Castles and forts are always confused with each other because both structures are fortified. To draw a distinction between the two you have to look at the purpose they were meant to serve. Owning a castle was a reserve for the high and mighty in medieval times. A castle was the home of a noble man of renowned repute or belonged to the king. Ownership of a castle was tied to royalty or proximity to royalty in the instance of noble men. A castle’s primary purpose was to serve as an administrative post from where a ruler could live and rule. Although it was an administrative post, no effort was spared in fortifying it to defend an attack against the ruler it housed.
Forts were built as a defensive post to defend attacks by sea. They served the purpose of protecting coastal cities from attacks. The first point of attack when invaders were arriving by sea were coastal towns. This disrupted trade in busy cities, leading to catastrophic losses. People who stayed in the mainland depended on coastal trade to get access to commodities. To ensure their prosperity was not challenged, huge structures that were fortified against all manner of attacks from sea vessels were built. The word fort is drawn from the act of ‘fortification’ meaning a structure that is well defended.
The castle served more purposes in comparison to a fort since it provided military utility, domestic utility and administrative utility. In building a castle, its interior was less crude and more lavish since it was going to host a noble man or a king. Decoration was more generous as a show of splendor improving on esthetic appeal. Their exterior was tough to withstand an attack from invaders as the king was in constant threat from invaders or coups within his people. Within the castle, a garrison was present to offer security to the king while he performed his administrative duties.
The purpose of constructing a fort was to have a strategic military installation at the mouth of a coastal city to fend off any attacks while giving the army time to organize for a counter-attack. The fort was a naval base for navy officers on land. Cannons were lined up at strategic points on the fort, and these cannons could fire at approaching sea vessels, sinking them before they got to land. Since the cannons did not have a long range, navy officers had to patiently wait for attacking vessels to come closer to shore. The cannons were not very accurate either, making targeting oncoming vessels a very frustrating experience.
To fortify a castle, moats were employed since they did not enjoy the security that comes with scouting the sea for signs of an impending attack. Moats were deep trenches dug around a fort and filled with water. These trenches served to slow down the attacker since the water-filled trenches were treacherous to pass. Crossing the moats was done using a draw bridge that could be removed after use by drawing it using a winch back to the castle. This bit of architectural design can serve to draw a clear distinction between a fort and a castle.
A further examination of history reveals that forts are older than castles. Forts have been present for a long time because they have been a necessity from the time coastal towns started growing. Castles came with aristocracy, before people across Europe started uniting under one king there were no castles around. With aristocracy, it became important to protect the king who was regarded as a prominent figure. Aristocracy gave to the rise of a castle to provide an administrative center that was heavily defended to keep leaders safe.
Currently, most of the castles have been reduced to tourism attraction sites. Visitors flock to see these ancient structures and admire their medieval architecture as they are still standing. Some of these grand structures are now owned by private owners who open them to the public occasionally. Forts are mostly controlled by the military and still serve as naval posts courtesy of their strategic positioning. Some ports are open to the public as tourist attraction sites as part of the cultural heritage of a region and a reminder of a different time.