Braniewo – town defensive walls


   Braniewo (Braunsberg) was founded in 1254 on the relics of the destroyed Prussian stronghold Brusebergue, but after the destructions made by the Prussians in 1242, 1261 and 1277, the location had to be repeated in a new, more defensive place. In the 80s of the 13th century, the natural bend of Pasłęka river was chosen for this purpose, which protected the settlement. The construction of the earth ramparts was initiated in the years 1279-1284, and the earliest mention of the timber palisades surrounding the town comes from 1300. The first timber and earth fortifications were then gradually replaced by brick walls. These works lasted until around mid-fourteenth century, however, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, walls were considered insufficient and by 1434 the second, outer belt of fortifications was erected. Thanks to the contracts concluded by the Old Town Council, wall builders from the 15th century are known. In 1434, the contract was signed with masters Michael and Henry, in 1444 with master Henry and his associate Kirst, and in 1505 with master Hans. Further contracts regarding the most likely repair of the walls in connection with the last Polish-Teutonic war, were concluded with master Hans in 1520 and 1522, and in 1562 with the master Albrecht Kobijewski from Pasłęk.
During the Middle Ages, the Braniewo fortifications performed their role well, most often discouraging and deterring invaders from assault. In 1311, Lithuanian leader Witenes plundered Warmia, but did not dare to attack Braniewo. He reached the town, but only called insults to the Warmian bishop Eberhard of Nysa standing on the wall and burned down the suburbs. Also in 1414 during the Polish-Teutonic Hunger War, the Polish army under the command of Władysław II Jagiełło, avoided the town without taking an attack. In 1455, the unsuccessful siege of the old town was carried out by the Teutonic Knights, and in 1461, the burghers defended themselves against the night attack of Polish mercenary forces led by Jan Skalski, who was then wounded. Another siege took place a year later, but Polish troops led by Piotr Dunin departed after a few days. An ineffective siege was also carried out during the Pope’s War in 1478. Due to the lack of hope of capturing the town and the prevailing hunger, the Polish army withdrew. The longest siege Braniewo survived in 1520, during the last Polish-Teutonic war. It was then besieged for three months by Polish troops. In this case, the town avoided assault and large losses due to lack of artillery among the besiegers. The surprise attack, which took place in the New Year of 1520, when the town was taken by the Teutonic Knights, led by the Grand Master Albrecht Hohenzollern, turned out to be effective. The townspeople were then in the church of Saint Catherine, and the only defender who saw the danger and tried to lift the drawbridge at the Mill Gate, was killed. Decades later, when the artillery had already been improved and popularized, the townspeople preferred to surrender Braniewo and pay contributions, rather than risking plundering and destruction. This was done in 1577 during the attack of the Danish-Gdańsk forces and in 1626, when after a short resistance and skirmishes in the suburbs, Braniewo capitulated to the Swedish king Gustav Adolf.
During the Swedish occupation of 1626-1635, the conquerors in the foregrounds of the town, under the supervision of Marshal Wrangel, built early modern bastion fortifications. These fortifications were rebuilt in 1655-1663, during the next occupation of Braniewo, this time by the Brandenburgians. It was connected with the decrease of the importance of the original fortifications. From the 17th century, the medieval town walls ceased to serve a defensive function and began to be enclosed with huts and stalls. At the beginning of the 19th century, all gates and their additional fortifications were removed, and until 1843, individual sections of the walls and some towers were demolished.


   Braniewo’s fortifications were laid out in a shape similar to the elongated oval and placed in the bend of the river protecting the town on three sides. The wall was 1.5 meters thick at the ground and narrowed towards the top, reaching 0.5 meters. It was strengthened with six towers: Klesza (Priests) in the north-west corner, Bycza (Bulls) in the north-east corner, Katowska (Executioners) on the west side and Węglarska (Coalers) headed towards the moat in front of the High Gate. On the southern side, there was the Mill Tower (also called Monastery or Nuns) and Blue Tower standing in the moat in front of the Church Gate. To increase defense, in the 13th century, a canal was dug from the Pasłęka river, which became an town moat, closing the city with a water barrier from all sides. The river itself changed its natural course at the time, which made the old bend a moat, and a dug-out moat with a new riverbed. The level of the water in the moat was regulated by piled-up facilities, located, among others, at the Blue Tower.
In the first half of the fifteenth century, the fortification was completed with the second, lower line of the defensive wall. The outer ring was also reinforced with six towers, most of which were unnamed. One was erected in the north-western corner just before the Priest Tower, next to it on the north side was the Powder Tower, and three more on the north side and one from the south were nameless. The external wall was reinforced with additional foreagtes at the High Gate, Monk Gate, Gwoździarska Gate and the Castle and Church wicket gates.
Five gates and two wickets led to the town. From the west, the High Gate (Upper), from the north the Monk Gate, the Fisherman’s Gate (later called Gwoździarska) and the Water Gate, and from the east the Butcher Gate (also called Kettle Gate) and Mill Gate. Apart from them, there were two more wicket gates on the southern side: Castle and Church Gate.

Current state

   Powder Tower of the outer circumference of the fortifications, near the St. Catherine’s Basilica and the Klesza (Priest) Tower together with the partially preserved outer tower in the north-west corner of the town, have survived to this day the turbulent history of Braniewo. You can also see the preserved semi-cylindrical tower from the outer belt of the town walls on the northern side of the former circuit.

show Powder Tower on map

show semi-cylindrical tower on map

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Czubiel L., Domagała T., Zabytkowe ośrodki miejskie Warmii i Mazur, Olsztyn 1969.
Rzempołuch A., Przewodnik po zabytkach sztuki dawnych Prus Wschodnich, Olsztyn 1992.
Sypek A., Sypek.R., Zamki i obiekty warowne Warmii i Mazur, Warszawa 2008.

Webpage, Dawne braniewskie fortyfikacje miejskie.