Elbląg – town defensive walls


   The first wood and earth fortifications were built in Elbląg shortly after the city was founded in 1237. The construction of brick fortifications, intended to replace the fortifications on earlier, the same circuit, 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 repulsion of the Teutonic attack in 1521 and the fear of an attack on Prussia by Moscow and Sweden caused that in 1549 the Polish king Zygmunt August released the city from paying tax, and this money was allocated for fortification works. In 1553, the earth rampart was widened and once again from the outer Market Gate to the river, and the outer, northern moat was expanded. Probably in connection with these works in 1554 the ruins of the Teutonic castle were finally demolished. 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 city walls were built on the plan of an elongated quadrangle situated the longer side along the Elbląg River, which protected the city from the west. The Hundebeke stream flowed towards it from the north-east forests, and the small river Kumiela (Hommel) flowed south-west, where it ran into the Elbląg River behind the Teutonic castle. In the first half of the 13th century, from Kumiela a canal was dug, which, flowing parallel to the mill’s dike, supplied water to the city and castle moats, and then to flowed to the Elbląg River between the castle and the city fortifications.
The city walls in their final form had a length of 1700 meters and a height of about 8 meters, and were surrounded by an irrigated moat. They closed the area of 15 ha, and 22 ha after moving the city border to the west in 1326 (until this period, only timber and earth fortifications operated at the riverfront). 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 Monk Tower was built on a cylindrical plan. Initially they did not have a roofs 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, facing the suburban craftsman area with fulling mill, tannery and brickyard. 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). The latter was the only one in the plan to have a cylindrical form, while the name was due to the nearby Dominican monastery.
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.
   The outer defensive wall formed in the years 1410-1437 on the northern and eastern sides included nine cylindrical towers and two gates: Smiths and Market, situated on the extension of the gates of the main circuit with the same names. From among the towers the northern corner one was called On an Acute Corner. The outer gatehouse was also given to the southern Castle Gate at that time.
   On the southern side, the city and the Teutonic castle were separated by the Kumiela stream channel, supplying the city and castle moats with water, and then flowing into the Elbląg River. On the south-east side from 1335-1341, the Old Town was adjacent to the then founded New Town of Elbląg. Its fortifications were established on a plan similar to a rectangle measuring 215 x 430 meters. They were not equipped with towers, but only with four gatehouses, one on each side of the world: Castle Gate from the west, Malbork Gate from the south, overlooking the fishing village of Osiek, Pasłęk Gate on the east and James’s Gate in the north curtain. The latter was directed to the suburb centered around the church of St. James, the hospital and the chapel of St. Elisabeth and mills on the river Kumiela, squeezed between both cities of Elbląg.

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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Atlas historyczny miast polskich. Tom 1 Prusy Królewskie i Warmia, red. A.Czacharowski, zeszyt  1 Elbląg, Toruń 1993.
Sypek A., Sypek.R., Zamki i obiekty warowne Warmii i Mazur, Warszawa 2008.

Webpage zamkidwory.forumoteka.pl, Elbląg.