city ​​wall

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City walls of Cittadella

A city ​​wall is a historical fortification of a city to protect against attackers, i.e. a defensive wall . It is made of stone or clay and is at least as high as a man, usually significantly higher. It completely or partially surrounded a village , depending on the terrain , natural obstacles such as rocks or rivers were also included. A city wall could only be passed through the city ​​gates . Building a defensive wall was a privilege in the Middle Ages that was granted by the fortification law. The defensive wall thus became a feature of a town or a market . The city or market law was not automatically linked to the fortification law. Conversely, in the Middle Ages there were also fortified villages with (mostly simpler) walls, for example in the Thuringian Basin and in the wine-growing regions of southwest Germany.


Chaff: reconstruction of a medieval palisade

City walls are the further development of wooden palisades and ramparts that were built to protect earlier settlements . The first walled city is considered to be Jericho , which dates back to 7000 BC. Owned a city wall. The 9.5 km long walls of Uruks , the largest city in the world at the time, are considered to be the first real city fortifications . Around 2700 BC Uruk received its wall from which about nine hundred semicircular towers protruded. While a pure wall, as in Jericho, only represents an enclosure that makes penetration difficult or impossible, the installation of towers or bastions makes it defensive and thus a fortress-like city ​​fortification.

From ancient times to modern times , city walls have been an almost indispensable part of every city. It is debated whether ancient Greek cities all had city walls in archaic times . During the Pax Romana period , there were exceptions such as B. Ancient Rome itself, which had no useful walls until around 270 because it relied on the legions for protection. In this phase, cities in the core area of ​​the Roman Empire were often walled for reasons of prestige (some civitas had city gates, but no walls). However , this changed in late antiquity . The Roman Empire fell apart over time and the protection of the legions and the Pax Romana was no longer guaranteed.

Trier: Porta Nigra

In Central Europe, the Celts already left behind large, strongly fortified castle towns ( Oppida ), whose city walls sometimes reveal influences from the Mediterranean region. Initially, the fortifications were pure wood-earth constructions, later mixed constructions, mostly known as Murus Gallicus , were built from reading stones and wooden elements placed on top of each other without mortar . The Romans fortified many towns founded sooner or later with massive mortared stone walls. The most famous relics of these fortifications in Germany can be found with the Porta Nigra in Trier and the Porta Praetoria , as well as longer sections of the Roman stone wall in Regensburg . Even Cologne has to have some leftovers.

In addition to these ancient communities, a few castle or bishopric towns were founded in the early Middle Ages . These city foundations were usually secured by ramparts, rarely by simple stone walls. From the 12th century onwards, hundreds of smaller and larger new settlements emerged all over Europe, most of which were soon granted town or fortification rights. In addition to the construction of castles, the founding of cities was an important element of the territorial development , especially in Eastern Europe numerous planned new constructions ( eastern colonization ) emerged. These cities are easy to recognize by their regular floor plans and large marketplaces. The fortifications of these city systems have been expanded again and again in the course of their history and adapted to the current state of war technology.

Fortified Villages

While city walls in cities are often mentioned in literature and fortifications can still be found in cities today, there is little evidence of fortifications in small towns. In his village chronicle Behringer describes in detail the Ortsbefestigung the deaf Franconian village Großrinderfeld, a district of today in the Main-Tauber-Kreis in northeastern Baden-Württemberg and on the border of Lower Franconia in Bavaria located community Großrinderfeld . This fortification ( called Hag ) completely enclosed the place. The fortifications consisted of a trench with a wooden fence behind it or an earth wall with a wooden fence. There were 2 openings, the Upper Gate and the Lower Gate. The two gates were opened by the night watchman at 6 a.m. and closed at 10 a.m. at night. Today only the street names indicate the existence of these two gates.


Structure based on the example of the town wall of Freistadt in Upper Austria (largely still preserved)
Loose pebbles on the top of the wall (Seßlach)
City wall with buttresses in Stralsund
City wall with open battlement in Delitzsch
City wall in Murten with a covered battlement

In its simplest form, a city wall consists of a closed wall ring with its gates. The top of the wall was mostly accessible and had a man-high parapet with loopholes or battlements on the outside . North of the Alps, this circular path , known as the battlements , was mostly covered. Occasionally loose pebbles were piled up on the top of the wall instead of a battlement. The falling stones warned the defenders if the attacker tried to climb the wall. Examples of this have been preserved in the Franconian city fortifications of Seßlach and Fladungen .

In addition, numerous reinforcements such as:

  • Wall tower: a tower that was erected over the wall and mostly protruded somewhat so that the wall could be painted with weapons
  • City moat: an upstream moat, occasionally filled with water and stabilized by lining walls
  • Gate tower: a tower that was built next to or above the city gate and served to better defend the gate
  • Front wall with kennel : an additional wall of lower height running in front of the city wall; the intermediate space, called the Zwinger, was sometimes divided into several areas by walls.
  • Vorwerk from additional obstacles, such as hedges , or other structures (see list of technical terms in fortress construction )

While the defense towers of western and southern European medieval city fortifications were often designed very uniformly and regularly ( Ávila , Provins ), central European city walls predominantly have a rich variety of different tower designs. Here the defense and gate towers often reach considerable heights, double tower gates are much rarer ( Cologne , Eigelsteintorburg , Hahnentorburg ). In addition to the purely protective and defense function, the need for representation and artistic aspects also played an important role in the design of the defense systems. The urban architecture competed here with the aristocratic castle ; City walls were also often a manifestation of urban self-awareness.

Suburbs usually had a separate wall that was integrated into the city's defense concept. In many cities, the city wall was rebuilt when the old wall was too slow to grow the city. The course of the old wall can still be seen in the city's network of roads. B. in Nördlingen and Dinkelsbühl , sometimes even the old gate towers were preserved, such as the White Tower in Nuremberg or the Ostentorturm of the former city ​​fortifications of Regensburg . In some cases - for example in the Lower Austrian town of Waidhofen an der Ybbs - the suburb, unlike the city, was only surrounded by a wooden palisade. In 1547, the judges and council of the town of Waidhofen an der Ybbs issued an ordinance which forbade the residents of the suburb of Leithen to build passages in the picket fences.

Additional outworks prevented the city, through which the trade routes ran, from bypassing and thus avoiding the due customs or the local market. Outside the cities, waiting and signal towers were often built on suitable ridges and viewing points, which were occasionally fortified in a castle-like manner. Often the outer borders of the urban area of ​​influence were secured in whole or in part by expensive land hedges and land defenses . Mostly this is a moat was created and the Wall with an impenetrable thorns hedge , even Wall hedge or kink called planted. The passages were usually reinforced with gates or gatehouses. These border fortifications were regularly checked for damage by hegemen , who mostly also served as gatekeepers. The remains of such land hedges can often be followed for kilometers in the area, and some gate structures have also been preserved. Rich cities also secured their territory by building castles on which keepers were placed. A well-known example is the Romanian " Dracula Castle " Bran (Törzburg), which was supposed to protect today's Brașov (Kronstadt).

The city walls were often leg walls with the fortifications of hilltop castles connected, castle and city walls so formed a common defense system. Numerous examples have been preserved, for example in Germany Hirschhorn am Neckar , Königsberg in Bavaria , Pappenheim in Franconia , Burghausen in Upper Bavaria and many others. Some castles were also directly integrated into the urban defense concept ( Nuremberg , Zons , Carcassonne ) or the cities were presented to the castle complexes in the manner of large “ pre-castles ” ( Coucy-le-Chateau , Conwy, etc.). Many larger cities had several city lords at the same time, for example Augsburg was divided into an episcopal and an imperial city . Such sub-towns were often separated by their own fortifications.

The invention of firearms required a further expansion of the fortifications, which took place in several stages. First the Zwinger received semicircular towers (shell towers) in which a few cannons could be set up. Soon larger reinforcements, called bastions, were built in strategically important places such as the B. the gates or corners. A well-preserved example is the Spitalbastei in Rothenburg ob der Tauber .

The city as such was still protected by the relatively thin wall that could hardly withstand cannons with great firepower. Therefore, some cities received a new star-shaped fortification system with numerous cannons, which consisted of thick, masonry-clad earth walls and could withstand prolonged bombardment. These massive fortifications severely curtailed the growth of the cities, as they could not be moved as easily as a simple wall and for strategic reasons additional development "outside the city" was prohibited. As a result, the urban area became increasingly dense in the period that followed.

The End

The Vienna Ringstrasse was built after the city wall was razed

In Germany, city walls had already disappeared around 1800 in several cities, such as Berlin, Hanover, Munich and Mannheim. Other cities were forced to grind their city walls during and after the Napoleonic Wars, such as Düsseldorf, Ulm, Frankfurt am Main, Breslau and Regensburg . As the city grew and defenses moved to surrounding forts , most of the fortress walls were demolished during the 19th century. Like no other infrastructural innovation, railroad construction contributed to changing the cityscape. "If something made walls obsolete, it was the railroad".

Today in many cities only moats or parks or avenues surrounding the city are evidence of the former city fortifications, such as B. the Fürst-Anselm-Allee in Regensburg. Some street names indicate the former existence of fortifications, for example when they contain words such as gate , wall , contrescarpe or glacis . In Hamburg the city gates were still closed in 1860, in Rabat this was still done around 1900, with the keys being handed over to the governor of the city every evening. During the second half of the century the last city walls were abandoned, for example in Cologne in 1881 and in Gdansk in 1895. As an exception, Prague stuck to its city walls as a nostalgic medieval idea until the 20th century. In Great Britain, the last walls were only in place for aesthetic and nostalgic purposes around the middle of the 19th century. The only completely preserved city wall in Germany is owned by Nördlingen in Bavaria. It has 5 gates and 12 towers, the length of the defense system is 2.7 km.

Cultural preservation

A preserved part of the city wall in Münsingen

The historical and architectural value of the city fortifications were mostly only recognized later. In the 19th century in particular, which was so proud of its art history, the city walls were torn down in large numbers. On the one hand, complete city fortifications were restored ( Carcassonne ), on the other hand, the fortifications of numerous European cities were often viewed as obsolete and sacrificed to gain space (e.g. road construction). The early monument protection law of 1826 by the art-loving Bavarian King Ludwig I is an exception here. It is thanks to this law that city ​​monuments such as Rothenburg ob der Tauber , Nördlingen , Dinkelsbühl and Nuremberg have been almost completely preserved (the demolition of the walls harmed the city's reputation according to Ludwig I, but it was also given from a military point of view, as it was protected places were viewed as a retreat for the military). The numerous “armored dwarfs”, the small, heavily fortified Franconian miniature towns (for example Wolframs-Eschenbach , Merkendorf , Greding or Berching / Opf.), Owe their picturesque appearance mainly to this decree. The abundance of preserved defense structures in Franconia makes the loss in other areas clear. City gates and wall rings often leave behind clearly recognizable form peculiarities in the city structures even today: ring roads, preserved city gates on the "gate roads", individual towers or remnants of walls. The urban structure had to react to the fortification while it was still standing. As a result, streets and buildings were created, which today look like an "echo" to a city wall that no longer exists, but which trace its course. Even if the structures themselves often no longer exist, their traces in the urban morphology in many cities (e.g. Bremen , Cologne , Aachen , Rostock , Stralsund ) are permanently consolidated.

Modern times

Bremen ramparts until 1811
Berlin Wall with watchtower, field of fire with anti-tank detectors, and wall passage as a bridge

In modern times, too, fortified masonry is being built around urban areas that do not have the classic function of being able to withstand a prolonged siege or fire with heavy artillery.

The Berlin customs wall from the 1730s to the 1860s was partly made of wood. It served primarily to collect customs duties ( excise ) and was also intended to prevent the desertion of soldiers from the Berlin garrison.

The Berlin Wall (1961–1989) was built with the intention of stopping the emigration movement from the GDR to the more affluent western part of Germany, which was represented in the exclave of West Berlin .

Further wall and barrier systems of the 20th and 21st centuries can be found in Israel, where exclaves of Jewish settlements are regularly enclosed by fortified walls and the border with Palestine is secured by walls (see also: Israeli barrier systems ).

Saudi Arabia has been massively expanding its barriers since 2009 .

In many troubled regions and countries, the embassies are often grouped together in an embassy district that is surrounded by fortified fortifications with walls and towers.

The majority of these modern urban masonry are steel and concrete. Vertical concrete slabs with a height of 2 m to 5 m are put together as seamlessly as possible and set into the ground. The top of the wall is often everted or covered with barbed wire to make it difficult to climb over. The walls are often straight, and there are watchtowers in the corners that line the sections of the wall. Double wall lines with an intermediate field of fire (as with the Berlin Wall) are rare.

See also


  • Walther Gerlach: The origin of the city fortifications in Germany. A contribution to the medieval constitutional history . Quelle & Meyer, Leipzig 1913 (Leipzig Historical Treatises, No. 34).
  • Gates, towers and fountains from four centuries of German history . Langenwiesche, Leipzig 1921 (The blue books).
  • Paul Lohf: Towers and gates from Flanders to the Baltic States . Westphal, Wolfshagen-Scharbeutz 1943.
  • Konrad M. Müller: Our fortified cities of the Middle Ages . Umschau, Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-524-65006-6 (Germany - the unknown country, vol. 6; cultural and historical travel guide).
  • Monika Porsche: City Wall and City Development. Investigations on early city fortifications in the medieval German Empire . Folio-Verlag Wesselkamp, ​​Hertingen 2000, ISBN 3-930327-07-4 (also dissertation, University of Freiburg i. Br. 1998).
  • James D. Tracy (Ed.): City Walls: The Urban Enceinte in Global Perspective. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2009, ISBN 978-0-521-12415-7 .
  • Frederiksen Rune: Greek City Walls of the Archaic Period, 900-480 BC . Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011, ISBN 978-0-19-957812-2 (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archeology).
  • Thomas Biller: The medieval city fortifications in German-speaking countries, 2 volumes, Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Darmstadt 2016. ISBN 978-3-8053-4975-8 .
  • Fred Kaspar: Behind the wall - or: always along the wall. Small town houses on and on the city wall. In: Fred Kaspar (ed.): Behind the Wall (= Insights - Writings of the Small Community House Foundation Volume 4), Petersberg 2016, pp. 46–155.

Web links

Commons : City Walls  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: city wall  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Oliver Hülden: Review of: Frederiksen, Rune: Greek City Walls of the Archaic Period, 900-480 BC. Oxford 2011 . In: H-Soz-u-Kult , September 3, 2012, accessed on September 3, 2012.
  2. Stefan René Buzanich, "... the zein and gaunt torn, the zaunholtz carried away ...". Forest and field crime in Waidhofen in 1547 - an informative text from the "Memorabilia book ", in: Musealverein Waidhofen an der Ybbs (ed.), 5 hoch e. Historical contributions of the museum association. Volume 37/2012 (p. 20)
  3. ^ Hugo Weidenhaupt (ed.): Düsseldorf. History from the origins to the 20th century. Volume 1. Schwann / Patmos, Düsseldorf 1988, ISBN 3-491-34221-X , p. 72 ff.
  4. Jürgen Osterhammel: The transformation of the world. A story of the 19th century. CH Beck. 2nd edition of the special edition 2016. ISBN 978-3-406-61481-1 . P. 433
  5. Jürgen Osterhammel: The transformation of the world. A story of the 19th century. CH Beck. 2nd edition of the special edition 2016. ISBN 978-3-406-61481-1 . P. 437
  6. Jürgen Osterhammel: The transformation of the world. A story of the 19th century. CH Beck. 2nd edition of the 2016 special edition. ISBN 978-3-406-61481-1 . P. 433f
  7. See Oliver Hülden: Review of: Frederiksen, Rune: Greek City Walls of the Archaic Period, 900-480 BC. Oxford 2011 . In: H-Soz-u-Kult , September 3, 2012, accessed on September 3, 2012.
  8. Review in the Badische Neuesten Nachrichten about: Thomas Biller: The medieval city fortifications in German-speaking countries , August 12, 2016, accessed on August 12, 2016.