This is a picture of the charming village of Grossriedenthal in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria, the northeasternmost state of the nine states of Austria) where we stayed last week.

There is something rather interesting about it. Can you make out the bare, grassy mound to the left of the church spire? On a UK Ordnance Survey map this would be marked as a ‘motte‘, of which (according to Wikipedia) we have 741 in England and Wales, mainly built by Norman lords, after the conquest in 1066.

A motte is a mound, usually artificial, originally with a fortified tower (or keep) on top, usually surrounded by a fortified wall, or bailey. A motte and bailey castle could be built quickly, using unskilled (and perhaps not always voluntary) labour. The keep and the fortified wall could be made out of timber and replaced later with stone if circumstances required and resources permitted. Again according to Wikipedia, “The motte-and-bailey design began to spread into Alsace and the northern Alps from France during the first half of the 11th century, spreading further into Bohemia and Austria in the subsequent years. This form of castle was closely associated with the colonisation of newly cultivated areas within the Empire, as new lords were granted lands by the emperor and built castles close to the local grod, or town”.

Now look at this bird’s eye view of Grossriedenthal from Google Maps.

Screenshot (60)

(copyright 2018 Google)

The road coming in from the left hand side is marked in the photo by two green street lights to the right of the church – the photo is looking a few degrees anti-clockwise to the line of this – the motte is somewhere off the top right hand corner of the bird’s eye view. Essentially, the photo looks down the latitudinal axis of the village, which is built along the three roads running top to bottom in the bird’s eye view. Along this axis lie the church, next to it the fire station, what I think is the old post office, the village council office, the parson’s house and what is thought to be the old manor house (just to the right of the (modern) white roof in the centre of the bird’s eye view) – all the things you would want in the middle of a village.

You can see from the bird’s eye view that the layout of Grossriedenthal has been planned, with buildings either fronting onto the three streets running top to bottom in the bird’s eye view or at right angles. Typically, the houses along the streets have gateways, through which you could drive a cart (or nowadays a small van) into a courtyard with buildings on either side – and another gateway at the other end.

So, a shrewd guess is that Grossriedenthal is precisely an example of the process mentioned by Wikipedia “….the colonisation of newly cultivated areas within the Empire, as new lords were granted lands by the emperor….” If so, mottes fell out of favour during the 13th century, so it must have happened at least 700 years ago. It is an interesting thought that the 483 inhabitants of twenty first century Gorssriedenthal may be living their lives within spaces that were defined 700 years ago (albeit no doubt much adapted over the years).

Also, it has to be said that whoever planned Grossriedenthal knew what they were doing – and did a good job.

I am just a passing tourist making guesses. There must be someone who knows better. If so I would love to hear from them.

The past is all around us, although not often so visible as in Grossriedenthal. We may not always be conscious of how it affects us in the present – but it is there all the same, whether we like it or not.




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