From Limes to the "Iron Curtain"

History of Fortress Construction

Ever since, people tried to protect their property against external attacks. The history extends from thousands-of-years-old, simple wooden fortifications and earth works, strategic army camps and trans-regional border ramparts of the Romans, later medieval town walls and subsequently their transformation to walls with bastions, fortresses, fortress systems and defensive lines such as the Great Wall of China or even the "Iron Curtain" – with the development of offensive weapons, defense installations had to improve steadily.


Festungsbaugeschichte 1


The most significant innovation with regard to historic fortress construction was the invention of gun powder weapons for which the structure of medieval castles and ramparts were less suited. For that reason, Italian architects designed new constructions for the use of firearms such as crenels or emplacements for canons at the end of the 15th century. Reconstructions began and at many places even the complete replacement of ramparts and castle towers with mighty bastions, strong fortification walls with deep moats adjusted to the ballistics of projectiles.


From then on, fortress construction followed the rapidly evolving artillery. The increasing penetrating power and range was confronted by architects with thicker walls and larger fortifications but also with art and creative wealth on the monument itself.


Festungsbaugeschichte 2


As the first German town, Dresden was provided with such a complete bastion fortification in 1550 which was used for frequent stays by Napoleon 250 years later for his military campaigns.


The newly created Fortified Ideal Cities such as Karlovac (Croatia), Palmanova (1593, Italy), Terezin (CZ) or Neuf Brisach (France) are said to be an outstanding highlight of fortress construction in Europe.


At the beginning of the 19th century, the modern artillery forced the construction of major fortress systems which stretched over whole landscapes. Their extensions are partly located more than 5 kilometers in front of the settlements. In this regard, Prussia eternalized in Pomerania and Silesia for instance.


Then again, responding to the enormous advancements in weapon technology, fortified monuments more and more disappeared into the underground and into massifs of mountains in the 20th century. Especially impressive is, inter alia, the French Maginot Line at the end of the 1920s or bunker construction of big military alliances. Border installations such as the ‘Atlantic Wall’ and the ‘Iron Curtain’ are testimonies of a time that threatened the existence of European nations. Therefore, these architectonic testimonies must be preserved and their message be conveyed.