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Fortified Towns

A defensive wall is a fortification used to protect a city or settlement from potential aggressors. In ancient to modern times, they were used to enclose settlements. Generally, these are referred to as city walls or town walls, although there were also walls, such as the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, and the metaphorical Atlantic Wall, which extended far beyond the borders of a city and were used to enclose regions or mark territorial boundaries. Beyond their defensive utility, many walls also had important symbolic functions — representing the status and independence of the communities they embraced.

Existing ancient walls are almost always masonry structures, although brick and timber-built variants are also known. Depending on the topography of the area surrounding the city or the settlement the wall is intended to protect, elements of the terrain (e.g. rivers or coastlines) may be incorporated in order to make the wall more effective.

Walls may only be crossed by entering the appropriate city gate and are often supplemented with towers. In the Middle Ages, the right of a settlement to build a defensive wall was a privilege, and was usually granted by the so-called “right of crenellation” on a medieval fortification. The practice of building these massive walls, though having its origins in prehistory, was refined during the rise of city-states, and energetic wall-building continued into the medieval period and beyond in certain parts of Europe.

Vauban and Fortified Cities

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, commonly know as Vauban was a French Military Engineer who specialised in the Fortifucation of Cities and Towns. BY the time of hoe death inParis in 1707 he had helped fortify over 300 towns throughout France, as well as helping King Louis XIV reshape the French borders. Vauban’s body was scattered after his death, however his heart was recovered and buried in the church of Les Invalides in Paris on the orders of Napolean. 12 of his towns are now on the Unesco List, For further information on Vauban and his fortified cities see here

Aosta, Italy

Aosta is the principal city of Aosta Valley, a bilingual region in the Italian Alps, 110 km (68 mi) north-northwest of Turin. It is situated near the Italian entrance of the Mont Blanc Tunnel, at the confluence of the Buthier and the Dora Baltea, and at the junction of the Great and Little St. Bernard routes. The ancient town walls of Augusta Prætoria Salassorum are still preserved almost in their entirety, enclosing a rectangle 725 by 571 m. They are 6.4 m high, built of concrete faced with small blocks of stone. At the bottom, the walls are nearly 2.75 m thick, and at the top 1.83 m. Towers stand at angles to the enceinte and others are positioned at intervals, with two at each of the four gates, making twenty towers in total. They are roughly 6.5 m square, and project 4.3 m from the wall.

Avila, Spain

Ávila is a Spanish city located in the autonomous community of Castile and León, and is the capital of the Province of Ávila. It is sometimes called the City of Stones and Saints. Its main monument is the imposing Walls of Ávila (11th-14th centuries), the medieval work was started in 1090. The fenced area is of 31 hectares with a perimeter of approximately 2,516 meters, 88 blocks or semicircular towers, 2,500 merlons, paintings by 3 m. thick, an average height of 12 m. and 9 gates. It is the largest fully illuminated monument in the world. It is possible to walk upon the walls themselves for roughly half their circumference.

Badajoz, Spain

Badajoz is the capital of the Province of Badajoz in the autonomous community of Extremadura. As a frontier fortress, it underwent many sieges. It was beleaguered by the Portuguese in 1660, and in 1705 by the Allies in the War of the Spanish Succession. During the Peninsular War, Badajoz was unsuccessfully attacked by the French in 1808 and 1809; but on March 10, 1811, the Spanish commander, José Imaz, was bribed into surrendering to a French force under Marshal Soult. A British and Portuguese army, commanded by Marshal Beresford, endeavoured to retake it and on May 16, 1811 defeated a relieving force at Albuera. The siege was abandoned in June, however.

Binche, Belgium

Binche is a Walloon municipality located in the Belgian province of Hainaut. In 2003, the Carnival of Binche was proclaimed one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The motto of the city is “Plus Oultre” (meaning “Further” in Old French), which was the motto of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who in 1545 gave the medieval castle of Binche to his sister, Queen Mary of Hungary, Governess of the Netherlands. She lavished attention on Binche, which she had rebuilt under the direction of an architect-sculptor Jacques du Broeucq, remembered today as the first master of Giambologna. The château, intended to rival Fontainebleau, was destroyed by the soldiers of Henry II of France in 1554.

Boulogne Sur Mer, France

Boulogne-sur-Mer is a city in northern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department of Pas-de-Calais. Boulogne was founded during the Roman occupation of France, and as Portus Itius, was used for trade and conquest of Great Britain. After a period of Germanic presence following the collapse of the Empire, Boulogne was at the centre of an eponymous county of the Kingdom of France during the Middle Ages, and was occupied by the Kingdom of England numerous times due to conflict between the two nations. The city’s 12th-century belfry is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, while another popular attraction is the marine conservation centre, Nausicaa.

Bourtange, Netherlands

Fort Bourtange is a star fort located in the village of Bourtange, Groningen, Netherlands. It was built in 1593 under the orders of William the I of Orange. Its original purpose was to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen, which was controlled by the Spaniards during the time of the Eighty Years’ War. After experiencing its final battle in 1672, the Fort continued to serve in the defensive network on the German border until it was finally given up in 1851 and converted into a village. Fort Bourtange currently serves as a historical museum.

Buitrago-de-lozoya, Spain

Buitrago del Lozoya is a municipality of the autonomous community of Madrid in central Spain. It belongs to the comarca of Sierra Norte. The town is one of the few in the community that have maintained its walls, which are of Moorish origin (11th century) and have been restored in the 15th century. It lies on a peninsula surrounded by the Lozoya river. The Castle of Buitrago del Lozoya is a castle located inside the walls of Buitrago del Lozoya, Spain. Built in the 15th century in Gothic-Mudéjar style, it was declared Bien de Interés Cultural in 1931. It has a rectangular plan, with seven towers of various shapes (round, pentagonal, square), all in stone. The interior is in ruins.

Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne is a fortified French town in the Aude department. It is divided into the fortified Cité de Carcassonne and the more expansive lower city, the ville basse. Carcassone was founded by the Visigoths in the fifth century, though the Romans had fortified the settlement earlier. The fortress, which was thoroughly restored in 1853 by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. The fortified city itself consists essentially of a concentric design with two outer walls with towers and barbicans to prevent attack by siege engines. The castle itself possesses its own drawbridge and ditch leading to a central keep. The walls consist of towers built over quite a long period. One section is Roman and is notably different from the medieval walls with the tell-tale red brick layers and the shallow pitch terracotta tile roofs. One of these towers housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th Century and is still known as “The Inquisition Tower”. Today there is a museum “Musée de la Torture”, which shows some of the original torture equipment employed by the Catholic Church.

Chester, England

Chester city walls consist of a defensive structure built to protect the city of Chester in Cheshire, England. Their construction was started by the Romans when they established the fortress of Deva Victrix between 70 and 80 AD. It originated with a rampart of earth and turf surmounted by a wooden palisade. From about 100 AD they were reconstructed using sandstone, but were not completed until over 100 years later. Following the Roman occupation nothing is known about the condition of the walls until Æthelflæd refounded Chester as a burgh in 907. The defences were improved, although the precise nature of the improvement is not known. After the Norman conquest, the walls were extended to the west and the south to form a complete circuit of the medieval city. The circuit was probably complete by the middle of the 12th century.

Ciudad-Rodrigo, Spain

Ciudad Rodrigo is a small cathedral city in the province of Salamanca, in western Spain. The antique walls were built during the 12th century. In the 17th century the walls were rebuilt and reinforced by bastions, ravelins and artillery batteries.The Cathedral of Santa María is a medieval cathedral. The original cathedral was constructed in the 12th century in late Romanesque style and was refurbished in the 16th century by Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón. The cathedral constains many artworks: The Portal of the main façade (Portico del Perdón), the 16th-century choir stalls, baroque retables, medieval sculptures, and sepulchers.

Derry, Ireland

Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe. The walls constitute the largest monument in State care in Northern Ireland and, as the last walled city to be built in Europe, stands as the most complete and spectacular. The Walls were built during the period 1613-1619 by The Honourable The Irish Society as defences for early 17th century settlers from England and Scotland. The Walls, which are approximately 1 mile (1.5 km) in circumference and which vary in height and width between 12 and 35 feet (4 to 12 metres), are completely intact and form a walkway around the inner city. They provide a unique promenade to view the layout of the original town which still preserves its Renaissance style street plan. The four original gates to the Walled City are Bishop’s Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Butcher Gate and Shipquay Gate. Three further gates were added later, Magazine Gate, Castle Gate and New Gate, making seven gates in total. Historic buildings within the walls include the 1633 Gothic cathedral of St Columb, the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall and the courthouse. It is one of the few cities in Europe that never saw its fortifications breached, withstanding several sieges including one in 1689 which lasted 105 days, hence the city’s nickname, The Maiden City.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

The Walls of Dubrovnik are a series of defensive stone walls that have surrounded and protected the citizens of the afterward proclaimed maritime city-state of Dubrovnik (Ragusa), situated in southern Croatia, since the city’s founding prior to the 7th century as a Byzantium castrum on a rocky island named Laus (Ragusia or Lave). With numerous additions and modifications throughout their history, they have been considered to be amongst the great fortification systems of the Middle Ages, as they were never breached by a hostile army during this time period. In 1979, the old city of Dubrovnik, which includes a substantial portion of the old walls of Dubrovnik, joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Lugo, Spain

Lugo is a city in northwestern Spain in the autonomous community of Galicia. It is the capital of the province of Lugo. The municipality had a population of 99,241 in 2013, which makes it the fourth most populated city in Galicia. Lugo is the only city in the world to be surrounded by completely intact Roman walls, which reach a height of 10 to 15 metres (33 to 49 ft) along a 2,117-metre (6,946 ft) circuit ringed with 71 towers. The walk along the top is continuous round the circuit, and features ten gates. These 3rd century walls are protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The bridge over the Minho is essentially of Roman date, though many repairs over the centuries have effaced its Roman character.

Naarden, Netherlands

Naarden is a municipality and a town in the Gooi region in the province of North Holland in the Netherlands. Naarden is an example of a star fort, complete with fortified walls and a moat. The walls and the moat have been restored and are in a very good state. Naarden was granted its city rights in 1300 (the only town in Het Gooi to have been done so) and later developed into a fortified garrison town with a textile industry. Naarden is the home of the Netherlands Fortress Museum (Nederlands Vestingmuseum). Naarden hosts the bi-annual Naarden Photo Festival and, on Good Friday, a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in the local church, which is called the Great Church or St.

Ronda, Spain

Ronda is a city in the Spanish province of Málaga. It is located about 100 kilometres (62 mi) west of the city of Málaga, within the autonomous community of Andalusia. Around the city are remains of prehistoric settlements dating to the Neolithic Age, including the rock paintings of Cueva de la Pileta. Three bridges, Puente Romano (“Roman Bridge”, also known as the Puente San Miguel), Puente Viejo (“Old Bridge”, also known as the Puente Árabe or “Arab Bridge”) and Puente Nuevo (“New Bridge”), span the canyon. The term “nuevo” is a bit of a misnomer, as the building of this bridge commenced in 1751 and took until 1793 to complete. The Puente Nuevo is the tallest of the bridges, towering 120 metres (390 ft) above the canyon floor, and all three serve as some of the city’s most impressive features. The ‘Corrida Goyesca’ is a unique and historical bullfight that takes place once a year in Ronda in the Plaza de toros de Ronda, the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain. It was built in 1784 in the Neoclassical style by the architect José Martin de Aldehuela, who also designed the Puente Nuevo.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a town in the district of Ansbach of Mittelfranken (Middle Franconia), the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany, well known for its well-preserved medieval old town, a destination for tourists from around the world. The town hall tower of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the Roedertor tower at the east end of the city, and is open daily for visitors to climb. It is almost 61 meters tall (200 ft). At the top of the tower, an admission fee of 2 euros is charged to enter the room with a scenic view of almost the entire town. The room also contains manuscripts providing the visitor with historical information about the construction and relevant history of the city wall. Rothenburg city as seen from the top of the Roeder tower Garden in Rothenburg (2005) While buildings within the walled city reflect the city’s medieval history, this part of the city is in many ways a normal, modern German town with some concession to the tourist trade. Many stores and hotels catering to tourists are clustered around the Town Hall Square and along several major streets (such as Herrngasse, Schmiedgasse). Also in the town is a criminal museum, containing various punishment and torture devices used during the Middle Ages.

Suomenlinna, Finland

Suomenlinna, until 1918 Viapori (Finnish), or Sveaborg (Swedish), is an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands (Kustaanmiekka, Susisaari, Iso-Mustasaari, Pikku-Mustasaari, Länsi-Mustasaari and Långören), and which now forms part of the city of Helsinki, the capital Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage site and popular with both tourists and locals, who enjoy it as a picturesque picnic site. Originally named Sveaborg (Fortress of Svea), or Viapori as called by Finnish-speaking Finns, it was renamed Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland) in 1918 for patriotic and nationalistic reasons, though it is still also sometimes known by its original name. In Swedish-speaking and historical context, the name Sveaborg is always used of Finland. In addition to the island fortress itself, seafacing fortifications on the mainland would ensure that an enemy would not acquire a beach-head from which to stage attacks. The plan was also to stock munitions for the whole Finnish contingent of the Swedish Army and Royal Swedish Navy there. In the Finnish War the fortress surrendered to Russia on May 3, 1808, paving the way for the occupation of Finland by Russian forces in 1809.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, 80 km (50 mi) south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg. Tallinn’s Old Town is in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city was a European Capital of Culture for 2011, along with Turku, Finland. Tallinn is the oldest capital city in Northern Europe. The city was known as Reval from the 13th century until 1917 and again during the Nazi invasion of Estonia from 1941 to 1944. The main attractions are in the two old towns (Lower Town and Toompea) which are both easily explored on foot. Eastern districts around Pirita and Kadriorg are also worth visiting and the Estonian Open Air Museum (Eesti Vabaõhumuuseum) in Rocca al Mare, west of the city, preserves aspects of Estonian rural culture and architecture.

York, England

The English city of York has, since Roman times, been defended by walls of one form or another. To this day, substantial portions of the walls remain, and York has more miles of intact wall than any other city in England. They are known variously as York City Walls, the Bar walls and the Roman walls (though this last is a misnomer as very little of the extant stonework is of Roman origin, and the course of the wall has been substantially altered since Roman times).

Zamosc, Poland

Zamość is a town in southeastern Poland. The most historic buildings are located in the Old Town. The main distinguishing features of the Old Town have been well preserved since its establishment. It includes the regular Great Market Square of 100 x 100 meters with the splendid Townhall and so-called Armenian houses, as well as the fragments of the original fortress and fortifications, including those from the period of the Russian occupation in the 19th century. The most prominent building is the Town Hall, built at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries in line with Bernardo Morando’s design. In 1639–1651, Jan Jaroszewicz and Jan Wolff redesigned the structure. They enlarged the edifice and added three storeys with a high attic.

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