. (1986), English Etymology, Oxford University Press
- Villena, Leonardo (1988). "Sobre las defensas verticales en España: tipología y terminlogía comparadas". In Andrés Bazzana. Guerre, fortification et habitat dans le monde méditerranéen au Moyen Age: colloque. Casa de Velázquez. ISBN 978-84-86839-02-4.
- Mesqui, Jean (1997). Châteaux forts et fortifications en France. Paris: Flammarion. pp. 493 pp. ISBN 2-08-012271-1.
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