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Mâchicoulis, Piombatoio
Machicolation Of Wejter Tower.jpg
A box-machicolation of the Tal-Wejter Tower, in Birkirkara, Malta
General information
Location Europe and MENA
Technical details
Material Stone, sometimes wood

A machicolation (French: mâchicoulis, German: maschikuli, Italian: piombatoio) 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 word derives from the Old French word machecol, mentioned in Medieval Latin as machecollum, probably from Old French machier[1] 'crush', 'wound' and col 'neck'. Machicolate is only recorded in the 18th century in English, but a verb machicollāre is attested in Anglo-Latin.[2][page needed] The Spanish word denoting this structure, matacán, is similarly composed from "matar canes" meaning roughly "killing dogs", the latter being a reference to infidels.[3][page needed]

Description and use[edit]

The design of a machicoulis, commonly known as drop box, originates from the fortifications in the Middle East. In Arab fortifications they are usually found on defensive walls. The original Arab design was rather small, and similar to the domestic wooden balcony known as Mashrabiya. However, different from the domestic balcony, for defense purposes it prominently features a wide opening at the bottom. The opening allows the dropping of hot water or oil and other material intended to cause harm to the enemy below. The feature of a closed balcony also allows to take cover while making use.[4][5]

Illustration of machicolations in use
Machicolation above the gate of Château de Caen

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.[6]

Machicolations were more common in French castles than English, where they were usually restricted to the gateway, as in the 13th-century Conwy Castle.[7]

One of the first examples of machicolation that still exists in northern France is Château de Farcheville built in 1291 outside Paris.[8]

Similar to a machicolation is a smaller version which opens as a balcony, generally from a tower rather than a larger structure. This is called a box-machicolation.[9]

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.[9]

Post-medieval use[edit]

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.[10][a]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For example, Scottish baronial architecture from the 16th century onwards; and Neo-Gothic buildings of the 19th and 20th centuries.


  1. ^ Greimas (1987). A.-J; Dictionnaire de l’ancien français. Paris. ISBN 2-03-340-302-5. 
  2. ^ Hoad (1986) p. ?.
  3. ^ Villena (1988) p. ?.
  4. ^ Jaccarini, C. J. (2002). "Il-Muxrabija, wirt l-Iżlam fil-Gżejjer Maltin" (PDF). L-Imnara (in Maltese). Rivista tal-Għaqda Maltija tal-Folklor. 7 (1): 19. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 April 2016. 
  5. ^ Azzopardi, Joe (April 2012). "A Survey of the Maltese Muxrabijiet" (PDF). Vigilo. Valletta: Din l-Art Ħelwa (41): 26–33. ISSN 1026-132X. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2015. 
  6. ^ Toy, Sidney (2006). History of Fortification from 3000 BC to AD 1700. Pen and Sword. p. 103. ISBN 9781844153589. 
  7. ^ Brown (2004), p. 66.
  8. ^ Mesqui, Jean (1997). Châteaux forts et fortifications en France (in French). Paris: Flammarion. p. 493. ISBN 2-08-012271-1. 
  9. ^ a b Spiteri, Stephen C. (May 2008). "A Medieval tower at Qrendi?" (PDF). Arx - Online Journal of Military Architecture and Fortification (6): 59. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 November 2016. 
  10. ^ The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology. 1. Oxford University Press. 2010. p. 344. ISBN 9780195334036. 


  • Brown, R. Allen (2004) [1954]. 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. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Machicolations at Wikimedia Commons