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The Spandau Citadel

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One of the most important and best preserved Renaissance fortresses in Europe is located in the Spandau district of Berlin, Germany. More precisely, some hundred metres north from the confluence of the rivers Spree and Havel.

In the Beginning

In the beginning there was an island in the marshland of the Unterhavel, with optimal conditions for controlling the river Havel, fishing, and for agriculture. At first simple defensive barricades were constructed, then after these either fell into disrepair or were destroyed by fire, the first castle structure was built on the modern Citadel site in the 11th Century. Thus followed a history of at least nine centuries of fortification, beginning with the Slavic type of around 1050.

Elector Joachim II

Effected by the development of the new black powder siege weaponry in the 16th Century, and the aftermath of the Schmalkaldic War1 which resulted in periods of civil unrest, it was deemed necessary by the ruling powers to updated their antiquated defence system. Hence, the Elector2 Joachim II (1535 - 1575) commissioned a rebuild of the stronghold in the Italian Renaissance style.

Two Italian Building Masters

In the year 1562 the Venetian master builder Francesco Chiaramella di Gandino was charged with the construction management of the new Citadel3, its first architect being Christoph Römer. Di Gandino started with two of the massive triangular bastions: the König, or King Bastion4 and the Königin, or Queen Bastion5. These defended the main gate and its approaches, and approximately 200 skilled Italian workers supported the Venetian architect with the ground works.

Di Gandino's successor was the equally well-known Rochus Guerrini, Count of Lynar, in 1578. It was he who completed the outer works by constructing the Kronprinz, or Crown Prince Bastion6 and the Brandenburg Bastion7. The building work was finally completed in 1594 after 32 years. When finished the Citadel formed part of a defensive system including the east and west banks of the river Havel.

The Citadel Described

When completed the long curtain wall8 structures were protected and secured by the four bastions with a distance of 307:301 metres between the apex of the corner bastions. The bastions are located at the corner of two curtain walls and look like massive angular observation platforms. This meant that the defenders of the Citadel could create a field of fire between each bastion, preventing attackers approaching the base of the curtain wall and the wall of the opposite bastion.

Since its completion the fortress has been completely surrounded by water with protective works to the western, southern and eastern sides, but open to the river Havel at the northern side. According to plans of the year 1560, a demand of 176 cannons of different calibres was calculated.

The new construction work incorporated two existing buildings from the 13th Century, the Julius Tower9 and the Palas. Currently, a tour is possible around the curtain walls, the bastions and parts of the rest of the fortress without any interruption. However, due to the safety factor of very old buildings public access has become limited.

History: 1630 - 1945

At the time of the Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648), the Citadel saw some action between 1631 and 1634, and due to its strategic position it was occupied by Swedish troops. This occurred without any resistance though, due to negotiations between Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and the Brandenburg Minister, Count Adam Schwarzenberg.

In 1704 a 'Schweinekopf', or 'pig's head', demilune (a defensive work, backwards opening and mostly placed on the other side of a castle moat - a ravelin) was built in front of the western curtain wall, and this was faced with stonewalls to strengthen the fortifications.

During his wars of conquest Emperor Napoleon visited the Citadel on 26 October, 1806. And when Prussian troops were liberating the occupied Citadel on 18 April, 1813, the powder magazine in the Queen Bastion exploded, forcing the French troops to leave.

The Prussian treasury, with its 120 million gold marks made up from the war indemnity paid by France in 1870 - 71, was stored in the Julius Tower from July, 1874 to 27 May, 1919 - the German war reserve during the First World War.

During the National Socialist period the Citadel became a restricted military zone which housed the gas laboratories for the army. Around 300 employees not only worked on protective measures against gas attacks, but also on the development of chemical weapons. This work left behind long-standing traces and some contamination hazards.

Later History: 1945 onwards

After the Second World War the Citadel had a wide variety of uses. One of which was a technical trades school, the Otto-Bartning-Oberschule, which gave the buildings a use and preserved the Spandau Citadel. During this period some famous Edgar Wallace films were shot at this medieval environment.

Large-scale reconstruction work began in the 1950s with the aim of preserving the historical buildings and renovating them to their original condition, allowing visitors to see the different periods of the Citadel's history. Then in 1988 a systematic programme of intensive searches for any remaining toxic materials was begun by the police, this however significantly slowed down the renovation work on the fortress.

Into the 21st Century the Citadel is almost exclusively used for cultural purposes. Concerts, art shows and historical exhibitions take place in the official rooms and the courtyard is often used as a venue for large celebrations - with the likes of folk singer Joan Baez and Chuck Berry taking to the stage there.

The Citadel even has something for nature buffs, with more than 10,000 native bats of 12 different species hibernating in a self-chosen part of the subterranean catacombs every year. Free-living bats can be viewed in their winter quarters and the bat cellar offers a permanent exhibition accompanied by more expert guidance.

The Main Features of the Citadel

  • The Gatehouse Building - Originally the Gatehouse was built in the Renaissance style, but after being heavily damaged by cannon fire in 1813, the façade was later rebuilt in 1839 to a style known as Classicism10. Above the entrance hangs a blazon with the motto of the English Most Noble Order of the Garter:

    Honi soit qui mal y pense. - 'Shamed be the person who thinks evil of it.'
    This famous order was founded by King Edward III of England on 19 January, 1350, and directs its maxim to people who think ill of others intending to do something special.

  • The Drawbridge - Made of wood and furnished with heavy chains, the gatehouse situated to the east of the King Bastion could be safely cordoned off and defended by raising the drawbridge. Debris was heaped up into the soft ground and great wooden stakes, mostly oak, were rammed into to make up a solid foundation for the building.

  • The Julius Tower - With a height of 30 meters and a wall thickness up to 3.60 metres, this functioned predominantly as fortified tower, or donjon11, and later a state prison. It has also been used as living accommodation, as a safe place for the Prussian treasury and, with an exhausting 145 step climb to the top, provides a panoramic view of the surrounding natural landscape and old Spandau town.

  • The Crown Prince Bastion with Harbour and Courtyard - Currently this bastion houses a young people's School of Arts and an applied arts organisation serving the local area. The harbour, originally built to allow for troop movements and supply, was filled in 1877 - however, a successful restoration has brought it back to its original condition.

  • Brandenburg Bastion and Italian Courtyards - The five bright barrel vaults in the earth wall of the Brandenburg Bastion were named the Italian Courtyards after their building masters, and their unique appearance which resulted from the use of colourful stonework. The acoustic quality is the result of the metres-thick walls and the shape of the arches.

  • The Parade Hall - A valuable collection of rare, historical cannons can be viewed and admired here.

  • The Arsenal - Designed by Carl Ferdinand Busse (1802 - 1868) and built between 1856 - 1858, this building has accommodated the Spandau Local History Museum on two floors since 1992. Included in the collection are all manner of interesting items from Spandau's past - like important historical documents and even woolly mammoth skeletons!

  • The Jewish section of the Local History Museum - More than 60 Jewish gravestones from the years 1244 - 1474, found on the area of the Citadel, are posed in the Queen Bastion as an important source to inform people about the history of Jewish population in the Spandau region.

  • The Exterior of the Palas - Due to different alterations during the course of its history, the inner and outer structure of the Palas was almost completely destroyed. But since the completion of the reconstruction in 1980, the façade can be seen with its former brickwork and Gothic style window shapes.

  • The Excavations on display in Foyer B - The Foyer B was created within the west curtain wall in 1994 when parts of the structure of the old Slavish 11th-Century castle were excavated, and these are now on display for visitors.

1A religious war (1546 - 1547) between Catholic and Protestant parties.2Prince, entitled to vote in the German King as part of the Holy Roman Empire.3The term 'citadel' has been used since the 16th Century and stems from the Italian expression 'citadella'.4The south western corner.5The south eastern corner.6The north western corner.7The south eastern corner.8Forming an almost perfect square.9In the south eastern corner.10A European art epoch (about 1770 - 1830), based on ancient paragons.11A main tower within the walls of a medieval castle - the keep.

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