The town of Orsoy grew up on the west bank of the Rhine in medieval times. In the 13th century it became a customs post for the Duchy of Cleves (Kleve). Duty was collected from ships passing down the river. Orsoy was fortified to protect the southern frontier of the Duchy, countering the Archbishop of Cologne's fortress at Rheinberg.

By the 1440s the town had a circuit of stone walls with eleven towers, four gates and a castle. A barbican was added to the Moers gate on the west side of the town in 1539. In 1521 Orsoy came under the control of the Dukes of Jülich, when the Duchies were united by marriage. Imperial troops invaded the Duchy of Jülich-Kleve-Berg in 1543 and captured a number of towns. This defeat was largely due to the lack of fortresses that were able to defend against artillery.

This induced Duke William V to create three key fortresses to protect his territory; Jülich, Düsseldorf and Orsoy. The new fortifications were designed by the Italian engineer Alessandro Pasqualini.

Large-scale works were carried out at Jülich and Düsseldorf, so only limited funds were available for strengthening the fortifications of Orsoy. The only work done was the construction of a large tower in 1552 to serve as a powder magazine.

However in the 1570s, after Alessandro's death, his son Giovanni Pasqualini came to Orsoy to make plans for modernising the town's fortifications more extensively.

The old town was surrounded by a trace of modern artillery fortifications. There were five arrow-headed bastions'of earth, with the lowest parts revetted in stone. The stone at the bottom prevented the ramparts from being eroded by the water in the ditch.

These fortifications were completed by 1581, transforming Orsoy into a state-of-the-art fortress for the time. It was partly as a result of the fortress at Orsoy that the Bishop of Cologne started to fortify the nearby town of Rheinberg with bastions in 1585. In 1586 Orsoy was captured and burned by the Spanish, who went on to besiege Wesel.

At the end of the 16th century the Spanish sought to gain control of the lower Rhine, which was a strategic location between the Dutch rebels to the west and the German lands to the east. In 1598 a Spanish force arrived at Orsoy and gained entry by threatening the garrison.

Some improvements were made during the Spanish occupation, which probably included the construction of at least one earthwork demi-lune'in to strengthen the fortifications. A small redoubt'was also built on the opposite bank of the Rhine at Wassum.

In 1609 a truce was signed between Spain and the States, so the Spanish left Orsoy, only to return in 1614. In 1632 the Dutch won several victories, including the siege of Maastricht. In November they made a surprise attack on Orsoy. The Dutch troops got inside the town but were eventually beaten back with heavy losses. Nevertheless, Orsoy soon fell to the Dutch the following year and the Spanish never returned.

The Dutch left their own garrison in the town and made further improvements to the fortifications. By the mid-17th century there were five demi-lunes protecting all the curtain walls and a covered way'stretched round the far side of the ditch.

In 1672 the French king Louis XIV'decided to invade the Netherlands, bypassing Maastricht by capturing the Rhine crossings. A French army arrived at Orsoy in May, with Louis himself in command and his engineer Vauban'directing the siege.

Orsoy's garrison of 900 men surrendered on June 2nd, less than 24 hours after the batteries opened fire. This short defence was probably mainly due to the poor morale of the Dutch defenders and the overwhelming French force.

The French demolished the castle and slighted the fortifications, although the earthworks remained intact. The Treaty of Nijmegen, signed in 1678, returned Orsoy to its rightful owner, Prussia, after almost a century of foreign occupations.

The Prussians did not garrison Orsoy or restore the defences. The remains of the fortifications were left to decay over the years but they were not built over because the town did not expand.

Visiting Orsoy

The remains of the fortifications of Orsoy are not spectacular, but they do make an interesting visit. The main rampart around the town, with its five bastions, can still be seen. Some of the medieval walls have also survived, along with the powder tower.

A level an easy path leads around the main rampart, with walkways in places. The remains are well-presented, with notice boards showing maps of the town with the key sites, but there is not much historical information displayed.

There is no railway station at Orsoy, which has remained a relatively small town, but there is a bus from Rheinberg. The fortifications of Orsoy have not been perfectly preserved, but they do give a good impression of the scale and size of the fortress.

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