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Hogwarts Castle

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The Harry Potter Canon

"(I visualize Hogwarts as) a huge, rambling, quite scary-looking castle, with a jumble of towers and battlements. Like the Weasleys' house, it isn't a building that Muggles could build, because it is supported by magic."
-- J.K. Rowling (Sch1)

"Oh I would never dream of assuming I know all Hogwarts' secrets..."
-- Albus Dumbledore

"I haven't drawn [a floorplan of Hogwarts], because it would be difficult for the most skilled architect to draw, owing to the fact that the staircases and the rooms keep moving. However, I have a very vivid mental image of what it looks like."
-- J.K. Rowling

Hogwarts Castle is a wondrous, magical building with many towers and turrets. It is home to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If Muggles approach the castle, all they will see is a mouldering ruin with a sign warning them to keep out, that it’s unsafe (SN). Hogwarts is built in a forested area, directly next to a fairly large lake, in the highlands of Scotland. The main entrance to Hogwarts is a set of huge oak doors which face more or less toward the west. 1In PA, the setting sun is shining into the Entrance Hall. That means that the doors opened more or less toward the west or south-west, since that’s where the sun sets. The lake is to the south of the castle. 2While trying to find their way to North Tower, Ron used the view of the lake to tell their direction: “Can’t be,” said Ron. “That’s south, look, you can see a bit of the lake out of the window…” The forest is very large, and parts of it extend around to the west of the castle. 3Harry and Hermione see the sun setting behind the Forbidden Forest as they exit the castle (PA16). The map Rowling drew of the castle and grounds do not show any of forest to the west, however.

HogwartsWhat can we say about Hogwarts castle? What does it look like? Well, for one thing, it’s huge. Eight stories tall is utterly massive for the main building of a castle. This is especially true when you consider that castles of the stone wall type were not even invented yet in the 900s. Some have speculated that wizards invented castles and that Muggles copied them. Perhaps it’s more likely that Hogwarts school has changed in appearance quite dramatically over the years. As originally constructed, Hogwarts was likely much smaller, perhaps about the size of a large stone house. As the years went by and as student populations grew, the school building expanded and adjusted for the changes. We do see modern plumbing in the castle, for example, and this surely wasn’t put in place a thousand years ago. 4We are given some indication of this on Pottermore, in Rowling’s history of the Chamber of Secrets: “When first created, the Chamber was accessed through a concealed trapdoor and a series of magical tunnels. However, when Hogwarts’ plumbing became more elaborate in the eighteenth century … the entrance to the Chamber was threatened, being located on the site of a proposed bathroom. The presence in school at the time of a student called Corvinus Gaunt — direct descendant of Slytherin, and antecedent of Tom Riddle — explains how the simple trapdoor was secretly protected, so that those who knew how could still
access the entrance to the Chamber even after newfangled plumbing had been placed on top of it (Pm)”.
Rooms were added (or possibly they simply “grew” as needed) and the whole thing became something of a warren of passages, corridors, rooms, doorways, and staircases. Many of the secret passageways probably evolved as rooms, hallways, and even whole floors and wings added themselves on, leaving spaces and gaps.

On the whole, then, Hogwarts is likely a rambling, complicated, diverse combination of buildings of varying styles and architecture. It’s held together by magic, so the towers literally defy gravity and the various types of construction fit together in impossible ways–wooden beams join seamlessly to stone battlements and plaster walls meld into iron door frames. And a “floor” wouldn’t be exactly the same everywhere. The first floor near the marble staircase might merge into the second as it connects to another section of the building where the floors don’t match up. The third floor, if you traced a line parallel to the ground across, might meet up with the second floor across the courtyard.

On top of all that, the various rooms and spaces in the castle tend to move around. 5This is probably for Rowling’s convenience more than anything else, since it gives her an automatic “out” if she makes an error in placing the same room in different locations from one book to another. There aren’t a lot of examples of actual errors of this kind, though. Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom is really the only serious mistake–it moves between floors from one chapter to the next. Just about every other room can be located fairly precisely and hasn’t appeared to move much. True, the Hospital Wing appears to have jumped upwards two floors, but that was between several books and could have been relocated intentionally. Also, since it’s a “wing,” not simply a single room, it may extend over several floors. The Famous Wizard cards attribute this magical, rearranging floor plan to Rowena Ravenclaw. This can’t be happening all the time, surely, or no one would be able to get anywhere, but it does happen enough to keep people on their toes. 6There is no example of actual moving staircases in the castle (that’s a movie invention, although there is mention of a “swiveling staircase” (OP32) which could be similar to what we see in the first film) but it is clear that things do change. The Hospital Wing is a good example; it moved from the first floor in 1992 to the third floor in 1996.

No single, static floor plan is possible, then. 7When Rowling was asked, “Do you have an actual floor plan for Hogwarts? Do you use it when writing the books?” she replied, “I haven’t drawn it, because it would be difficult for the most skilled architect to draw, owing to the fact that the staircases and the rooms keep moving. However, I have a very vivid mental image of what it looks like (Sch1)”. However, since most things do stay in the same place throughout canon, it is possible to make a list of what’s on each floor. The actual internal arrangements of each floor can only be determined for small sections of the castle at a time, and are usually of very little interest (a corridor with a statue of a wizard and a room to the left, for example). The Lexicon includes a map of the Ground Floor, however, showing all the rooms which can be positively located, and maps of the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory and the castle and grounds.

Exploring Hogwarts Castle and Grounds:

It is not possible to create an accurate floor plan or map of Hogwarts (Sch1) because rooms and staircases move around a lot.

There were a hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with a vanishing step halfway up that you had to remember to jump 1. Then there were doors that wouldn’t open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place 2, and doors that weren’t really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was, because it all seemed to move around a lot. The people in the portraits kept going to visit each other, and Harry was sure the coats of armor could walk (PS8).

But it is possible to list and describe almost all of the main rooms and indicate where they seem to be found most often.

Exploring floor by floor:

Notes   [ + ]

1. In PA, the setting sun is shining into the Entrance Hall. That means that the doors opened more or less toward the west or south-west, since that’s where the sun sets.
2. While trying to find their way to North Tower, Ron used the view of the lake to tell their direction: “Can’t be,” said Ron. “That’s south, look, you can see a bit of the lake out of the window…”
3. Harry and Hermione see the sun setting behind the Forbidden Forest as they exit the castle (PA16). The map Rowling drew of the castle and grounds do not show any of forest to the west, however.
4. We are given some indication of this on Pottermore, in Rowling’s history of the Chamber of Secrets: “When first created, the Chamber was accessed through a concealed trapdoor and a series of magical tunnels. However, when Hogwarts’ plumbing became more elaborate in the eighteenth century … the entrance to the Chamber was threatened, being located on the site of a proposed bathroom. The presence in school at the time of a student called Corvinus Gaunt — direct descendant of Slytherin, and antecedent of Tom Riddle — explains how the simple trapdoor was secretly protected, so that those who knew how could still
access the entrance to the Chamber even after newfangled plumbing had been placed on top of it (Pm)”.
5. This is probably for Rowling’s convenience more than anything else, since it gives her an automatic “out” if she makes an error in placing the same room in different locations from one book to another. There aren’t a lot of examples of actual errors of this kind, though. Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom is really the only serious mistake–it moves between floors from one chapter to the next. Just about every other room can be located fairly precisely and hasn’t appeared to move much. True, the Hospital Wing appears to have jumped upwards two floors, but that was between several books and could have been relocated intentionally. Also, since it’s a “wing,” not simply a single room, it may extend over several floors.
6. There is no example of actual moving staircases in the castle (that’s a movie invention, although there is mention of a “swiveling staircase” (OP32) which could be similar to what we see in the first film) but it is clear that things do change. The Hospital Wing is a good example; it moved from the first floor in 1992 to the third floor in 1996.
7. When Rowling was asked, “Do you have an actual floor plan for Hogwarts? Do you use it when writing the books?” she replied, “I haven’t drawn it, because it would be difficult for the most skilled architect to draw, owing to the fact that the staircases and the rooms keep moving. However, I have a very vivid mental image of what it looks like (Sch1)”.

Commentary

Notes

For comparison, consider the inn called The Mermaid in Rye, England, built some 500 years after Hogwarts. One of the most striking features of the architecture of the place is that things don't fit together quite right anymore. Ceilings and walls meet at unexpected angles, and the doors have been rehung and in some cases reshaped to fit twisting and sagging frames. It is very likely that the interior spaces of Hogwarts bear similar signs of age. The Mermaid also features a number of secret passageways and hiding holes. In fact, the corner of at least one of the rooms has a secret door leading to a small staircase which would allow someone to escape the Inn if necessary. None of this was made of stone, of course, like we see in the films. Would it look like what we see in the films? Possible, although the castles and abbeys used in filming are actually hundreds of years newer than Hogwarts would be. There may be stone sections of the castle that were actually added to the school in medieval times, but it is also likely that there are sections of the school which date to the era before castles existed and are therefore constructed of wood and plaster.

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