The town of Düsseldorf grew up in the Dark Ages as a small village on the east bank of the Rhine. In 1288 Düsseldorf received its town privileges and in the 14th century it surrounded by a circuit of stone walls. In the 15th century a castle was built.

In 1521 Düsseldorf became the capital of the newly-formed Duchy of Jülich-Kleve-Berg. In the 1540s the Duchy was invaded by Imperial troops, so Duke Wilhelm V decided to build three modern fortresses that were capable of withstanding artillery.

The most significant fortress was Jülich, which was rebuilt as a renaissance planned town with bastioned'fortifications. The other two fortresses were Orsoy and Düsseldorf.

Some improvements had already been made to the fortifications of Düsseldorf, but the Duke brought the Italian engineer Alessandro Pasqualini'to surpervise the work from 1548. Pasqualini also helped to build a new palace on the site of the castle, which had burnt down in 1510.

The fortifications consisted of four arrow-headed bastions'and a flooded ditch'surrounding the town. There was a square citadel'in the south. The ditch between the town and the citadel was used as a harbour for river vessels and in 1598 a crane was built that was used to unload heavy cargoes.

In the 1590s the fortifications were strengthened by Giovanni Pasqualini (Alessandro's son) in the face of the threat of an attack from Brandenburg. In the 1620s another Italian engineer, Antonio Serro, made improvements to the fortifications.

A new bastion was added in the centre of a long curtain wall along the east side of the town and demi-lunes'were built. The citadel was joined to the town's defences, since it had no north-east bastion in its original design.

Later in the 17th century a covered way'was added and in 1689 a hornwork'called Fort Düsselburg was built on the opposite bank of the Rhine. In the 18th century the population began to grow and there were plans to expand the town and the fortifications.

During the reign of Johann Wilhelm II Düsseldorf experienced significant economic growth, but the town was becoming overcrowded. To ease these problems, it was proposed to expand the town to the south, enclosing a large area with new fortifications.

The planned expansion, which was twice the size of the existing town, had a trace of eight bastions, complete with demi-lunes and covered way. However, the growth of Düsseldorf slowed after the death of Johan Wilhelm II, so the plan was not carried out.

Instead, a small section of the expansion to the east of the citadel was built in the 1730s. Inside the new fortifications there were barracks for the garrison and a hospital. This meant that the garrison was no longer quartered with the townspeople, but it created no space for new houses.

During the Seven Years War, the French occupied Düsseldorf and in 1758 the Prussians attacked it. Instead of resorting to a formal siege, they set up batteries on the west bank. After a over week of heavy bombardment, the French garrison surrendered.

During the 1780s there were more problems with housing space and plans were made to remove the fortifications between the old town and the expansion. This was eventually carried out in the 1790s.

With this demolition of the inner fortifications, the citadel finally lost its role as an independant fortification. Its value had always been doubtful because of the missing bastion on its north-east corner, but it was now merely part of the exterior defences.

In 1795 the French attacked, again bombarding the town rather than conducting a formal siege. Recognising that the fortifications were strangling the economic growth of the city and that Düsseldorf was not a particularly strong fortress, the French demolished the fortifications in 1801.

Visiting Düsseldorf

There are few remains of Düsseldorf's fortified past that can be seen today. Two of the citadel's bastions (the north-east bastion and the south-west bastion) have survived, but the rest of the fortifications were demolished in 1801.

The surviving south bastion of the citadel still has its flooded ditch, but it is rather overgrown and difficult to see, although the remains make a nice park in the city centre.

The north bastion has been restored and the old harbour between the citadel and the town is well-presented with a period river boat floating in it. One of the town gates, the Ratinger Tor, which was rebuilt in 1811-15 after the demolition of the fortifications, can also be seen.

Today Düsseldorf is one of Germany's most important cities, so transport links and accommodation are plentiful. There are several cheap carparks in the city centre not far from the remaining fortifications.

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