Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Freiburg Wall


In 2020 Freiburg will celebrate its 900th city anniversary. Duke Konrad of Zähringen awarded the right to hold a market to the small community of craft- and tradesmen that lived at the foot of the Schlossberg (castle hill) in 1120. The rights and duties of the new citizens were written down in a document called Stadtrodel (town document).

Tracing a city wall around the Freiburg market.
In 1240 the church is still the original one in Romanesque style dedicated to St. Nicolas.
It is remarkable that in the same year the "new citizens" started protecting their community by building an enclosure wall, even leaving space inside the “ring” for future citizens and their trades.

A cut through of  Freiburg's first fortification
Archaeologist Dr. Betram Jenisch explained that the city wall was 10 to 11 meters high, more than one meter thick, and had an apron. In most places, the moat was 15 meters wide and 5 meters deep. Two breast or abutment walls secured the outside berm of the moat and an inner circular road of 6 meters width and 5 meters height. Archaeological findings proved that in order to build that mighty construction along the Dreisam River existing buildings were demolished.

Admire the beautiful house wall made of pebbles
that was unearthed in Freiburg a few years ago.
Dr. Jenisch stressed two local peculiarities. While in most cases city walls are just grounded deeply and built straight up, the Freiburgers used a supporting apron ensuring that the side pressure from the circular high road was intercepted. Strangely this advantageous Freiburg model was copied nowhere except at Neuenburg on the Rhine, a city founded by the Dukes of Zähringen later in 1175.

The Freiburg model of wall support verified by archaeological diggings.around the city ring 
The other Freiburg peculiarity is that the building material was unearthed locally, i.e., gravel excavated from the dug-out moat. In separating the gravel into various grain sizes the builders gained boulders for the wall proper (30%), pebbles* for inner walls (see picture above), and sand (10%) for making mortar. The rest (60%) served as filling material for the circular road. In the course of the work, nearly 200.000 cubic meters of excavated material were moved corresponding to 50.000 truckloads.
*Within the 60% estimated for the rest.

Sickinger Plan of 1589
So it is astonishing that the fortification was already finished by 1140 although gates and watchtowers as seen on the Sickinger Plan of 1589 were still missing. Dendrochronological data reveal that the wooden beams of Freiburg's oldest gate, St. Martin, date back to the year 1202. It took the work of two additional generations to fill the holes in the wall, the entrances to the city, with proper gates.

How was all this financed? Most of the work was done by the citizens themselves but the Stadtrodel included provisions in case of a succession: One third fell to the city earmarked ad aedificium (for building purposes).

When firearms started to dominate warfare the old city wall became a joke. Several times during the Thirty Years’ War and in particular during the aggressive French wars in the late 16th and early 18th centuries artillery easily opened breaches in the fortifications (Bresche schießen).

When Freiburg became a French city in 1677 Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban started surrounding the city with modern fortifications thus integrating Freiburg into France’s northern fortification belt. Contemporaries called his work “La dernière folie de Louis XIV “.

Vauban's masterpiece in flore
When the French left Freiburg for good in 1745 they destroyed their fortifications. The city remained much limited in its boundaries until the middle of the 19th century.

Freiburg in 1825. Vauban's remains mostly served as vineyards
Today vestiges of Vauban’s masterpiece are still visible in Freiburg’s cityscape.

Vauban's fortifications superimposed on present-day Freiburg.
1. The Colombischlössle, 2. The municipal theater, 3. University mensa (cafeteria),
4. Vauban's Breisach Gate, 5. Vestiges of moat and watchtower.
To the right, the ruins of Vauban's Schlossberg fortifications extending along the hill are accessible to the public.
Dr. Jenisch’s work is an outstanding example of how modern archaeology will enlarge the knowledge of historians.

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