Szczecin – town defensive walls


   Already in the 7th and 6th centuries BC on the west bank of the Odra there was a hillfort of people from the Lusatian culture, and in the early Middle Ages an important Pomeranian wood and earth stronghold, defending the Oder river ford and being the center of the pagan cult of the Pomorzans. At the end of the tenth century incorporated into the Polish borders, after the death of Boleslaw Chrobry in 1025, it transformed into an independent merchant republic, again subordinated to Poland in 1121 by Bolesław Krzywousty. In 1189, the Szczecin settlement was conquered and burnt by the Danes, but it was quickly rebuilt thanks to the German and Flemish settlers for whom prince Barnim I in 1237-1243 established the town under Magdeburg law, from 1295 raised to the capital of the Pomeranian Duchy.
   By the middle of the 13th century, Szczecin had wooden-earth fortifications. The first mention of the defensive walls dates back to 1283. Their construction had to take a long time, as in 1318 there was a dispute between the City Council and the Franciscan Order concerning the financing of its construction in the area of the church and the monastery. At the turn of the 13th and 14th the town was already surrounded by a wall and moat, whose course did not change until the 18th century. Town fortifications were subsequently strengthened several times, for example by extension of town gates or deepening of the moat.
   The destruction of almost all of the medieval walls was a result of the construction of new fortifications of the Szczecin fortress by Frederick William I. In the second half of the 18th century the remains were demolished and the existing moat sections were covered.


   The oldest Slavic settlement from the 8th-9th centuries occupied the area of ​​the later ducal castle, about 1 ha in size, near the river crossing. Its location was decisively influenced by favorable terrain conditions and the possibility of using the earth ramparts of an older settlement of the Lusatian culture. The ditch separated the part located in the highest part of the hill, which probably served sacral functions, and the residential part extending in a semicircle on the eastern side of the hill with dense buildings cut by narrow streets. At the foot of the hill, there was a harbor for crossing to Dąbie and for fishing boats and commercial vessels. It can be assumed that this port was located on the western shore of the relatively shallow Odra bay, which cut into the land and ran approximately parallel to the main riverbed to the area of ​​the later Fish Market. Most likely it was not equipped with quays, but rather boats were pulled up to the gently sloping shore.
   Around the middle of the 9th century, horseshoe ramparts were erected on the Castle Hill, which separated an area of ​​about 1.2 ha. The northern and western embankment of the settlement was additionally surrounded by deep valleys of streams flowing down the slope of the Odra valley, while presumably the stronghold was not fortified from the east. Perhaps the steep natural slope of the Odra valley provided sufficient protection or lighter wooden structures were used there. Along with the earthworks, the buildings were reorganized: the western part retained its sacral character, while the rest of the stronghold focused on craft and merchant activities. Timbered houses, often surrounded by fences, began to appear along the streets covered with wood. Until the mid-11th century, the stronghold was probably accessible through two gates: northern and southern, leading to the main routes running along the Odra River.
   In the middle of the 10th century, at the foot of the hillfort, scattered buildings were created, grouped in two parts separated by a stream flowing from the plateau. In the initial phase of development, the spatial layout of this coastal settlement was rather random and unstable. In the 10th century, the plots still occupied relatively small areas and were separated by paths, squares or fences. These areas were also used as a place for boat repairs and craft activities, which were burdensome for the inhabitants of the main hillfort for various reasons. At that time, the spatial layout of the then harbor of Szczecin changed. Probably due to the already significant eutrophication of the bay, in the situation of low water levels it was impossible to enter the original port, so another one, probably located directly on the Oder, had to function.

   In the second half of the 10th century or at the beginning of the 11th century, the buildings of the settlement located at the foot of the hill, began to be built from the south and north with earth ramparts connected with the fortifications of the main hillfort. The outer bailey was accessible by gates from the north and south, and the eastern side was not fortified until the end of the 1080s. It can be assumed that by that time the earth fortifications had to enter the waters of the Oder Bay. In the third quarter of the 11th century, in the eastern part of the outer bailey, a ditch faced with wood was made, probably simultaneously serving a defensive, anti-flood and drainage functions. Probably as a result of drainage and at the same time continuous filling of the Odra Bay, in the second half of the 11th century it was completely drained, and thus the harbor by the bay definitely lost its function. The area east of the defensive ditch became the new port of Szczecin. The spatial separation of the port area from the buildings of the outer bailey made it possible to control people moving within its area, which was probably convenient from the point of view of the safety of reloading and boatbuilding works.
   In the 80s of the 11th century, in the place of the former east ditch, a shaft of a hook structure with a clay core was made, closing the outer bailey from the east. After the destruction and rebuilding in the first quarter of the 12th century, it was already a chest structure rampart, it was about 30 meters wide at the base and was shifted in relation to the old embankment to the east, towards the Odra riverbed. Along the inner edge of the rampart there was a passage around the bailey. After the fire in 1138, another rampart was built, also about 30 meters wide at the base. Its outer edge has been moved a few meters east of the previous one. At the expense of the inner part of the rampart, a wide circumferential street was developed, covered with wood. The outer bailey was fortified in this way and occupied an area of ​​approximately 4 ha and consisted of about 400–500 households. As a result of the growing importance of roads leading to the river, at the expense of the roads parallel to the Oder, the previously dominant longitudinal layout of plots was replaced at the end of the 11th century by a latitudinal layout, the main axis of which was a wooden street running towards the Oder. At that time, the outer bailey was the economic center of Szczecin, while the stronghold on the hill was a religious and administrative center. Open settlements also developed around the ramparts and the outer baily, including the settlement at the church of St. Peter and Paul, built to the north-west of the hillfort.
   Around the middle of the 12th century, a settlement of German merchants was created in Szczecin, surrounded by fortifications at the end of the 12th century, thanks to which a second outer bailey, next to the Slavic one, was created. It was located south of the Slavic borough, on the Oder, at the Havening port and at the church of St. Nicholas. Perhaps there was also a second, older, German open settlement  at the church of St. James. It seems unlikely that there was no fortifications around the inhabited space between the outer baileys. So it can be assumed that some defensive structures connected both settlements: Slavic and German.

   The foundation of the town in the second quarter of the 13th century led to the creation of the “upper town” in previously loosely inhabited areas located on the plateau west of the hillfort and the demarcation of the “lower town” by connecting the German borough with the Slavic borough (as a result of the liquidation of the southern and eastern ramparts of the Slavic outer bailey) . In 1249, Duke Barnim I also included the main hillfort within the town. It can be presumed that due to the lack of space, the inhabitants of the “lower town” modeled on the solutions previously used in the German port, therefore, along the area of ​​the former Slavic borough, wooden piers were erected into the water, analogous to those in Havening port. The most important role in the “lower town” was played by the Sienny Market, next to the town hall, the church of St. Nicholas and streets leading to the port gates.
   The connection of the outer baileys was the first stage of preparations for the construction of the town’s defensive walls. Gradually, the “upper town”, “lower town”, the space between them and the marshy surroundings of the Franciscan friary began to be enclosed with brick fortifications. It allowed to unite the adjoining elements of the agglomeration into one coherent structure, which in the 13th century was surrounded by a fairly dense network of villages. Right next to the town walls, along the Oder, there were settlements inhabited by fishermen called Wiks (Upper Wik in the south, Lower Wik stretching from the Cistercian convent in the north to the village of Grabowo). In 1283, a wooden bridge was also built to the opposite bank of the Oder (Long Bridge), and in 1299 the Stone Dike, which made it possible to cross the Odra River to Dąbie, making the crossing by the former Slavic outer bailey to lose its significance. The construction of the Long Bridge made it possible to develop the opposite bank of the Oder. In 1283 the town bought the right-bank area of ​​the later Łasztownia, where vessels were ballasted and ships were built.
   The defensive walls of Szczecin had finally an irregular shape in plan, slightly elongated on the east-west line, adjacent to the Oder from the east. They were built of bricks on a stone plinth, but the inner core was made of stone rubble bonded with lime mortar. The wall was about 5 to 8-9 meters high. The bricks were laid in a monk bond or Flemish bond. Its thickness at the base was up to 2 meters and it gradually decreased up to 1 meter. Access to the walls from the town side was possible thanks to narrow, underwall streets, located parallel to their course.
   The fortifications were reinforced with rectangular or semicircular half towers, most of which over time were rebuilt to closed towers form. In addition to the rectangular towers, town walls had cylindrical towers, built as independent defense works. There were 46 towers, including 9 cylindrical towers and 37 half towers.
To the town led gates: Mill Gate from north, Virgin gate from north-east, Holy Ghost Gate from south and Passawska from south-west. Over time they have been expanded of foregates. In addition there were 7 water wicket gates and two passages, located on the waterfront. The entire fortification ring was surrounded by an earth ramparts and a moat which was filled with water on the north side, while the south was dry.

Current state

   From the old medieval fortifications to our time, only Virgin Tower, also known as the Tower of the Seven Coats, is preserved, as well as a fragment of the wall at Podgórna Street. Historians link the name of the Seven Coats Tower to the guild of tailors, who laid down for the maintenance of the building.

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Pilch J., Kowalski S., Leksykon zabytków Pomorza Zachodniego i ziemi lubuskiej, Warszawa 2012.
Rębkowski M., Pierwsze lokacje miast w księstwie zachodniopomorskim. Przemiany przestrzenne i kulturowe, Kołobrzeg 2001.

Website, Średniowieczne mury obronne Szczecina.