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Walls, strongly built
City fortifications belong among the oldest of city monuments. They are the evidence of their importance and the social standing of their citizens, proof of their construction and organisational abilities.
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Walls, strongly built
“And Roboam dwelt in Jerusalem, and built walled cities in Juda.” (Second Book of Paralipomenon, Chapter 11). Walled cities – cities surrounded by protective walls – have been built in Europe and Asia Minor from time immemorial. Ruins of ancient, mediaeval or early modern fortified walls frequently create the special romantic image of historical sites, and they are more and more often desirable tourist destinations.
City fortifications belong among the oldest of city monuments. They are the evidence of their importance and the social standing of their citizens, proof of their construction and organisational abilities. The majority of those that are to be seen in the Czech Republic were built in the 13th century or later. The second half of the 13th century especially brought enormous cultural, economic and military expansion. New methods of conducting military operations demanded constant new advances and improvements in defence technology. In the Czech lands there had already long existed a well-known type of fortification which came to us from southern and western Europe, it was a stone-built rampart wall interspersed with towers and other protective devices. This costly technology spread, but only very slowly. In the first half of the 13th century there were only a few of these stone fortifications and they were constructed for royal residences, defensive or administrative castles. The fortification of towns came later, and again it was mostly Royal Cities that built themselves walls.
Builders of castles continually tried to improve the fortifications, and to make the approach to, and capture of, the castle as difficult for possible attackers as they could. So in front of the main fortifications they constructed moats, mounds and lighter advance fortifications. The walls grew higher and wider. The original simple wall was studded with protective parapets frequently with crenellated walkways to protect the defenders from the missiles of the enemy. From a simple rampart wall it was impossible to shoot into the blind area at the foot of the wall, which is why the straight line of the ramparts was broken up by projecting towers from which the defenders could safely shoot sideways at the space at the bottom of the wall without leaning out (this form of shooting is called flanking). Another way to cover the space was the so-called Podsebiti (literally “to hit below oneself”); on top of the walls were mounted wooden or masonry cantilevers on which was built a covered bridge. Defenders could shoot through holes in the floor at attackers or pour boiling tar on them. These defence modules gave the original simple walls their characteristic mediaeval look.
As we have already said, rampart walls or their ruins with gates, towers, parapets and other interesting details are becoming a highly regarded source of tourist attraction for a city, and consequently can bring economic prosperity and a better quality of life for the local citizenry.
So it is no surprise that those European cities where the fortifications had not been destroyed in times past are very proud of them, and get together on various levels to try and find different ways to co-operate. Quite a few cities in the Czech Republic have the same opportunity and some of them have already started co-operating with other fortified cities in Europe.
Among the best preserved city fortifications are the ramparts of the city of Nymburk, founded by King Přemysl Otakar II. At the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries the city was protected by ramparts with regularly spaced towers with pyramid roofs. Entry into the city was protected by two gate towers and the Labe Gate was guarded by two towers. Nymburk lies in the Labe plains, and to this day river water runs through the two moats that surround it.
Around the year 1265 the same king founded the city of Polička. It originally had fortifications made of wood and earth, but these were replaced in the first half of the 14th century by masonry walls with battlements. In front of the first wall ran a parkan wall and moat. The defences of Polička are among the best preserved city fortifications in the Czech Republic – the main rampart with its 19 towers is almost complete, having lost only four gates and a moat.
The Royal City of Beroun was founded before 1300 at the crossing of an important provincial road across the River Berounka. Its fortification comprises a stone rampart with almost forty pyramid-topped towers and two tower gates. Long stretches of the walls with towers and both gates have been preserved and remain to this day a dominant part of the city.
Similarly to Beroun, the Royal City of Kadaň was founded at a ford over the River Ohře. Before that time there was already a castle standing there that is today incorporated into the fortifications above the river. Soon after its foundation around the middle of the 13th century, the city was provided with ramparts and parkan wall. What was very unusual was the fortification of the widespread suburbs on all sides of the city, with the exception of the riverside. A large part of this fortification has been preserved, including Mikulovická, or Svatá Gate.
Čáslav was also founded as a royal city around the year 1260. During the 13th century the city was fortified by oval ramparts with battlements and towers in a semicircular plan with three gates. Čáslav’s ramparts belong to the oldest in the Czech Republic and have been preserved on the majority of the city’s boundary. In some places it is hidden in the buildings or gardens. One of the dominant features of the city is a cylindrical tower called Otakarka.
The Royal City of Litoměřice ruled the land around the conjunction of the Labe and the Ohře, and was one of the most important fortified administrative centres. It was fortified soon after its founding in the first half of the 13th century. Litoměřice’s fortification is interesting because of the clearly visible stages of its development, specifically the one that was a response to the expansion of the city, and it was these parts, including the towers, that were preserved the best.
The city of Prachatice was founded at the beginning of the 14th century on the so-called ‘golden road’ leading from Bohemia to Passau in Bavaria. By the 14th century it had already been fortified by a wall, now partially preserved, which was hemmed by parkan walls with pyramid-topped bulwarks. In the 15th and 16th centuries an additional circle of ramparts was added with towers and two entry gates. These are the best and most authentically preserved of all, not only as a group but also in their details.