AskDefine | Define merlon

Dictionary Definition

merlon n : a solid section between two crenels in a crenelated battlement

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. architecture military Any of the projections between the embrasures of a battlement


Extensive Definition

A merlon, in architecture, forms the solid part of an embattled parapet, sometimes pierced by embrasures.
The word comes from the French language, adapted from the Italian merlone, possibly a shortened form of mergola, connected with Latin mergae (pitchfork), or from a diminutive moerulus, from murus or moerus (a wall). An alternative etymology suggests that the medieval Latin merulus (mentioned from the end of the 10th century) functioned as a diminutive of Latin merle, expressing an image of blackbirds sitting on a wall.
As an essential part of battlements, merlons were used in fortifications for millennia. The best known examples appear on mediaeval buildings, where battlements were often used as much for decoration as for defensive purposes. The two most notable European variants in Middle Ages merlons shape were the Ghibelline and the Guelph merlon: the former ended in the upper part with a swallow-tailed form, while the latter term indicates the normal rectangular shape merlons (wimperg). Other shapes include: three-pointed, quatrefoil, shielded, flower-like, rounded (typical of Islamic and African world), pyramidal, etc., depending either from the type of attacks expected or the decoration desires.
In Roman times the merlons had a width sufficient for a single man sheltering. As new weapons appeared in the Middle Ages (including crossbows and the first firearms), the merlons were enlarged and provided with loop-holes of various dimensions and shapes, varying from simply rounded to cruciform. From the 13th century, the merlons could be also used to pivot wooden shutters: these added further protection for the defenders when not firing. The shutters (also known as mantlets) could be open by hand, or using a pulley.
After falling out of favour when the invention of cannon forced buildings to take a much lower profile, they re-emerged as decorative features in buildings constructed in the neo-Gothic style of the 19th century.
merlon in Catalan: Merlet
merlon in German: Zinne
merlon in Spanish: Merlón
merlon in French: Merlon (fortification)
merlon in Dutch: Kanteel
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