Elbląg – city defensive walls


   The construction of brick fortifications to replace earlier wood and earth ramparts, began in the eighties of the thirteenth century. After the break caused by the fire in 1288, the works resumed in the nineties. At that time, the construction of the city gates: Market, Smith and Castle, as well as the north and east side of the walls, were started. In 1319 the construction of the Market Gate was completed, and in 1322 the Castle Gate was rebuilt. Reconstruction of the western part of the walls began at the latest, because only in the years 1336-1341. Until 1335, this side of the town was defended by a wooden palisade. As for the southern side, the Teutonic Knights forbade the construction of city fortifications in this section. The southern part, as was in the location privilege, was excluded from the fortification system and put under protection of the Teutonic castle.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the city walls were in a very bad condition. The moat between the Old Town and the New Town was completely covered with trash and muck, and the wall between the Market Gate and the river in 1409 collapsed. The defeat of the Order at Grunwald and the fear of invasion by Polish and Lithuanian armies caused that the Teutonic Knights were again interested in strengthening the Elbląg fortifications. In the years 1410-1437, a second circuit of walls was built from the east and north, 1000 meters long, with two gates: Smith and Market, 9 cylindrical towers and an external moat powered by a stream which does not exist at present. Along with the expansion of the Elbląg fortifications in 1417, a new defense system was created. It consisted in dividing the city into four quarters with designated sections of walls for defense and conservation. At the head of each of them were two elders from the City Council and four elders selected from townsmen living in a given quarter. Along with the inhabitants, Elbląg’s guilds were designated for defense activities.
From the second half of the fifteenth century until the sixteenth century there were no more visible changes in the city fortifications. Only at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth century before the Market Gate, over the first moat was built a fortified stone bridge. The end of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries brought modernization of the fortifications of Elbląg through the construction of bastion fortifications. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the medieval city walls were pulled down and the moat was filled up.


   The town walls were 1700 meters long and about 8 meters high, and were surrounded by a moat. This system also included 10 towers and 9 gates. The Elbląg towers were built mainly on the street extension, they were 10 to 12 meters wide and 22 to 28 meters high. Most of them had the shape of a quadrangle, only the New Tower was built on a cylindrical plan. They did not have a roof top and were usually open from the city side.
The southern side was defended by the weakest fortified Castle Gate. In the south-east corner of the walls, the Groman’s Tower was built, another was New Tower, also called Bow Tower. Behind it, towards the north, there was a small half tower, and then the Detention Tower, also known as Dungeon or Thieves Tower. Behind Detention Tower, another small half tower was built. Next was the Smith Gate, erected in the center of the eastern wall, strengthened by the construction of foregate in 1345. Further north of the Smith Gate there was the Burghers Tower, Tanners Tower and in the north-eastern corner Heretics Tower.
From the north side, the Market Gate was located on the guard of the city, before which, probably the foregate was also located. There were two towers between it and the Elbląg river: Shooting Tower (also called the Little Monk) and the Monk (also known as the Great Monk).
From the side of the river, five gates were built for the sake of the big traffic between the city and the waterfront. Counting from the south, these were the gates: Holy Ghost Gate (later known as Barley), Bridge Gate (leading to High Bridge, also known as Koga Bridge), Fish Gate,
Cooper Gate (also called Crane), Tobias (or the Scale Gate) and further on the Dominican monastery, the smallest wicket Monk Gate. The Smith and Market Gate were the most important elements in the entire defense system of the then Elbląg. In the fifteenth century, they were already about 26 meters high and were equipped with lowering gates made of oak wood. Between the gates on the outer side of the walls there was a zwinger reaching the city moat.
   In t
he outer wall, enumerating from the north corner, was the Sharp Angle Tower, a small, round tower, Gate of Three Window Bays (that is external Market Gate), a small round Wichhus Tower, two small round towers, an external Smith Gate with a foregate armed with a small tower, round tower, a semicircular tower (it was open from the town side), a round tower in front of the Groman’s Tower and the External Castle Gate.

Current state

   To date, only the Market Gate survived from the medieval fortifications of Elbląg. It is one of the most characteristic and recognizable monuments of the city. After renovation carried out in 2006, an observation deck from which you can admire the panorama of the Elbląg Old Town, was created. The gate is open to visitors from May to September, then the Tourist Information Center operates in gate.

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Sypek A., Sypek.R., Zamki i obiekty warowne Warmii i Mazur, Warszawa 2008.

Webpage zamkidwory.forumoteka.pl, Elbląg.