The Architecture of Hogwarts Castle

I’ve always been fascinated with the architecture of Hogwarts Castle.  For those not in the know, “The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” is a fictional British school of magic, and is the primary setting in the Harry Potter films.  The huge structure is an architectural wonder, even though it was never built, except in scaled down models and theme parks.

Hogwarts Castle was originally imagined by J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books (yes, the books came before the movies), and designed by production designer Stuart Craig and his team.  All of them drew inspiration from various locations in Great Britain for the castle interiors and exteriors.

Hogwarts Castle by Hendricks Architecture

Hogwarts Castle – rendering by Hendricks Architecture

The style of Hogwarts has been called Medieval Gothic, but in actuality it is a mixture of several styles, including Norman Romanesque, Gothic and Gothic Revival.

In this post, I’m going to go over the places that were inspirations for Hogwarts Castle and/or were used as Hogwarts filming locations.  The large majority of these I’ve been able to visit.  Last summer I went with my wife and our three children to Great Britain, in search of these locations.

In actuality, Annie and I were very excited to see the history and architecture of London (among other things), and the rest of the Old-World country.  However, we didn’t want to bore our kids to death.  As they are all big Harry Potter fans (having read all of the books and seen the films), we looked up Harry Potter filming locations and added them to the itinerary.  Many of these locations turned out to also be historical architecture, so it worked out well for all of us.

Durham Cathedral
In the Harry Potter world, Hogwarts has existed for over a thousand years, so the designers wanted it to look like it’s been there awhile.  There is no greater influence on Hogwarts than the castles and cathedrals in the United Kingdom. Probably the one location which inspired the production team more than any other was Durham Cathedral.  The design team mentioned that the cathedral was used as the basis for everything to the right of the viaduct.  In fact the twin square towers of Hogwarts are almost an exact replica of this stone structure, except for some added storybook exaggeration, including tall, pointy spires added to the tops.

Durham Cathedral Architecture inspired Hogwarts Bell Towers

Durham Cathedral’s twin square towers. The Bell Towers at Hogwarts are nearly exact replicas (minus the spires).

The cathedral is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman Architecture, which is England’s version of the Romanesque style. Major elements of this style include:

  • Massive semi-circular arches over windows and doorways
  • Arched cloisters (semi-open covered walkways around quadrangles)
  • Vaulted ceilings
  • Bell towers

Before I go too far, I’m adding in a sketch (which was the base of our Hogwarts color rendering above) pointing out some of these architectural elements, as well as other elements still to come.

Hogwarts Castle architectural terms and spaces

Hogwarts Castle – Some Architectural Terms and Spaces

I should also mention that the element labeled “Tower” is actually the “Grand Staircase Tower”. Something my daughter pointed out to me.

The Romanesque style began in Europe somewhere around the 8th century, and came to England through the Norman nobles and bishops in the 11th century. The Norman style was known to have more massive proportions than the Romanesque in other regions. It developed in the latter part of the 12th century into the Gothic style, where the arches became pointed.

Durham Cathedral, along with Durham Castle, were both built as an intimidating projection of the new Norman king’s (William the Conqueror’s) power. Both the cathedral and castle are strategically located in a defensive position on a high promontory above the City of Durham, in NE England. The River Wear flows almost completely around them.

Durham Cathedral Cloisters used in Harry Potter films as Hogwarts backdrops

Durham Cathedral’s cloisters, seen here on the first level from the courtyard, were used in several Harry Potter scenes.

Construction began on the Cathedral in 1093 and was completed in 1140. Key components which were later used at Hogwarts Castle include ribbed vaults, pointed arches and flying buttresses.  Interestingly, though Durham Cathedral is known largely as a Norman Romanesque design, those features appeared in the new Gothic architecture in Northern France a few decades later (in fact the ribbed vaults at Durham are the earliest on record).

This is most likely because of the Norman stonemasons who built the cathedral, and then passed it along to such structures as Chartres Cathedral in France, which was built from 1194 to 1250. The features were also new structural engineering feats, enabling the buildings to go taller, more elaborate and complicated, and allowing larger windows. Wizard’s magic in those days. 😉

Cloisters at Durham Cathedral and Hogwarts Castle

The cloisters at Durham Cathedral were also used as cloisters at Hogwarts

Durham Cathedral was used as a backdrop for both exterior and interior scenes in the first two Harry Potter films. In the first, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry walks with Hedwig, his white owl, through the cloisters of the cathedral. Ron Weasley also vomited up a slug here in the second film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The cathedral’s Chapter House was used as Professor McGonagall’s classroom.

The one thing I regret is not seeing Durham Cathedral up close.  I’d like to give a big thanks to Les Bessant for allowing me to use his cathedral photos.  We were running late on the way to our kid’s broomstick training classes at Alnwick so we didn’t have time to make it up there.

Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle, located about an hour’s drive north of Durham Cathedral, was used as a backdrop where the broomstick flying and Quidditch lessons were filmed, as well as where the Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia crash lands into the Whomping Willow.

Hogwarts Castle Alnwick

Alnwick Castle was used as a Hogwarts Castle backdrop in several Harry Potter scenes.

The Castle, like Durham Cathedral, was also built following the Norman Conquest. It sits prominently between the River Aln (flowing on the north side of the castle), and a deep ravine to the southeast. Construction began in 1096, though it was largely rebuilt and remodeled throughout the centuries, as several wars played out and the castle passed through many different hands.

Alnwick Castle Exteriors used as Hogwarts

Alnwick Castle

The castle seems to have been influenced by Durham’s Cathedral and Castle, starting in the Norman Romanesque style, then adding Gothic elements, and later Gothic Revival.  As with the Gothic architecture of other parts of Europe, English Gothic is defined by its pointed arches, vaulted roofs, buttresses, large windows, and spires.

Alnwick Castle Isometric Map

An Isometric Map of Alnwick Castle

Today, Alnwick Castle still gives classes in Wizardry, including broomstick flying lessons.

Alnwick Hogwarts Castle Broomstick Flying Lessons

Basic Quidditch Graduates

Here’s my kids after a successful class. Now I don’t have to worry about buying cars for them.

If you ever make it to Alnwick, I strongly recommend checking out the Alnwick Treehouse, and making dinner reservations at the Treehouse Restaurant.  It’s a fun experience for everyone, whether you have kids and/or still have any inner child left in you.

Edinburgh
I believe no city had more influence on the design of Hogwarts than Edinburgh, Scotland.  J.K. Rowling moved here in the midst of writing the first few chapters of what would become Harry Potter.

Edinburgh Hogwarts Castle Architecture

Edinburgh had a big influence on J.K. Rowling’s vision of Hogwarts and other Harry Potter architecture

From the Palace of Holyroodhouse (one of the Queen’s residences), up to Edinburgh Castle, which towers above the town on a rocky promontory, the Old Town of Edinburgh has a magical feel, with exaggerated elements, mainly in the Scottish Baronial style, which incorporates components of the Gothic Revival style.

Hogwarts Castle Architecture of Tollbooth Tavern in Edinburgh

The Tollbooth Tavern in Edinburgh – I actually drove through the opening on the lower right in a minivan, with inches to spare, in an effort to get to our apartment, not realizing we could have driven there from a much wider street.

The Edinburgh Scottish Baronial elements which likely most influenced Rowling, and later the designer of Hogwarts, were the features of Medieval castles and the chateaux (manor houses) of the French Renaissance, and included:

  • Towers adorned with small turrets, often pointed
  • Crenelated battlements – parapets with rectangular gaps, for firing arrows
  • Machicolations – floor openings at the bottom of tower corbels, used to drop stones and other objects on attackers (Ouch)
  • Lancet windows – tall, skinny windows with pointed arches at the top
  • Finials – decorative features atop towers and spires
Edinburgh Cockburn Street Hogwarts Castle Architecture

Some Hogwarts inspired architecture on Cockburn Street

Edinburgh Castle towers above the city on the plug of an extinct volcano. Just the sheer presence of it must have been an inspiration to Rowling for the image of Hogwarts. It was built and remodeled in various styles throughout the years. The earliest found settlements go back to at least the early Iron Age. The oldest surviving castle structure is St. Margaret’s Chapel, built in the 12th century.

Edinburgh Castle Elevation similar to Hogwarts

Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline above Edinburgh, and provided inspiration for Hogwarts Castle. Here is a drawing of a proposed addition and restoration of the southwest elevation.

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle in Scotland is another of the castles said to inspire Hogwarts, and like Edinburgh Castle, mainly for its towering location above the landscape. It sits atop Castle Hill, is surrounded by cliffs on three sides, and dates back to at least the early 12th century.

Stirling Castle inspired Hogwarts

Stirling Castle sits prominently atop Castle Hill, above the town of Stirling, Scotland

Gloucester Cathedral
In the first, second and sixth Harry Potter films, the corridors leading to Gryffindor House were filmed in the cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral.  Moaning Myrtle, Nearly Headless Nick, and a woman in a painting asking for a password were seen here.  This is also where Harry and Ron hid from a troll.

These same cloisters are the earliest examples of fan-vaulting in the world.

Hogwarts cloisters architecture Gloucester Cathedral

The cloisters in Gloucester Cathedral were used in several scenes in the Harry Potter films

Built as an abbey church (and later dissolved by Henry VIII in the Dissolution of the Monasteries), construction began here in 1089 in the Norman Romanesque style. Later additions were in every style of Gothic architecture, and include the largest medieval window in the world.

Continued on: The Architecture of Hogwarts Castle Part 2

 

John Hendricks, AIA Architect

Hendricks Architecture designs mainly custom residences, from small beach houses to luxury waterfront mountain homes, but are always open to designing castles, cathedrals and other structures.

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Comments

  1. Charles E. says

    Thank for writing this article, as a Harry Potter fan and Architecture enthusiast I’ve been looking for something like this for a while. Hogwarts was founded around a thousand years ago so that explains (in-universe) the mixture of styles, it was also probably not as big originally. There’s a statue that depicts the architect of Hogwarts and he’s shown holding a model that only includes the Grand Staircase Tower and the Great Hall, so maybe those were the original buildings.

    Also I have a question that maybe can be answered here. J.K Rowling described the castle once as something muggles (non magical persons) can’t built because it’s supported by magic, so do you think the castle as shown in the movies is structurally safe without some “magical support” that bypasses gravity effects on the building?

    • says

      Hi Charles, thanks for writing. Most of Hogwarts Castle is structurally sound. However, there are elements that are nearly impossible to hold up. Dumbledore’s office is the first that comes to mind. Four connecting turrets is tough without some magic. Anything can be done with steel, but that was not available a thousand years ago. On the interior, the revolving stairs would be tough to engineer without steel (and switches and gears) involved.

      My hope is to finish the second part of this, as well as add some other posts on architecture related to J.K. Rowling, in the near future. I just need to find the time to do it. If you have any further questions please feel free to ask.

      Thanks again,
      John

      • says

        Looking back at my last comment, Dumbledore’s office is actually three connecting turrets off a tower. After studying castles in a little more detail lately, there are ways to do this without steel. It may not pass structural codes, but that’s a muggle problem.

  2. Tom Fleming says

    Hi John, this is a fantastic post! I’m a fan of Harry Potter and lover of architecture (whilst having no formal training!) so thank you for writing this article. As someone who has recently moved to Edinburgh, I wholeheartedly agree that the old town does have this inspiring & magical feel to it in which you can see where some of the inspiration from Hogwarts comes from. The only thing that I would point out is that the drawing of Edinburgh castle’s southwest elevation is actually just some of the proposed changes that were drawn up in the late 19th century but they were never actually executed. It is in the late Scots-baronial style which was extremely popular at the time (as you would have seen, particularly on Cockburn street) but interestingly also incorporated many elements of French architecture (to then become known as Franco-Baronial) with features such as full rounded towers as opposed to just turrets. I thus believe that whilst Hogwarts is an ‘ancient’ British school, with strong elements of Scottish/English Romanesque; Gothic; Neo-Gothic architecture, the influence of Scots-baronial (revival), which in turn was partially influenced by French Chateau design, has given Hogwarts a distinctly French connection! Also, did you get a chance to see a boarding school called Fettes College whilst in Edinburgh? I’ve recently found out that it has been given the nickname Hogwarts! I wonder whether this particular building, especially as a boarding school, had any sort of profound influence on Hogwarts design/inspiration and whether it’s newly acquired nickname is just this coming full circle!

    Again, fantastic article – many thanks :)

    Tom

    • says

      Hi Tom. Thanks for the info on Edinburgh Castle. I do agree that the Scottish Baronial style came partially from the French Renaissance Chateau. I was not aware of Fettes College as being a possible inspiration of Hogwarts to J.K. Rowling. It does make sense though. What a beautiful place. Hopefully I’ll have time to check it out on a future visit! I’m hoping to continue part 2 of the Hogwarts Castle post in the near future. Thanks Tom!

      • says

        There is a statue in the Hogwarts entrance hall of an architect holding plans in his left hand and a Hogwarts model in his right. The architect is unnamed. According to Harry Potter Wiki, Hogwarts’ location, name, and ever-changing floor plan was designed by the highly creative and intelligent Rowena Ravenclaw, one of Hogwarts four founding members (along with Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, and Salazar Slytherin, who all had some design input). Hogwarts was supposedly built around the year 993. In the films, it was designed by set designer Stuart Craig and his team, with input from J.K. Rowling.

  3. Genesis says

    Hey, thanks for writing this article. I had a question as to the dimensions of Hogwarts castle. Would you happen to know of the lengths and widths of each individual bell tower. Thanks.

    • says

      If you had asked me a few months ago I could have figured approximate dimensions when I viewing the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle at Warner Brothers Studio in London. Unfortunately, I don’t know off the top of my head.

  4. says

    What a fantastic article! Being a big Harry Potter fan and a big travel fan, this is great information for future trips! I hope you don’t mind if I pass this along to fellow Harry Potter nerds :)

  5. Tiffany Marasas says

    Thank you for the wonderful article. I have been searching for the inspiration architect of Hogwarts castle.

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