Humanities › Visual Arts All About Parapets and Battlements Fortification Details in Architecture Share Flipboard Email Print Carol M. Highsmith / Buyenlarge / Getty Images Visual Arts Architecture An Introduction to Architecture Styles Theory History Great Buildings Famous Architects Famous Houses Skyscrapers Tips For Homeowners Art & Artists By Jackie Craven Art and Architecture Expert Doctor of Arts, University of Albany, SUNY M.S., Literacy Education, University of Albany, SUNY B.A., English, Virginia Commonwealth University Dr. Jackie Craven has over 20 years of experience writing about architecture and the arts. She is the author of two books on home decor and sustainable design. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Jackie Craven Updated November 10, 2019 The iconic Alamo in Texas is well-known for its shapely facade, created by the parapet atop the roof. The original design and use of a parapet was as a battlement in a fortified structure. Some of the most lasting architecture was built for protection. Fortifications like castles have given us practical features still in use today. Explore the parapet and battlement, described here with photo examples. The Parapet Parapets on the Burgher House, 1797, Stellenbosch, South Africa. Paul Thompson / Photolibrary Collection / Getty Images A parapet is a low wall projecting from the edge of a platform, terrace, or roof. Parapets may rise above the cornice of a building or form the upper portion of a defensive wall on a castle. Parapets have a long architectural history and go by different names. A parapet is sometimes called a parapetto (Italian), parapeto (Spanish), breastwork, or brustwehr (German). All of these words have similar meanings — to guard or defend (parare) the chest or breast (petto from the Latin pectus, as in the pectoral region of your body when you're at the gym). Other German words include brückengeländer and brüstung, because "brust" means "chest." General Definitions of Parapet The extension of a masonry wall above the roof line.—John Milnes Baker, AIA A low wall, sometimes battlemented, placed to protect any spot where there is a sudden drop, for example, at the edge of a bridge, quay, or house-top.—Penguin Dictionary Examples of Parapets In the U.S., Mission-style homes have rounded parapets used as decorative features. Parapets are a common characteristic of this style of architecture. Here are some specific buildings with different types of parapets: The Alamo: In 1849 the U.S. Army added a parapet to the 1718 Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas in order to hide the crumbling roof. This parapet may be the most famous in America. Casa Calvet: Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí has elaborate sculptural parapets on his ornate buildings, including this Barcelona landmark. Alhambra: The parapet along the roof of the Alhambra citadel in Granada, Spain was used as a defensive battlement in the 16th century. Old-New Synagogue: A series of stepped parapets decorate the gable of this medieval synagogue in the Czech Republic city of Prague. Lyndhurst: Parapets can also be seen on the roof of the grand Gothic Revival home in Tarrytown, New York. Celebration, Florida: Parapets have become a historic and cultural part of American architecture. When the Disney company developed a planned community near Orlando, the architects playfully displayed some of the architectural traditions of America, sometimes with amusing results. The Battlement or Crenellation The 15th Century Topkapi Palace's Crenellated Parapet on the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul, Turkey. Florian Kopp / Getty Images On a castle, fort, or other military fortification, a battlement is the top part of the wall that looks like teeth. It's where soldiers were protected during "battle" upon the castle. Also called crenellation, a battlement is really a parapet with open spaces for the castle-protectors to shoot cannons or other weaponry. The raised portions of the battlement are called merlons. The notched openings are called embrasure or crenels. The word crenellation means something with squared notches, or crenels. If something is "crenelled," it has notches, from the Latin word crena meaning "notch." If a wall is "crenelated," it's bound to be a battlement with notches. A battlement parapet is also known as a castellation or embattlement. Masonry buildings in the Gothic Revival style may have architectural decoration which resembles battlements. House moldings that resemble the battlement pattern are often called crenelated molding or embattled molding. Definition of Battlement or Embattlement 1. A fortified parapet with alternate solid parts and openings, termed respectively "merlons" and "embrasures" or "crenels" (hence crenelation). Generally for defense, but employed also as a decorative motif. 2. A roof or platform serving as battle post. — Dictionary of Architecture and Construction The Corbiestep Huggins' Folly c. 1800, now Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire. Huntstock / Photolibrary / Getty Images A corbiestep is a stepped parapet along the gable part of a roof — a common architectural detail throughout the U.S. A gable with this type of parapet is often called a step gable. In Scotland, a "corbie" is a large bird, like a crow. The parapet is known by at least three other names: corbiestep; crowstep; and catstep. Definitions of Corbiestep The stepped edge of a gable masking a pitched roof, found in northern European masonry, 14th to 17th cent., and in derivatives. — Dictionary of Architecture and Construction Steps on the coping of a gable, used in Flanders, Holland, North Germany and East Anglia and also in C16 and C17 [16th and 17th centuries] Scotland. — "Corbie Steps (or Crow Steps)," The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture 1884 Town Offices Building Jackie Craven Corbiesteps can make a simple masonry home look more stately or a public building appear larger and more regal. Compared with the side-step-gable of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire, the architecture of this public building in Stockbridge, Massachusetts has an enhanced facade with front-gable corbiesteps. Behind the Corbiestep Facade Jackie Craven A parapet can make any building appear larger than it actually is to today's eye. This was not the original intent of the architectural detail, however. For a 12th century castle, the wall was protection to stand behind. 12th-century Castle Landau EyesWideOpen / Getty Images News / Getty Images This popular castle in Klingenmuenster, Germany allows tourists to experience a view from the battlement. Bab al-Wastani, c. 1221 Vivienne Sharp Heritage Images / Hulton Archive / Getty Images Parapets and battlements are found around the world, in any area that has experienced power struggles for land and authority. The ancient city of Baghdad in Iraq was developed as a circular, fortified city. Invasions during the middle ages were deflected by large walls like the one seen here. Fortified Houses Old Fortified House in Italy. Richard Baker In Pictures Ltd. / Corbis News / Getty Images Today's decorative parapets derive from the very functional battlements of walled cities, castles, and fortified country homes and plantation estates. Like many other architectural details, what was once functional and pragmatic is now used as ornamentation, bringing forth the historic look of a previous age. Sources Baker, John M. American House Styles: A Concise Guide. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1994, p. 175.Fleming, John, Hugh Honour, and Nikolaus Pevsner. The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture. Penguin Books, 1980, pp. 81-82, 237.Harris, Cyril M. Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. New York: Mc Graw-Hill, 1975, pp. 45, 129.