Translated Jeff Matthews
The term might originate in casa matta, or a structure that apparently looks like a house. In ancient times, the term indicated a mobile protected structure equipped with a battering ram, a drill to penetrate walls or a torsion siege engine [such as a catapult]. Later, the casemate was located in the scarp to protect the trench (caponier) and inside the walls for the protection of artillery and cannoneers. Then, the term came to be applied to armored cannon emplacements, or to any bomb-proof structure even with only loopholes for small arms. During the XVII and XVIII centuries, the use of mortars, artillery characterized by a high arc, and the new “ricochet” bombing techniques (rebound), first used by the Vauban in the siege of the city of Ath in Belgium (XVIII century) made the need all the more evident to provide defensive works with bomb-proof rooms, impenetrable to enemy artillery fire. Environments sufficiently large to hold both cannons and their operators and with gunholes for external fire were created behind curtain walls and sometimes above the ramparts (as in the Citadel of Alessandria). The term casemate was later used to describe any bomb-proof work, even those with only light artillery loopholes or those used as military quarters or storerooms.
In the modern era there is a great variety of casemates, covering many types of fortifications and built almost everywhere and on every continent. There are casemates with long-range cannons, anti-tank cannons, howitzers and machine-guns. They are positioned such as to guard, for example, mountain passes, bridges, road tunnels, barracks and munition depots. They can be employed as road blocks, to protect trenches and valley fortifications, as coastal defences and as part of general defensive lines.
Padovan Gianluca (ed. ), Archaeology of the Subsoil. Lectures and studies of artificial cavities. British Archaeological Reports, International Series 1416, Oxford 2005.
Basilico Roberto et alii, Italian Cadastre of Artificial Cavities. Part 1. (Including introductory comments and a classification), B.A.R. International Series 1599, Oxford 2007.
Gianluca Padovan (Associazione S.C.A.M. – Federazione Nazionale Cavità Artificiali)
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