Olsztyn – town defensive walls


   After the founding of Olsztyn (Allenstein) in 1353, the town and the castle were surrounded by a common defensive ring, probably first earth and wooden and then stone. Initially, the town walls were to protect Olsztyn against the invasions of Lithuanians, who in the fourteenth century ventured into the areas of southern Warmia through the Galindia Forest. In the fifteenth century, the town was several times captured during the Polish-Teutonic wars. In particular, it suffered severe damages during the War of Hunger, Thirteen Years War and Priests War. After these experiences, at the end of the fifteenth century, the town was strengthened by a modernized defense system, that enabled effective defense by Nicolaus Copernicus, during the Prussian war.
   In the years 1620 and 1657, timber structural elements of the walls and tower’s roofs burnt. The Northern War also caused major damages, during which the Swedes burnt the town in 1708. The Upper Gate was destroyed then, but was quickly repaired, however the low (outer) wall were left ruined. Other fragments of fortifications were transferred into private hands and transformed into apartments or gardens. From the 18th century, neglected walls lost their defensive significance and were gradually demolished by the inhabitants, and the bricks and stones were used in houses constructions.


   The Olsztyn defensive walls were built of bricks on a stone foundation. They were from 1.6 to 2 meters thick and about 5-6 meters high, counting from the town side (total height about 8-9 meters). To allow the defenders movement at the crown of the walls, there were brick sidewalks located at a height of about 3.20 meters above the plinth.
Over the entire length of the perimeter of the walls there were several towers, initially only rectangular and open inwards, later closed, cylindrical. The towers were not regularly arranged, as it used to be in the Teutonic cities, but rather thickened depending on the defense capabilities of the wall section. The entrance to the city was provided by two gates: Upper, also called High Gate and Lower Gate, additionally there was a Mill wicket gate near the castle, another wicket at the Lower Gate in the southern part of the walls and Water Wicket.
   The Upper Gate in its present shape comes from the period after the rebuilding of fortifications in the fifteenth century. It was erected in a gothic style, on a plan similar to a square with a side of 9.5 meters. It is a four-storey, with a small floor forming a kind of fifth storey in the gable zone. It has a gabled roof and stepped gables. Originally, it had a foregate, which walls were 12 meters long and from 1.8 to 2 meters wide. The gate’s neck from the outside (field side) ended with a cylindrical tower with a diameter of 11 meters. Currently, from the eastern side of the gatehouse, there is a lower, also four-storey annex from the 19th century.
The convenient location of the town in the Łyna bend meant that more than half of the town walls were additionally surrounded by the river. The remaining part was protected by a 30-40 meter wide moat, irrigated with water from Łyna. At the end of the fifteenth century, in places where the town was not surrounded by a river, but only by a moat, that is from the south-east and east, an additional, external string of the wall, called the low one, was erected. This outer wall was separated by the zwinger area and additionally it was equipped with a round tower. It ran parallel to the high (inner) wall, the distance between them in the north-east section was about 12.5 meters, while the south-eastern section did not exceed 10 meters. In addition, on the outer side of the moat, there was another wall called counterscarp.
   Near the city walls was located the church of St. James, which as a massive, stone hall on a rectangular plan parallel to the fortification line, probably also played an important defense, or at least a guard – warning role.

Current state

   Most of the relics of the walls have survived in the following streets: Okopowa, Kołłątaja, Bolesława Chrobrego, at the cathedral and at the Fish Market. In large part, these are sections that serve as the outer walls of houses. The most interesting element is Upper Gate located in the north-eastern part of the Old Town complex.

show the Upper Gate on map

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Czubiel L., Domagała T., Zabytkowe ośrodki miejskie Warmii i Mazur, Olsztyn 1969.

Kaczyński B., Mackiewicz A., Badania archeologiczne przedbramia Bramy Górnej w Olsztynie, “Olsztyński rocznik konserwatorski”, Olsztyn 2014.
Website wikipedia.org, Mury obronne w Olsztynie.