Ostrów Tumski
Our trip begins at Ostrów Tumski, an island between the rivers of Warta and Cybina. This is where a powerful gord was erected in the 10th century, which was the best fortified gord in Poland along with Gniezno gord. Poznań's role at the time was decided by its strategic location. There were no such good conditions to cross Warta river for dozens of kilometres neither south, nor north of the gord. Additionally Poznań secured Gniezno from the west against potential German incursion. Even the emperor Henry II, who reached Poznań with his army in 1005, did not attempt to conquer it, and instead made a pact with Boleslaus the Brave. Until the 13th century, Poznań gord functioned as an important link in Poland's defence system. It was surrounded by an embankment, which was 32 to 40 feet tall, and up to 82 feet wide. This embankment was built of soil, stone, and wood, and was rebuilt and strengthened multiple times. Fragments of this embankment remained till this day, and shall soon become a key attraction of the now developed archaeological reserve at Posadzego Street. Entry to the gord was guarded using two wooden gates, and the system was enhanced with observation towers.

The Poznań gord was composed of two parts. The first was the triangular duke's gord, now surrounded by Panny Marii Street, Ostrów Tumski and Cathedral Square. Its key feature was the duke's palace with a chapel (palatium), localized approximately at the site of the current Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The second part of the gord, surrounded by separate embankments, was placed around the cathedral church, which was built in 968. The system was enhanced with a fortified merchant and artisan settlement, now between the streets of Wyszyńskiego, Zagórze and Wieżowa.

In 1038 the gord was burned down by Bohemian duke Bretislaus I. This was the time, as Gallus Anonymous wrote, when wild animals occupied the Poznań cathedral, and the capital was transferred to Cracow. However, the Poznań gord was quickly rebuilt, and when in 1138 Poland was fragmented into provinces, Poznań became the capital of Greater Poland.

The Old Town

In 1253 Poznań received city rights, and at the left bank of the river development of a new, ideal medieval town began. The Old Market Square was delimited, along with equal tenement house frontages, and a perpendicular street layout, but also a line of walls to protect the town. Fortifications were solid, and the town siege in 1331 (by King of Bohemia John the Blind) failed.

The ancient town wall lines are currently marked in Poznań using red cobblestones. When taking a walk from the direction of Ostrów Tumski, those cobblestones may be seen on Wielka Street. This street's irregular shape is due to the fact, that it used to feature the Grand Gate, one of four gates leading into the town. Our walk along medieval fortifications truly starts at the crossing of Wroniecka Street and Stawna Street. Fragments of Wroniecka Gate, two defensive towers, and a 136-feet long section of the wall were reconstructed here. The entire circumference of the walls in the Middle Ages amounted to 2300 steps (approximately 5660 feet).

The reconstructed section of the wall includes strong fortifications, enhanced with a pond and a moat fed by Bodganka river waters. There were never any attempts to capture the city from this direction. The section of the original outer wall is now part of the first building next to Solna Street (12 Wroniecka Street). The wall's original height in this location amounted to 38 feet, and the wall was strengthened with multiple defensive towers. One of them is passed along the route, and called Catherine's Defensive Tower. It was built in the 14th century, and expanded in the 16th century. Defensive towers were three-storey high, and the two top stories included loopholes.

Upon reaching the end of the reconstructed city wall, remains of one of the outer wall defensive towers may be seen next to Masztalarska Street. They were preserved due to the inclusion of fortification fragments into a 19th century tenement house. When the city was cleaned up after the destruction during World War II, the defensive tower was discovered, and preserved in its original form. Its distinctive features are 5 feet thick walls, and multiple loopholes.

The walk continues along Zamkowa Street, up towards the Przemysł Hill, where the Royal Castle was built in the 13th century (an important part of medieval fortifications). The castle had representative function as well, and in 1295 it became the headquarters of the King of Poland — Przemysł II. It featured a defensive tower, and the walls were 10 feet thick. The castle was rebuilt multiple times, and in the 18th century, upon its debris, buildings were erected, which remain there till this day. They house the Museum of Applied Art. When going down the Przemysł Hill towards Ludgarda Street, a preserved section of the outer wall is visible, the remaining part of which was included into the elevation of the National Museum building. This is where the town was most often under siege, and this wall was most prone to attacks. The last preserved fragment of medieval fortifications is located between Wroniecka Street and the former Jesuit College. Wroniecka Street featured the Wroniecka Gate, and this is where the preserved section of the wall is located. This section by the end of the 18th century was included into the Saski Hotel elevation. The exposed section of the wall was built between the 17th and the 18th century, when the Jesuits dismantled a part of the old wall, in order to place the church and the college in its place. In return for being allowed to do so, they were obliged to rebuild the walls and defensive towers.

Poznań Citadel

The strategic role of Poznań was enhanced, when due to the second partition of Poland it became part of Prussia (1793), and when the border between the Prussian partition and the Russian partition was moved towards the west after the Napoleonic wars (1815). It is then when the city became a location of immense strategic importance, because in case of a conflict the capital of the province was located on the shortest route between Berlin, Warsaw and Moscow. This is when fortifying began. The primary Winiary Fort (Citadel) was erected on the hill above the 19th century city, which was then enclosed by tight walls of the fortress. In the second half of the 19th century the fortress was enhanced with 18 forts, which surrounded the city, located at far foregrounds. Fortifications were enhanced until the mobilization before World War I, making Poznań one of the largest military complexes in Europe, able to withstand long-term sieges. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the dismantling of the internal fortification ring began, due to the fact that it no longer had any important military function (because of military technology developments). It was partially replaced by the Castle District (amongst others).

As a fortress, Poznań was tested in practice only once, in 1945, when the Germans defended it against incoming Soviet troops. There was no way to protect the city, but old Prussian fortifications enabled the Germans to hold it for a month. Remains of those fortifications have been preserved till this day. The largest fort in the city, on the Winiary Hill (Citadel), was in most part deconstructed, and turned into a park. The old War Lab now houses the Armaments Museum, and the basement of the Minor Sluice houses the Museum of the Poznań Army. The only preserved piece of the internal ring is the blockhouse of Fort Colomb, located in Marcinkowski Park. It now houses a pub, and therefore its interior is open to public. All 18 forts (9 major ones and 9 minor ones) surrounding the city were also preserved (in a better or worse state). Currently visitors are only allowed to see Fort VII, which now houses the Museum of Greater Poland Martyrology, dedicated to the Nazi concentration camp which was located here during World War II. Since 9 years, during the June Fort Weekend, one of the forts is opened to public every year, and the guides wear historical uniforms for this occasion.

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