A defensive wall is a fortification usually used to protect a city, town or other settlement from potential aggressors. In ancient to modern times, they were used to enclose settlements. Generally, these are referred to as city walls or town walls, although there were also walls, such as the Great Wall of China, Walls of Benin, Hadrian's Wall, Anastasian Wall, the Cyclopean Wall Rajgir and the metaphorical Atlantic Wall, which extended far beyond the borders of a city and were used to enclose regions or mark territorial boundaries. In mountainous terrain, defensive walls such as letzis were used in combination with castles to seal valleys from potential attack. Beyond their defensive utility, many walls also had important symbolic functions– representing the status and independence of the communities they embraced.
A fortification is a military construction or building designed for the defense of territories in warfare, and is also used to solidify rule in a region during peacetime. The term is derived from the Latin fortis ("strong") and facere.
A wall is a structure that defines an area, carries a load; provides security, shelter, or soundproofing; or is decorative. There are many kinds of walls, including:
The Great Wall of China is the collective name of a series of fortification systems generally built across the historical northern borders of China to protect and consolidate territories of Chinese states and empires against various nomadic groups of the steppe and their polities. Several walls were being built from as early as the 7th century BC by ancient Chinese states; selective stretches were later joined together by Qin Shi Huang (220–206 BC), the first Emperor of China. Little of the Qin wall remains. Later on, many successive dynasties have built and maintained multiple stretches of border walls. The most currently well-known of the walls were built by the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).
Existing ancient walls are almost always masonry structures, although brick and timber-built variants are also known. Depending on the topography of the area surrounding the city or the settlement the wall is intended to protect, elements of the terrain such as rivers or coastlines may be incorporated in order to make the wall more effective.
Masonry is the building of structures from individual units, which are often laid in and bound together by mortar; the term masonry can also refer to the units themselves. The common materials of masonry construction are brick, building stone such as marble, granite, and limestone, cast stone, concrete block, glass block, and adobe. Masonry is generally a highly durable form of construction. However, the materials used, the quality of the mortar and workmanship, and the pattern in which the units are assembled can substantially affect the durability of the overall masonry construction. A person who constructs masonry is called a mason or bricklayer. These are both classified as construction trades.
Topography is the study of the shape and features of land surfaces. The topography of an area could refer to the surface shapes and features themselves, or a description.
Walls may only be crossed by entering the appropriate city gate and are often supplemented with towers. The practice of building these massive walls, though having its origins in prehistory, was refined during the rise of city-states, and energetic wall-building continued into the medieval period and beyond in certain parts of Europe.
A city gate is a gate which is, or was, set within a city wall.
A tower is a tall structure, taller than it is wide, often by a significant margin. Towers are distinguished from masts by their lack of guy-wires and are therefore, along with tall buildings, self-supporting structures.
A city-state is a sovereign state, also described as a type of small independent country, that usually consists of a single city and its dependent territories. Historically, this included cities such as Rome, Athens, Carthage, and the Italian city-states during the Renaissance. As of 2019, only a handful of sovereign city-states exist, with some disagreement as to which are city-states. A great deal of consensus exists that the term properly applies currently to Monaco, Singapore, and Vatican City. City states are also sometimes called microstates which however also includes other configurations of very small countries, not to be confused with micronations.
A hillfort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage. They are typically European and of the Bronze and Iron Ages. Some were used in the post-Roman period. The fortification usually follows the contours of a hill, consisting of one or more lines of earthworks, with stockades or defensive walls, and external ditches. Hillforts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC, and were used in many Celtic areas of central and western Europe until the Roman conquest.
A ringwork is a form of fortified defensive structure, usually circular or oval in shape. Ringworks are essentially motte-and-bailey castles minus the motte. Defences were usually earthworks in the form of a ditch and bank surrounding the site.
A castle is a type of fortified structure built during the Middle Ages by predominantly the nobility or royalty and by military orders. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble. This is distinct from a palace, which is not fortified; from a fortress, which was not always a residence for royalty or nobility; and from a fortified settlement, which was a public defence – though there are many similarities among these types of construction. Usage of the term has varied over time and has been applied to structures as diverse as hill forts and country houses. Over the approximately 900 years that castles were built, they took on a great many forms with many different features, although some, such as curtain walls and arrowslits, were commonplace.
From very early history to modern times, walls have been a near necessity for every city. Uruk in ancient Sumer (Mesopotamia) is one of the world's oldest known walled cities. Before that, the proto-city of Jericho in the West Bank had a wall surrounding it as early as the 8th millenniumBC.
Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the dried-up, ancient channel of the Euphrates, some 30 km east of modern Samawah, Al-Muthannā, Iraq.
Sumer is the earliest known civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages, and one of the first civilizations in the world along with Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley. Living along the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, Sumerian farmers were able to grow an abundance of grain and other crops, the surplus of which enabled them to settle in one place. Prehistoric proto-writing dates back before 3000 BC. The earliest texts, from c. 3300 BC, come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr; early cuneiform script emerged around 3000 BC.
Mesopotamia is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the northern part of the Fertile Crescent, in modern days roughly corresponding to most of Iraq, Kuwait, the eastern parts of Syria, Southeastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish–Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders.
The Assyrians deployed large labour forces to build new palaces, temples and defensive walls.
Some settlements in the Indus Valley Civilization were also fortified. By about 3500BC, hundreds of small farming villages dotted the Indus floodplain. Many of these settlements had fortifications and planned streets. The stone and mud brick houses of Kot Diji were clustered behind massive stone flood dykes and defensive walls, for neighboring communities quarreled constantly about the control of prime agricultural land. Mundigak (c. 2500BC) in present-day south-east Afghanistan has defensive walls and square bastions of sun dried bricks.
Babylon was one of the most famous cities of the ancient world, especially as a result of the building program of Nebuchadnezzar, who expanded the walls and built the Ishtar Gate.
Exceptions were few, but neither ancient Sparta nor ancient Rome had walls for a long time, choosing to rely on their militaries for defense instead. Initially, these fortifications were simple constructions of wood and earth, which were later replaced by mixed constructions of stones piled on top of each other without mortar.
In Central Europe, the Celts built large fortified settlements which the Romans called oppida, whose walls seem partially influenced by those built in the Mediterranean. The fortifications were continuously expanded and improved.
Large rammed earth walls were built in ancient China since the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1050BC), as the capital at ancient Ao had enormous walls built in this fashion (see siege for more info). Although stone walls were built in China during the Warring States (481–221BC), mass conversion to stone architecture did not begin in earnest until the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD). Sections of the Great Wall had been built prior to the Qin Dynasty (221–207BC) and subsequently connected and fortified during the Qin dynasty, although its present form was mostly an engineering feat and remodeling of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644AD). The large walls of Pingyao serve as one example. Likewise, the walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing were established in the early 15th century by the Yongle Emperor.
Apart from these, the early Middle Ages also saw the creation of some towns built around castles. These cities were only rarely protected by simple stone walls and more usually by a combination of both walls and ditches. From the 12th century AD hundreds of settlements of all sizes were founded all across Europe, which very often obtained the right of fortification soon afterwards.
The founding of urban centers was an important means of territorial expansion and many cities, especially in central and eastern Europe, were founded for this purpose during the period of Eastern settlement. These cities are easy to recognise due to their regular layout and large market spaces. The fortifications of these settlements were continuously improved to reflect the current level of military development.
During the Renaissance era, the Venetians raised great walls around cities threatened by the Ottoman Empire. Examples include the walled cities of Nicosia and Famagusta in Cyprus and the fortifications of Candia and Chania in Crete, which still stand.
At its simplest, a defensive wall consists of a wall enclosure and its gates. For the most part, the top of the walls were accessible, with the outside of the walls having tall parapets with embrasures or merlons. North of the Alps, this passageway at the top of the walls occasionally had a roof.
In addition to this, many different enhancements were made over the course of the centuries:
City ditch: a ditch dug in front of the walls, occasionally filled with water.
Gate tower: a tower built next to, or on top of the city gates to better defend the city gates.
Wall tower: a tower built on top of a segment of the wall, which usually extended outwards slightly, so as to be able to observe the exterior of the walls on either side. In addition to arrow slits, ballistae, catapults and cannons could be mounted on top for extra defence.
Pre-wall: wall built outside the wall proper, usually of lesser height– the space in between was usually further subdivided by additional walls.
Additional obstacles in front of the walls.
The defensive towers of west and south European fortifications in the Middle Ages were often very regularly and uniformly constructed (cf. Ávila, Provins), whereas Central European city walls tend to show a variety of different styles. In these cases the gate and wall towers often reach up to considerable heights, and gates equipped with two towers on either side are much rarer. Apart from having a purely military and defensive purpose, towers also played a representative and artistic role in the conception of a fortified complex. The architecture of the city thus competed with that of the castle of the noblemen and city walls were often a manifestation of the pride of a particular city.
Urban areas outside the city walls, so-called Vorstädte, were often enclosed by their own set of walls and integrated into the defense of the city. These areas were often inhabited by the poorer population and held the "noxious trades". In many cities, a new wall was built once the city had grown outside of the old wall. This can often still be seen in the layout of the city, for example in Nördlingen, and sometimes even a few of the old gate towers are preserved, such as the white tower in Nuremberg. Additional constructions prevented the circumvention of the city, through which many important trade routes passed, thus ensuring that tolls were paid when the caravans passed through the city gates, and that the local market was visited by the trade caravans. Furthermore, additional signaling and observation towers were frequently built outside the city, and were sometimes fortified in a castle-like fashion. The border of the area of influence of the city was often partially or fully defended by elaborate ditches, walls and hedges. The crossing points were usually guarded by gates or gate houses. These defenses were regularly checked by riders, who often also served as the gate keepers. Long stretches of these defenses can still be seen to this day, and even some gates are still intact. To further protect their territory, rich cities also established castles in their area of influence. An example of this practice is the Romanian Bran Castle, which was intended to protect nearby Kronstadt (today's Braşov).
The city walls were often connected to the fortifications of hill castles via additional walls. Thus the defenses were made up of city and castle fortifications taken together. Several examples of this are preserved, for example in Germany Hirschhorn on the Neckar, Königsberg and Pappenheim, Franken, Burghausen in Oberbayern and many more. A few castles were more directly incorporated into the defensive strategy of the city (e.g. Nuremberg, Zons, Carcassonne), or the cities were directly outside the castle as a sort of "pre-castle" (Coucy-le-Chateau, Conwy and others). Larger cities often had multiple stewards– for example Augsburg was divided into a Reichstadt and a clerical city. These different parts were often separated by their own fortifications.
With the development of firearms came the necessity to expand the existing installation, which occurred in multiples stages. Firstly, additional, half-circular towers were added in the interstices between the walls and pre-walls in which a handful of cannons could be placed. Soon after, reinforcing structures– or "bastions"– were added in strategically relevant positions, such as at the gates or corners. A well-preserved example of this is the Spitalbastei in Rothenburg or the bastions built as part of the 17th-century walls surrounding Derry, a city in Northern Ireland; however, at this stage the cities were still only protected by relatively thin walls which could offer little resistance to the cannons of the time. Therefore, new, star forts with numerous cannons and thick earth walls reinforced by stone were built. These could resist cannon fire for prolonged periods of time. However, these massive fortifications severely limited the growth of the cities, as it was much more difficult to move them as compared to the simple walls previously employed– to make matters worse, it was forbidden to build "outside the city gates" for strategic reasons and the cities became more and more densely populated as a result.
In the wake of city growth and the ensuing change of defensive strategy, focusing more on the defense of forts around cities, many city walls were demolished. Also, the invention of gunpowder rendered walls less effective, as siege cannons could then be used to blast through walls, allowing armies to simply march through. Today, the presence of former city fortifications can often only be deduced from the presence of ditches, ring roads or parks.
Furthermore, some street names hint at the presence of fortifications in times past, for example when words such as "wall" or "glacis" occur. Wall Street in New York City, itself a metonym for the entire United States financial system, is one example.
In the 19th century, less emphasis was placed on preserving the fortifications for the sake of their architectural or historical value– on the one hand, complete fortifications were restored (Carcassonne), on the other hand many structures were demolished in an effort to modernize the cities. One exception to this is the "monument preservation" law by the Bavarian King Ludwig I of Bavaria, which led to the nearly complete preservation of many monuments such as the Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Nördlingen and Dinkelsbühl. The countless small fortified towns in the Franconia region were also preserved as a consequence of this edict.
Walls and fortified wall structures were still built in the modern era. They did not, however, have the original purpose of being a structure able to resist a prolonged siege or bombardment. Modern examples of defensive walls include:
Berlin's city wall from the 1730s to the 1860s was partially made of wood. Its primary purpose was to enable the city to impose tolls on goods and, secondarily, also served to prevent the desertion of soldiers from the garrison in Berlin. The Berlin Wall did not exclusively serve the purpose of protection of an enclosed settlement. One of its purposes was to prevent the crossing of the Berlin border between the German Democratic Republic and the West Germanexclave of west-Berlin.
The Nicosia Wall along the Green Line divides North and South Cyprus.
In the 20th century and after, many enclaves Jewish settlements in Israel were and are surrounded by fortified walls
Additionally, in some countries, different embassies may be grouped together in a single "embassy district," enclosed by a fortified complex with walls and towers– this usually occurs in regions where the embassies run a high risk of being target of attacks. An early example of such a compound was the Legation Quarter in Beijing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Most of these modern city walls are made of steel and concrete. Vertical concrete plates are put together so as to allow the least space in between them, and are rooted firmly in the ground. The top of the wall is often protruding and beset with barbed wire in order to make climbing them more difficult. These walls are usually built in straight lines and covered by watchtowers at the corners. Double walls with an interstitial "zone of fire", as had the former Berlin Wall, are now rare.
In September 2014, Ukraine announced the construction of the "European Rampart" alongside its border with Russia to be able to successfully apply for a visa-free movement with the European Union.
↑ Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture By Banister Fletcher, Sir, Dan Cruickshank, Dan Cruickhank, Sir Banister Fletcher. Published 1996 Architectural Press. Architecture. 1696 pages. ISBN0-7506-2267-9. p. 20.
↑ The Encyclopedia of World History: ancient, medieval, and modern, chronologically arranged By Peter N. Stearns, William Leonard Langer. Compiled by William L Langer. Published 2001 Houghton Mifflin Books. History / General History. ISBN0-395-65237-5. p. 17.
↑ Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture By Banister Fletcher, Sir, Dan Cruickshank, Dan Cruickhank, Sir Banister Fletcher. Published 1996 Architectural Press. Architecture. 1696 pages. ISBN0-7506-2267-9. p. 100.
Medieval fortification refers to medieval military methods that cover the development of fortification construction and use in Europe, roughly from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the Renaissance. During this millennium, fortifications changed warfare, and in turn were modified to suit new tactics, weapons and siege techniques.
A siege is a military blockade of a city, or fortress, with the intent of conquering by attrition, or a well-prepared assault. This derives from Latin: sedere, lit. 'to sit'. Siege warfare is a form of constant, low-intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static, defensive position. Consequently, an opportunity for negotiation between combatants is not uncommon, as proximity and fluctuating advantage can encourage diplomacy. The art of conducting and resisting sieges is called siege warfare, siegecraft, or poliorcetics.
A siege tower or breaching tower is a specialized siege engine, constructed to protect assailants and ladders while approaching the defensive walls of a fortification. The tower was often rectangular with four wheels with its height roughly equal to that of the wall or sometimes higher to allow archers to stand on top of the tower and shoot arrows into the fortification. Because the towers were wooden and thus flammable, they had to have some non-flammable covering of iron or fresh animal skins.
The south-eastern Transylvania region in Romania currently has one of the highest numbers of existing fortified churches from the 13th to 16th centuries. It has more than 150 well preserved fortified churches of a great variety of architectural styles.
A barbican is a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence to a city or castle, or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defensive purposes.
Cyclopean masonry is a type of stonework found in Mycenaean architecture, built with massive limestone boulders, roughly fitted together with minimal clearance between adjacent stones and no use of mortar. The boulders typically seem unworked, but some may have been worked roughly with a hammer and the gaps between boulders filled in with smaller chunks of limestone.
A bastion fort or trace italienne, is a fortification in a style that evolved during the early modern period of gunpowder when the cannon came to dominate the battlefield. It was first seen in the mid-15th century in Italy. Some types, especially when combined with ravelins and other outworks, resembled the related star fort of the same era.
Enceinte is a French term denoting the "main defensive enclosure of a fortification". For a castle this is the main defensive line of wall towers and curtain walls enclosing the position. For a settlement it would be the main town wall with its associated gatehouses and towers and walls.
Defensive walls are a feature of ancient Roman architecture. The Romans generally fortified cities, rather than building stand-alone fortresses, but there are some fortified camps, such as the Saxon Shore forts like Porchester Castle in England. City walls were already significant in Etruscan architecture, and in the struggle for control of Italy under the early Republic many more were built, using different techniques. These included tightly-fitting massive irregular polygonal blocks, shaped to fit exactly in a way reminiscent of later Inca work. The Romans called a simple rampart wall an agger; at this date great height was not necessary. The Servian Wall around Rome was an ambitious project of the early 4th century BC. The wall was up to 10 metres (32.8 ft) in height in places, 3.6 metres (12 ft) wide at its base, 11 km (7 mi) long, and is believed to have had 16 main gates, though many of these are mentioned only from writings, with no other known remains. Some of it had a fossa or ditch in front, and an agger behind, and it was enough to deter Hannibal. Later the Aurelian Wall replaced it, enclosing an expanded city, and using more sophisticated designs, with small forts at intervals.
Castles in Portugal were crucial components of the military throughout its history. The Portuguese learned the art of building fortifications from the Romans and the Moors. The Romans, who ruled and colonized the territory of current-day Portugal for more than four centuries, built forts with high walls and strong towers to defend their populations. The Moors, who invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711 A.D., brought new stonework and heavily fortified gates to the peninsula.
A refuge castle or refuge fort is a castle-like defensive location, usually surrounded by ramparts, that is not permanently occupied but acts as a temporary retreat for the local population when threatened by war or attack. In former times such sites were also described as giant castles because their origin was ascribed to giants.
A bridge castle is a type of castle that was built to provide military observation and security for a river crossing. In the narrower sense it refers to castles that are built directly on or next to a bridge. Sometimes, however, castles close to a bridge are referred to as bridge castles.
The fortifications of the town of Rhodes are shaped like a defensive crescent around the medieval town and consist mostly in a modern fortification composed of a huge wall made of an embankment encased in stone, equipped with scarp, bastions, moat, counterscarp and glacis. The portion of fortifications facing the harbour is instead composed of a crenellated wall. On the moles towers and defensive forts are found.
The Architecture of Albania is a reflection of Albania's historical and cultural heritage. The country's architecture was influenced by its location within the Mediterranean Basin and progressed over the course of history as it was once inhabited by numerous civilisations including the Illyrians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans as well as modern Austro-Hungarians and Italians. In addition, missionaries, invaders, colonisers and traders brought cultural changes that had a large profound effect on building styles as well as techniques.
Diyarbakır Fortress, is a historical fortress in Sur, Diyarbakır, Turkey. It consists of an inner fortress and an outer fortress.