The Wisloujscie Fortress (Gdansk) - overview Print E-mail

Wisłoujście Fortress - highlights of history

In the close vicinity of the Westerplatte peninsula lies a unique fortification monument - the Wisłoujście Fortress. The name Wisłoujście (the mouth of the Vistula) dates back to the time when the Vistula had its estuary north of the Wisłoujście Fortress. The site was an area of strategic importance as it gave control of ships moving into and out of Gdańsk. The former Port of Gdańsk was situated on the Motława River, a few kilometers away from the coast. This made Wisłoujście a key position shielding Gdańsk from the sea and protecting the city and the port  from a surprise enemy attack. The strategic importance of the place was quickly recognized - there may have been a look-out here during the rule of the Pomeranian Dukes. 

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However, the first written record of a watchtower at the site of today's fortress dates back to mid 14th century. This was a timber structure, no wonder it was frequently destroyed. In 1433 it was burnt down by the Hussites, while in 1465 it fell during a heavy storm raging in the Baltic.

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         The first permanent structure was erected here  after the liberation of Gdańsk from Teutonic rule (1308-1454).

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         In 1482 a cylindrical tower made of brick was erected, used for both defensive purposes and as a lighthouse. At night fire would be lit on top of the tower showing ships the way to the port. The tower on its own did not ensure sufficient protection in view of the development of warfare, so during the Polish-Teutonic war woodwork fortifications were put up around it between 1518 and 1521. The tower and the surrounding fortifications made a core around which subsequent defensive structures were built over the next decades, making the whole of the Wisłoujście fortifications.

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In 1562 the woodworks surrounding the tower were replaced by a three-storey brick Crown with casemates. When a conflict broke out in 1568 between the city of Gdańsk and the royal privateers, the latter were fired on from Wisłoujście. To prevent similar events, the so-called Karnkowski Constitution determining the relations between Gdańsk and the Polish Respublica provides for the commandant of the fortress to pledge allegiance to the Polish monarch.

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Only a few years later, though, the Wisłoujście Fortress again became a pocket of resistance against king Stephen Batory. In 1577 it was besieged by royal troops, but despite heavy damage and numerous attempts it was not captured. Reconstruction and modernisation started shortly afterwards.

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The 16th century, especially its final part, was the period of rapid development of firearms, the growing destructive capacity of cannons and, consequently, modernisation of fortifications and the emergence of new systems of defence. The need for such undertakings was generally acknowledged. Józef Naronowicz-Naroński, the 17th century fortification builder, says the following in his work on defence structures: "Never is a castle or manor decorated by opulent palaces, costly edifices, gardens and fountains as much as it is by a decent rampart, well formed and shaped by a good engineer."

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         Gdańsk seems to have acknowledged fairly soon the need to undertake the costly but necessary work to ensure the city's security.

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         In the 1580s a four-bastion Fort Carré designed according to the New Italian school was put up around the Crown, replacing the woodwork fortification. It had probably been designed by the Flemish fortification builder Anton van Obberghen. The bastions of the fort had casemates and emplacements from which one could conduct artillery bombardment along the walls. The bastion walls were made of brick and the corners were reinforced by stone blocks. Fire could be conducted from bastion-emplaced cannons. In the casemates dates can be seen - 1586 and 1587 - indicating when the particular structures were completed. Fort Carré was surrounded by moat filled with water. The entrance led across the moat through a curtain wall between bastions.

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         The entrance to the fortress was secured by gate and drawbridge. The course of the entrance tunnel was oblique to the entrance axis to protect the inside of the fort from being fired at. The date 1602 on the fort's portal is the date when work in the fort was completed. 

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To shield the fort from direct attack the so-called Eastern Bulwark was erected in 1624-1626, to the instructions of an Italian expert Hieronimus Ferrero. It consisted of 5 earthwork bastions and a moat. A similar Western Bulwark was built on the other bank of the Vistula, opposite the Fortress. The fortifications of both bulwarks were constantly extended throughout the 18th century.

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         The years 1657-1658 mark the coupling of the Fortress fortifications with the defence system of the city into a uniform system. In 1734, when the Polish king Stanisław Leszczyński sought refuge in Gdańsk, the Fortress came under siege by Russian and Saxonian troops. After a long siege the Fortress surrendered and was manned by Saxonian troops, which stationed there until contribution money was paid by the city of Gdańsk in 1736.

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         In 1793 Prussia takes control of Gdańsk. The Fortress itself, Nowy Port and Westerplatte were strengthened even further during the Napoleonic wars. The Wisłoujście Fortress finally lost its military significance after World War I as Gdańsk became a demilitarised zone. It was used by yachting clubs until World War II.

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         The structure destroyed during military operations of 1945 was partly restored in the 1960s. Further reconstruction as well as plans to make Wisłoujście a yachting centre were abandoned following the construction of an industrial plant in its vicinity and due to the pollution it produced.

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         Since 1974 the Wisłoujście Fortress has been in the custody of the Historical Museum of Gdańsk.

 
 

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