Qal'at as-Subeiba, Golan Heights
Qalʻat ar-Rabad (12th-13th century) in Jordan
These two qalats were built by the Ayyubids and expanded by the Mamluks to help in the fight against the Crusaders, to subdue local tribes, and to control rival emirs.
This article appears to be a dictionary definition. Please rewrite it to present the subject from an encyclopedic point of view. (November 2022)

Qalat[citation needed] or kalata (قلعه) in Persian,[1] and qal'a(-t) or qil'a(-t) (قلعہ‎, قلعة) in Arabic, means 'fortress', 'fortification', 'castle',[2] or simply 'fortified place'.[3] The common English plural is "qalats".[Note 1][dubious ]

Qalats can range from forts like Rumkale to the mud-brick compound common throughout southwest Asia. The term is used in the entire Muslim world to indicate a defensive fortress.[4] The term took various forms in different languages, such as qala/qal'a and qalat/qal'at (Persian and Arabic), kale (Turkish),[3] kaleh and kalleh (Persian), qila (Urdu and Hindi), and often became part of place-names. It is even preserved in toponyms in places such as Sicily, which was occupied by the Aghlabid dynasty and then the Fatimids from the ninth to the twelfth centuries.[5]

The word is used an various Arabic placenames.


Wolf Leslau (1987), citing Siegmund Fraenkel [de] (1886) and Walter Belardi (1959), offers that the Arabic word has been adopted from the Iranian (Persian) kalata.[1]

The Etymological Dictionary of Contemporary Turkish written by Armenian-Turkish author Sevan Nişanyan states that the Turkish word kale is adapted from ḳalˁa(t), which originates from the Arabic root ḳlˁ. Nişanyan goes on to note that the Arabic word shares its origin with the Middle Persian variant kalak, which has no written record and originates in the Akkadian word of the same meaning kalakku.[3]


The Persian word is kalata.[1]


The Armenian word is preserved as kałak (kaghak) which means city.


The Arabic word takes the forms qal'a(-t) and qil'a(-t), plural qilâ' and qulû' , meaning fortress, fortification, or castle.[2]

Middle East

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See the lists of castles from Saudi Arabia, Jordan (Qalʻat ar-Rabad, Qal'at al-Karak and Qal'at ash-Shawbak), Tal Afar in Iraq, the castles of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, etc.

Central Asian fortified city

A typical qala in Central Asia consisted of a tripartite city model: kuhandiz (citadel), shahristan (residential area), and rabad (faubourg, suburb; the regional variant for rabat). This city model is valid not only for Central Asian city typology and is also used to describe similar city types elsewhere in Islamic geography.[6]

Kuhandiz (citadel)

In the pre-Islamic Iran and Turkestan towns consisted of a fortress called diz (also means "fortress" in Persian), and the actual town which was called shahristan. Middle Eastern Islamic geographers use the word kuhandiz for the oldest part of the settlements in the town centers. It later started to be used in with the meaning of citadel. The word kuhandiz originates from Persian (كهندز) and means literally "old fortress". But the word kuhandiz can't be applied to solitary fortresses which were independent of towns, as it would cause conceptual confusion. Although in Arabic the word hisn or husûn (حصون. ج - حص)[clarification needed] was used to indicate fortresses which were located off towns, since Arabic terms did not have proper meaning to describe those structures, they borrowed the word kuhandiz during the Islamic conquest of Iran. Kuhandizes were usually built on high ground and were the last line of defence in the town. Administrative units were mostly located here. The Turkish term iç kale and the English "citadel" are synonymous.[7]

Shahristan (residential area)

Shahristan is a combination of two words, šahr (city) and -stan/-istan (region, area), thus it literally means "city area". Before the Islamic conquest of Central Asia, castle-style settlements were common rather than large political and economic centers. The word used by Muslim Arabs for these fortified towns, which were protected by walls, is qal'a. As the feudal system was transcended, this tripartite city model appeared with castle-like structures, which are called kuhandiz, forming the core of the city. With the development in itself of the settlement within the old walls, cities without kuhandizes also appeared. Most of the townspeople dwelled in the shahristan. Mesut Can states that this might be the reason the name shahristan was used. Most of the buildings for recreation and worship were also located there.[8]

Rabad (faubourg, suburb)

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Main article: Rabad

Qala compounds in Iran and Afghanistan

A qalat in southeastern Afghanistan used by American soldiers.

In many areas of Iran and Afghanistan, particularly in tribal areas with pre-modern building practices, the qalat compound is the standard housing unit for multi-generational families. Qalats can be quickly constructed over the course of a single season, and they can be extremely large, sometimes covering several acres. Towers may be placed at the corners or points along the walls to create a more defensible position, but most qala compounds consist only of the walls.[citation needed]

While the foundation of a qala compound may be stone or fired brick, the walls are typically dried mud. Walls are created by laying down a row of adobe bricks with mud mortar along the entire length of the wall. By the time that the mason returns to the point of origin, the mortar is dry and the next row can be added on top of the old. Using this technique walls dozens of feet high can be built very rapidly.[citation needed]


Khanate of Kalat was a major state in the southwest Pakistan that derived its name from the fortified city of Kalat in the modern day's province of Balochistan.


See also: List of castles in Turkey


Kilitbahir Kalesi, on the European coast of the Dardanelles.[9]
Kale-i Sultaniye, on the Asian coast of the Dardanelles.
Together the two castles, built in 1452 by orders from Mehmed the Conqueror, were protecting the Dardanelles.[9]

In modern Turkish, kale (Turkish pronunciation: [ka'le]) is an umbrella term that encompasses all types of fortified structures.[10]

In Turkish, the scope of the term kale can vary. Today many fortified buildings are called kale, which causes confusion. Originally the word kale (or kal'a قلعە in Ottoman Turkish) refers to fortresses which were built on roads, at narrow passes, and at bottlenecks, where the enemy was expected to pass by, or in cities with strategic value.[3][10] Building materials of kales could differ according to geographical conditions.[11] For example, Ottoman palankas were mostly built of wooden palisades.[12]

A typical kale has the same features known from Western and Eastern counterparts, such as curtain walls with towers and a gatehouse, an inner tower similar to a keep (bâlâhisar, erk or başkule in Turkish), battlements and embrasures, a moat and sometimes postern gates. In the 15th century, the Greek word for tower, purgos, was adopted into Turkish as burgaz.[10]

Ottoman towns in the Balkans and Anatolia had a tripartite city model: old castle (inner fortress), varoş (residential area, in modern Turkish used as 'suburb'), and outer city (suburb).[13]

Kale vs hisar, kermen

See also: Hissar

There are also other similar terms such as hisar or kermen.

The definition of the term hisar is similar to that of castle, a fortified structure that acts as a residence, such as Rumelihisarı or Anadoluhisarı.[10] The word originates in Arabic, where it means 'fortress' and 'blockade', and from where it also made it into Persian as hessar.[14]

Another word used for forts is kermen, which originates from Cuman. It is known as kirmen in Tatar, and as karman in Chuvash. The Russian word kremlin also originates from kermen.[15]

When toponymically examined, it can be seen that hisar is used for place-names in western Turkey, kale in eastern Turkey, and kermen in the Crimean peninsula.[16]

See also



  1. ^ in Arabic, the singular is "qala", but English may use "one qalat/many qalats" (Unclear if this is quoted from a source, and if so, from which.)


  1. ^ a b c For the derivation of the Arabic term from the Persian, see Leslau (1987) p. 426, citing Fraenkel (1886) p. 237 and Belardi (1959) pp. 147-150.
    • Leslau, Wolf (1987). Comparative dictionary of Geʻez (Classical Ethiopic): Geʻez-English, English-Geʻez, with an index of the Semitic roots. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, page 426, ISBN 978-3-447-02592-8
    • Fraenkel, Siegmund [de] (1886). Die Aramäischen Fremdwörter im Arabischen (The Aramaic Loanwords in Arabic). Brill Publishers, page 237, OCLC 750560476, in German, reproduced from original in 1962 by Georg Olms Publ. [de], Hildesheim, OCLC 476894716, and again in 1982, ISBN 978-3-487-00319-1
    • Belardi, Walter (1959). "Arabo قلعة qal‘a". AION Linguistica 1: pp. 147—150
  2. ^ a b Steingass, F. J. (1993) [1884]. The Student's Arabic-English Dictionary. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. p. 853. ISBN 978-81-206-0855-9. Retrieved 1 June 2021. Reprint of first edition.
  3. ^ a b c d "kale". Nişanyan Sözlük. Retrieved 2021-01-25.
  4. ^ Belardi, Walter (1959)
  5. ^ Influsso arabo: L’elemento arabo è ben attestato, soprattutto in Sicilia, a testimonianza di un dominio, quello saraceno, che durò dall’inizio del IX fino alle soglie del XII secolo. Con il toponimo generico qal‘a (‘cittadella’, ‘fortezza’) abbiamo per esempio Calatafimi, Calatamauro (ovvero ‘la rocca del Moro’), Calatrasi (‘la rocca del tessitore’), Caltabellotta (‘la rocca delle querce’). (Arab influence: The Arab element is well attested, especially in Sicily, evidence of the Saracen rule beginning in the ninth and lasting until the beginning of the twelfth century. From the generic name Qal'a ('citadel', 'fortress') we have, for example: Calatafimi, Calatamauro (i.e. 'the stronghold of the Moor'), Calatrasi ('the fortress of the weaver'), Caltabellotta ('the fortress of the oak trees').) Bentsik, R. "Tracce" ("Traces") "Intercultural Dialogue European Radio Campaign" Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine page 61,; see also Pellegrini, Giovan Battista (1974) "Attraverso la toponomastica urbana medievale in Italia" ("Through the medieval urban toponymy in Italy") pp. 401–499 In Centro italiano di studi sull'alto Medioevo (1974) Topografia urbana e vita cittadina nell'alto Medioevo in Occidente, 26 aprile-1 maggio 1973 (Conference publication) Presso la sede del Centro, Spoleto, Italy, volume 2, page 415, OCLC 1857092
  6. ^ Can 2015, pp. 143–154.
  7. ^ Can 2015, pp. 148–150.
  8. ^ Can 2015, pp. 150–151.
  9. ^ a b Nicolle 2010, p. 11.
  10. ^ a b c d "Kale". Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı (TDV) İslam Ansiklopedisi [Turkish Religious Foundation (TDV) Islamic Encyclopedia] (in Turkish). Retrieved 2021-01-25.
  11. ^ Ersenal 2019, p. 36.
  12. ^ Ozguven, Burcu (2001). "The Palanka: A Characteristic Building Type of the Ottoman Fortification Network in Hungary". EJOS – Electronic Journal of Oriental Studies. IV.
  13. ^ Özgüven 2003, p. 157.
  14. ^ Rajki, András (2005). Arabic Dictionary with etymologies. Accessed 5 September 2018.
  15. ^ Eren 2006, p. 180.
  16. ^ Şahi̇n 2013, p. 51.


Further reading