Warsaw' fortifications: a walk

Visiting ancient medieval cities, undoubtedly, one of the most interesting attractions are, if preserved, the city walls. The defensive walls of Warsaw have been partially preserved, while the rest is a post-war reconstruction. However, you probably already know this after reading the article about the history of walls.

This time I will take you for a walk on the walls, discussing their next parts. We will start from the Castle Square, where the wall begins and then we will cross the Old Town, returning along Brzozowa Street to the starting place.

Just remember that the original wall was about 1200 m long. From the side of the escarpment it was a single wall, and in the other places a double wall, 9 to 14 meters apart. The height of both walls was 8 meters, the outer one was set lower, it had a pavement and battlement, which facilitated the attacking of the enemy. The walls surrounded the city and reached two towers of the prince's castle: the Great Tower (Court) and the Tower Crane. However, the prince's castle had its own fortification system, separating it from the city.

Castle Square

We start the walk at Castle Square, which is a kind of showcase of Warsaw. However, this square was only built at the beginning of the 19th century. At the very beginning, these were the areas of the Mazovian princes, separated from the city, which was inhabited by the closest people from the ruler's surroundings. If we look at the place where the wall begins today and then to the right, at the protruding fragment of the Royal Castle, we will be able to visualize the original course of this wall. Moreover, during the post-war reconstruction, its former location was depicted with a red cobblestone.

This protruding fragment of the Castle is the Great Tower, one of the very first brick buildings in Warsaw. Today, of course, it is a post-war reconstruction in a modified form, designed at a time when Zygmunt III Waza adapted the Castle to royal needs. Nevertheless, the original walls of the lower floors that once housed the prison were preserved. To this day, there are markers scraped in bricks of convicts, who certainly did not have too comfortable conditions, awaiting trial.

The first preserved fragment of the defensive walls of Warsaw is the Gothic bridge, which, interestingly, was discovered only in the 70s of the twentieth century, during the reconstruction works of the Royal Castle. The bridge led to the Courtiers Gate, also known as Cracovian Gate. One of the two main entrance gates to the city, to which the road led, later transformed into Senatorska Street.

In 1644, in front of the city wall, a few meters below today's location, Władysław IV erected a magnificent monument to commemorate his father. This monument has become a symbol of Warsaw and to this day is one of the biggest tourist attractions. Of course, I am talking about Sigismund III Vasa Column. Let's leave it for another story, and go explore the defensive walls of Warsaw.

plac Zamkowy
plac zamkowy (2)

To Piekarska Street

This is where the section of fortifications begins, built during the construction of the first stage of the walls. The inner wall from the side of the Augustinian monastery, currently inhabited by the Franciscan sisters, is inaccessible to visitors. A great pity, because arcaded niches have survived in it, which are the oldest and most interesting fragment of the walls of Old Warsaw.

There is, however, a walking section between the line of both walls, called Piotr Biegański Inter-walls, commemorating one of the main designers of the reconstruction of Warsaw from the destruction of war. On the walls are numerous commemorating plaques: Casimir Delavigne (author of the "Warszawianka"), Bernard Bellotto called Canaletto (royal painter of Stanisław August), Wiktor Gomulicki (author of Warsaw guides), Jozsef Antall (Hungarian politician who looked after Poles during the WWII), the "Gustaw" battalion of the Home Army group "Róg" (a unit fighting in the Old Town in the Warsaw Uprising), as well as several others.

During the holiday season, in the inter-corridor at this height, there is the Christmas Market, where you can buy various handicrafts related to folk art and traditional food products from Polish cuisine.

If we were planning to walk this section, not by the inter-walls, but Podwale Street, then next to the Gothic bridge is erected the Katyń monument, commemorating thousands of Polish officers murdered by the Soviet system of terror.

At the end of Piekarska Street, there is Jan Kiliński monument, a well-deserved townsman, leading the Warsaw people to fight during the Kościuszko Uprising. This monument originally stood on Krasińskich Square, and it was erected here after the war.

In addition, there is Maria Konopnicka obelisk, who lived in a tenement house standing in this place before World War II. You probably know this from an article about the history of walls, but it is worth recalling that the outer wall, as well as the inter-wall, was tightly built-up with tenement houses until 1944. Opposite the obelisk, there is a metal cast of a model of the Old Town, commemorating placing this area on the World Heritage list of UNESCO.

On the outside of the wall you will also find three half-round remains of towers. The first of them, the best preserved, was once a prison.

do wąskiego dunaju (2)
do piekarskiej (2)

To Wąski Dunaj Street

Moving back on the inter-wall, we can find more interesting objects. The first is a monumental, well-preserved Knight's Tower, also known as the Knight's House. At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries it was transformed into a residential building. Watching the wall adjacent to it, we can see a dark grout contouring the brick. It covers all the defensive walls of Warsaw, but here it is probably the most visible. I mention this because in this way the original medieval wall was marked and separated from fragments supplemented after the war.

A dozen meters away stands the sculpture Oświęcim II, by Franciszek Strynkiewicz, representing a woman with a newborn in a deformed pose. It was set there in the 1970s.

This part of walls ends at the exit of Wąski Dunaj street. In this place stood Side Gate, pierced in the wall in 1603, and demolished at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The remains of two towers on Podwale street side, have also been preserved.

do wąskiego dunaju

To Szeroki Dunaj street

The defensive walls of Warsaw take the form of real fortifications here. Both have battlements, shooting holes, and the external wall has an additional pavement.

There are remains and reconstructions of internal and external towers. In the first of them placed Monument of Little Insurrectionist, paying homage to children, teenagers, scouts and nurses. All minors who died during the Warsaw Uprising at the hands of the German occupier. This monument has amazing overtones, being also one of the saddest monuments in Warsaw.

Above it is the only tenement house preserved in the inter-walls. A tablet was placed in its gate, showing the old layout and location of the gates that once led to the city. The building itself houses Podwale Bar & Books. Amazing place where in a beautiful interior you can have a drink with friends. It looks particularly beautiful from the outside, thanks to the lighting switched on on summer evenings.

A few meters away there is a memorial site. Tchorek Plaque informs about the shooting of 30 Poles in this place by the German occupier on September 2, 1944.

At the height of Szeroki Dunaj street, there is a passage in the wall and tenement house to the square. It was here, in the Middle Ages, where under the wall flowed Dunaj stream, from which streets were named, and later pierced here the Butcher's Gate, leading to the town's slaughterhouses. Opposite, through the bridge over the former moat, you can go to Podwale street. It's a post-war construction.

do szerokiego dunaju
do szerokiego dunaju (2)

To Nowomiejska street

A little further, towards Nowomiejska Street, there is the gunpowder tower, which served as a place to store gunpowder. This is an example of a great post-war reconstruction, which was possible thanks to commemorating it on one of the watercolors by Zygmunt Vogel.

It is worth mentioning the boulder, commemorating the second of the great designers of the reconstruction of Warsaw - Jan Zachwatowicz. By the way, this part of inter-walls, up to the escarpment, is named from Jan Zachwatowicz.

The section at the end of Nowomiejska Street is crowned by a monumental Barbican. One of several in Europe and two in Poland (next to Krakow) that have survived to this day. This building erected in the mid-sixteenth century allowed much better fire of the opponent, hence its characteristic bend. This building was built on a two-span bridge, above the moat, as a forearm of New Town Gate. It was the second gate leading to the city. It was also called the gate of the townsmen or Łaziebna. Interestingly, the Barbican building is a reconstruction. Before the war, half of it did not exist at all, and the right wall served as the facade of tenement houses, including the famous Gdańsk Cellar.

do nowomiejskiej (2)
do nowomiejskiej

To the Vistula embankment

This section is worth seeing from the moat level, because the outer wall here takes its original height. It is only from this position that you can feel the monumentalism of this building and imagine how well fortified Warsaw was. By the way, you can imagine how much work the builders had to put into the defensive walls of Warsaw, taking into account what tools were used and how much effort involved delivering materials to the construction site.

From the Barbican to the relics of Marshal's Tower there is a pavement that I recommend taking a walk. By the way, a great place for photos. As for the tower itself, it was erected during the third stage of wall construction, during Janusz the Elder. It was a round tower, towering over the city at a height of 25 meters. The tower had a perfect view, which served as a vantage point. In addition, there was also a prison in it, and city guards informed the population about fires, night time, etc. Today, only its relic in the form of foundations remained, but it is still a good viewpoint and a place from which you can observe the Vistula valley.

do skarpy
do skarpy (2)

Along the escarpment and the Vistula

The last part is also the only one whose reconstruction was abandoned after the war. Like before the war, the walls were used as the walls of the rebuilt tenement houses at Brzozowa Street. Only here and there, in the gaps between the buildings, we can see the outlines of these walls.

This wall is very well visible at the very corner, next to the mentioned Marshal's Tower. It's good enough to see even the original foundations built of massive stones. At the foot of these walls is mysterious the sculpture, which in the opinion of various people, presents Wars and Sawa the legendary founders of the city. According to other reviews, it shows Warsaw insurgents, while yet another version simply speaks of a pair of Warsaw residents.

Walking down Brzozowa Street, it's worth stopping at the Stone Stairs. At the height of this picturesque street, there was once, pierced in the wall White Gate, known also as Fisherman's Gate, leading from the city to the Vistula.

The most interesting fragment of the walls on this section, or rather its relic are the remains of Dung Gate, exposed in the walls of the tenement house at the end of Celna Street. Certainly it is the most interesting original gate relic in the entire Old Town, because it is the only one. This gate was built along with the construction of the last section of the internal walls and led to the landfill called Dung Mountain. Today it is a nice vantage point, but believe me, it was a huge distress for the locals in the 19th century.

Individual fragments of the wall, several dozen centimeters high, are located at the back of houses at Kanonia. At the first of them, the foundations of the former tower, in which the canon gate was pierced, were preserved. Larger and more magnificent fragments can be found at the back of Baciarelli's House, while the remains of a full wall close the Castle Garden from the side of Steinkeller Street.

od Wisły (1)
od Wisły (3)
od Wisły (4)

At the end

All you have to do is go back to Dung Mountain and cross Dawna Street to Kanonia, Dziekania and then to the Castle's kitchen courtyard. We are back at Castle Square and we end the walk that could have been felt already in our legs.

I hope that the walk will encourage everyone to explore and learn the secrets of Warsaw on their own. As you can see, even 'well-worn' monuments, such as the defensive walls of Warsaw, can provide many new curiosities to its inhabitants.

So: see you in the city!

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