The town of Kaiserswerth lies on the east bank of the Rhine river, a short distance to the north of Düsseldorf. It has its origins in a benedictine abbey founded on an island in the river around 700AD. The island formed an important crossing place and was thus a strategic location that was fortified with a castle. In the 11th century a palace for the Holy Roman Emperor (Kaiserpfalz) was built there and the town (now known as Kaiserswerth) was made into a toll station for river traffic in the 12th century. It was strongly fortified and saw various sieges throughout the middle ages, often resisting its attackers for many months. Eventually the west branch of the Rhine silted up and the town found itself on the east bank of the river instead of on an island.

In the 13th century Kaiserswerth passed to the Electors of Cologne, forming an enclave within the Duchy of Jülich-Berg. The fortifications were significantly strengthened in 16th century to resist artillery fire. An earthwork rampart with five bastions, fronted by a flooded ditch, were built. The palace formed a citadel'in the south-west corner of the town and there was a bridgehead fort on the west bank of the Rhine.

However, these fortifications did not save the town from being taken numerous times. Kaiserswerth was captured in 1586 during the Cologne War, occupied by the Spanish from 1589-1592 and taken by Hesse in 1636. In 1656 a powder magazine'exploded, damaging the palace and the fortifications. Following this accident the damage was repaired and the fortifications were improved. The ditch was widened and four demi-lunes were constructed in front of the curtains. The ramparts were also revetted in stone to prevent them from erosion due to wet weather and the water in the ditch.

In 1688 at the beginning of the War of the Grand Alliance the Elector of Cologne made an alliance with Louis XIV'of France, giving the French access to a valuable Rhine crossing at Kaiserswerth. Dutch and Brandenburg troops laid siege to the town in June 1689, with the Dutch engineer Coehoorn'advising the commanders. The French garrison surrendered at the end of the month when a fire destroyed much of their provisions.

The French reoccupied Kaiserswerth in 1701 and the Allies laid siege to it in 1702, opening the War of the Spanish Succession in the Rhineland. They made two attacks, one from the north and one from the south, but both were harassed by French batteries on the west bank of the river. The garrison capitulated after a hard-fought siege lasting over two months, during which time the town had been virtually destroyed. The palace was blown up later in the year and stone from the ruins was used to rebuild the town. The fortifications were partially restored after the destruction of 1702, but Kaiserswerth lost its status as an important fortress and the town eventually lost out to Düsseldorf, which outgrew it.

Visiting Kaiserswerth

Kaiserswerth is now a suburb of Düsseldorf and has a popular place to visit because of its picturesque location on the bank of the Rhine. In places the fotifications survive as earthen banks, since the revetment stone has been removed. In other places the fortifications have been completely swept away by modern buildings. Nevertheless Kaiserswerth is an interesting place to visit because of its old buildings and the ruins of the Kaiserpfalz. Kaiserswerth can be reached from Düsseldorf's Stadtbahn (metro) U79 line or by various bus services. The area around the old town can get very crowded in the summer, making parking difficult.

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