The majority of dwellings in medieval towns were tiny, cramped, and made of wood. The wealthy's houses were significantly larger. Because fireplaces were the only source of heat and light, the rooms were chilly, smoky, and gloomy. Windows were rare; instead, doors and windows were often filled with wooden shutters to protect against theft and violence.
Townhouses were more common than individual homes. These were usually found near the market place or along important streets. They could be large, consisting of an assembly of rooms occupied by several families, or small, averaging about five rooms. Unlike today, where townhouses are mainly used as rental properties, in medieval times they were usually owned by single people or married couples. If a man wanted to show off his wealth, this is what he would do: build himself a big house with many rooms!
Houses like these would have had at least one servant who took care of them. This might have been a gardener, but most likely it was a woman. Townhouses often had a separate entrance for their garden, which would have helped the servants keep track of what needed to be watered what not. A few would even have had their own bathroom!
Inside these houses you would have found a main room called the hall. It usually served as a meeting place where guests could sit down while their hosts went about their business.
Small and congested medieval towns were common. They were narrow and up to four floors tall. The majority of the dwellings were built of wood and tended to tilt with time. Two houses facing each other would occasionally tilt so far that they touched across the street! The roofs were made of tiles or thatch.
People lived primarily off agriculture. The land around most towns was owned by large landowners who kept it in pasture rather than planting crops because animals were their main source of income. In order to generate more money, these landowners would sometimes have markets held on them where people could buy and sell goods. These markets were usually held on town squares which get their name from how they are laid out - in a grid pattern with streets running down each side.
Medieval people didn't have cars so transportation was either by horse or boat. Horses were used for trade and travel while boats were important for shipping products into marketable quantities. Both horses and boats were expensive resources that only rich people could afford. It's estimated that a horse could cost up to $10,000 in today's money!
City walls were often surrounded ancient trees which were then used for firewood. These trees were often considered sacred and were often preserved when building new cities. Their survival is what gives many old European cities their distinctive look - straight, slender buildings with wooden balconies and windows.
These new medieval homes were constructed with crude logs, mud, and straw. These Medieval dwellings not only gave additional space, but also protection from the elements, and peasants could finally light fires inside their own homes.
There were several reasons why people built houses in the medieval times. First of all, land was very scarce in Europe at that time. Second, many wars were happening all over the continent, so building shelters for farmers and soldiers was important. Finally, peasants needed better living conditions than they had under feudalism, so representatives of God (the Church) approved self-buildings as an extension of Christianity.
In France, Germany, and England, new towns were founded with streets, markets, and churches. These were places where citizens could raise their families in peace. The first urban settlements were located on riverbanks, because that's where the water is, but as populations grew, people needed more room. Cities then began to expand towards forests where homes could be built easily without damaging the environment. This is how we get today's cities - with different neighborhoods for rich and poor, for immigrants and natives, for people who want to live close to work and those who prefer a quiet life.
During the Middle Ages, people lived in castles or manors owned by wealthy landowners called "seigneurs".
The nobles of those times lived in far nicer medieval buildings and had easier lifestyles, and the fact that some of their houses are still surviving now attests to the greater quality of the construction. Noblemen's residences were built of stone, as opposed to peasants' huts, which were composed of twigs, straw, and mud. The castles and manors of the nobility were often surrounded by walls with towers at each corner, providing protection for the inhabitants. Inside the walls, the men-at-arms and servants of the castle lived, while the women and children stayed outside in shelters called bartorts.
Bartorts were small, usually one-story, structures made of wood and canvas or leather. They could be put up quickly on a site, especially if there was land enough for them to be placed close together in rows. There would be a door at one end for entry and exit, and a fire place at another. Sometimes there were even windows! In more remote areas, where there was no town near by, people lived in hovels instead, which were similar to bartorts in function but not in design. They could be anything from a little shelter for storage to a house with rooms and doors where people could live.
In towns and cities, life was more comfortable for most people. The nobles owned the best houses, but they were built of wood, so they would burn down very easily.