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A moat is a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water, that surrounds a castle, building or town, historically to provide it with a preliminary line of defence. In some places moats evolved into more extensive water defences, including natural or artificial lakes, dams and sluices. In later castles the moat or water defences may be largely ornamental.

Historical use

Moats were excavated around castles and fortifications as part of the defensive system as an obstacle immediately outside the walls. In suitable locations they might be filled with water. A moat made access to the walls difficult for siege weapons, such as siege towers and battering rams, which needed to be brought up against a wall to be effective. A water-filled moat made very difficult the practice of mining, that is to say digging tunnels under the fortifications in order to effect a collapse of the defenses.

The word was adapted in Middle English from the French motte "mound, hillock" and was first applied to the central mound on which a fortification was erected (see Motte and bailey), and then came to be applied to the excavated ring, a "dry moat". The term moat is also applied to natural formations reminiscent of the artificial structure, and to similar modern architectural features.


Most moats are dry or water-filled ditches. Other forms of water defences developed by filling the moat with water and broadening it, to the extent that it resembles a lake, giving birth to the terms Water Palace and Water Castle. In some cases a water-filled moat was formed by taking advantage of a natural island or peninsula site, or by creating one or more artificial lakes behind a dam. Berkhamsted Castlemarker illustrates a fairly early stage in this development, while Caerphilly Castlemarker shows an advanced one. Kenilworth Castlemarker had extensive water defences controlled by fortified dams and sluices. The crannog is essentially a natural or artificial lake with the castle built on an island or peninsula, rising more or less sheer from the water . Among the more impressive examples is Castle Cornetmarker, in Guernsey, where the function of the moat is performed by the sea.

Castles with moats or surrounded by artificial lakes are common in England, Scotland, and Wales, found in the Low Countries, and in Germany, Austria, and Denmark. They are also found further into the interior of the Continent.

In the post-medieval period, fortresses designed to resist firearm artillery often had a dry moat or ditch, and occasionally incorporated water in their defences as protection against storming: for example the bastion fortress at Olomoucmarker.

Over the course of time, numerous fortified castles were converted into palaces, or other grand residences, no longer primarily fortifications but intended to receive guests, or as living quarters. Surrounding moats or lakes became ornamental. As late as the seventeenth century, French château that were not remotely fortified nor built on traditionally fortified and moated sites, pleasure houses such as Vaux-le-Vicomtemarker, were surrounded by traditional formal moats that isolated the main corps de logis and were bridged by an axial approach.


Japanese castles often have very elaborate moats, sometimes with many moats laid out in concentric circles around the castle and a host of different patterns engineered around the landscape. Japanese castles will have up to three of these concentric moats. The outer moat typically protects other support buildings in addition to the castle.

As many Japanese Castles have historically been a very central part of their respective city, the moats have provided a vital waterway to the city. Even in modern times, the moat system of the Japanese Imperial Palacemarker comprises a very active body of water, hosting everything from rental boats and fishing ponds to restaurants..

Most modern Japanese castles have moats filled with water, but castles in the Middle Ages more commonly had 'dry moats' (karahori, 空堀), essentially a ditch. Even today, it is common for mountain castles to have dry moats.

Moats were also used in East Asia in the Forbidden Citymarker and Xi'anmarker in China and Kokyo Imperial Palacemarker in Japan; in Velloremarker in India and in Southeast Asia, such as at Angkor Watmarker in Cambodiamarker and Chiang Maimarker in Thailandmarker.


While moats are commonly associated with European castles, they were also developed by North American Indians of the Mississippian culture as the outer defense of some fortified villages. The remains of a 16th-century moat are still visible at the Parkin Archeological State Parkmarker in eastern Arkansasmarker.

Photo gallery

Image:Muiderslot september 2007.JPG|Muiderslotmarker, the NetherlandsmarkerImage:Keep of Matsumoto Castle.JPG|Matsumoto Castlemarker, a Japanese Castle in Nagano PrefecturemarkerImage:Caerlaverock32.jpg|Caerlaverock Castlemarker, a 13th century castle on the English / Scottish borderImage:Sunset of the Forbidden City 2006.JPG|The Forbidden Citymarker, Beijing: North-western angleImage:Angkor-Wat-from-the-air.JPG|Angkor Watmarker, CambodiamarkerImage:Egeskov Slot 08.jpg|Egeskov Castlemarker, Denmarkmarker

Modern uses

While moats are no longer a significant tool of warfare, they continue to serve as a defense against certain modern threats such as car bombs and armoured fighting vehicles. They also fill a variety of creative contemporary uses.

Installation security

The Catawba Nuclear Stationmarker, for instance, has been constructing a concrete moat around some of the plant (other sides of the plant are bordering a lake). The moat is a part of industry wide added precautions after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Related individuals have made a point to claim that the moat is not connected to the new MOX fuel that the plant will be receiving.
"The concrete moat under construction at the station south of Charlotte has little to do with the utility's plans to start burning mixed-oxide fuel containing small amounts of weapons-grade plutonium next spring.
Designed to prevent everything from passenger cars to military tanks from getting too close to the reactor, the moat is part of a post-Sept 11, 2001 security upgrade"[23618]

Animal containment

Moats rather than fences separate animals from spectators in many modern zoo installations. Moats were first used in this way by Carl Hagenbeck at his Tierparkmarker. The structure, with a vertical outer retaining wall rising directly from the moat, is an extended usage of the ha-ha of English landscape gardening.

Border control

In 2004 plans were suggested for a two-mile moat across the southern border of the Gaza Stripmarker to prevent tunnelling from Egyptian territory to the border town of Rafah .

In 2008, city officials in Yuma, Arizona planned to dig out a two-mile stretch of a 180-hectare (440-acre) wetland known as Hunters Hole, to control immigrants coming from Mexico.

Pest control in Bonsai

As a basic method of pest control in Bonsai, a moat may be used to restrict access of crawling insects to the Bonsai.

See also


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