Castles in Europe: a forgotten history of famine and poverty

Castles in Europe: a forgotten history of famine and poverty
Europe is an ideal vacation spot if you want to be surrounded by breathtaking views. Many castles and palaces have been key attractions for many tourists. Instagram and Facebook are full of photos from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, or Spain, trying to recreate a forgotten epoch. But have we ever think about the forgotten history of people who weren’t so lucky to live in castles? 
Our brain is indeed programmed to enjoy beautiful symmetrical things, which create an esthetical image that our eyes cannot refrain from observing. And here comes the question: what was the cost to all these beautiful places? We seem to love strolling the streets of Paris, analyzing architectural concepts, but we rarely know the real story behind it.


Germany has a variety of medieval castles that people can visit today, such as Heidelberg Castle, Schwerin Castle, Cochem Castle. France, on the other hand, has a variety of architectural styles. Vaux-le-Vicomte, Seine-et-Marne that has baroque influences, Château de Chambord, Loir-et-Cher – is rumoured to have Leonardo da Vinci’s hand in the interior feature, and the well-known Versailles. Let’s not forget Italy, where the Renaissance was born, and the United Kingdom that influenced all of Europe.
Most of these places were occupied by royalty and aristocracy. As obvious as it may seem, rich people and especially royalty had spent much money trying to impress other royal friends. Meanwhile, ordinary people had a hard time finding anything to eat. Imagine if all that money would have been invested in health care, food supplies, or education. Perhaps the world would look completely different now. Life expectancy at birth was 33 years old in the Middle Ages and 40 years old for the early 19th century.
Let us take a look at 16th-century Germany, a time when feudalism dominated the whole of Europe. There were three main social classes: aristocracy, peasants, and clergy. Given that taxes were so high and ordinary people could not afford to pay them, a popular revolt broke out. The aristocracy killed almost 300.000 people just for expressing their complaints.


Building such enormous palaces was not an easy task. Many people, especially men, had a hard time trying to please the king’s wish. Here’s a clear depiction of what the life of a French worker would look like:
Whilst Versailles was being built, many people died or were seriously injured as work continued through the night, in the hope to complete the building sooner. Much of the scaffolding as unsecured, meaning the scaffolding would collapse or break, and workers would fall from great heights. Carrying heavy materials, loose objects, menial work, special unawareness, and falling, tripping, hitting, and dropping objects/people are only some of the injuries caused by working at the building site of Versailles.


Religion had a major effect on the rights of people at that time. Therefore, people firmly believe that this is the way things work and that the king can do everything he wants. The divine right of the king is what prevailed at the time. It is now easier to imagine how the people in power would think about themselves and all that is incumbent upon them.
Education revolved around the church and only the rich could avail themselves of it. Even if you could have tried to educate yourself, it wouldn’t really help. Most wealthy people have not made an effort to afford what they had; they were simply born rich.


Castles are indeed amazing pieces of art We may not know exactly how things functioned at the time and whether all the information we have is true. We can only interpret and compare different periods of time if we want to evolve as human beings. What we know for sure is that ordinary people had a hard time living up until hundreds of years ago. Some of them are living in harsh conditions even today. That doesn’t mean we cannot enjoy visiting a beautiful castle, but think about the cost as well: luxury and extravagance on the one side and famine and poverty on the other side. 


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