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The Fortress of Terezín

Date of Submission: 06/07/2001
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture, Prague
Coordinates: 50°30'39" N / 14°09'04" E
Ref.: 1561

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The Fortress of Terezin lies north-west of the Czech capital, Prague, at the confluence of the rivers Labe (Elbe) and Ohfe (Eger). It stands in the open landscape as an self-contained technical and urban monument. Together with the town that it encloses, which for two centuries was a military town, it seems to fall within that category of historic towns already represented on the World @Cultural Heritage List; unlike these others, however, which had a prîmarily civilian residential function, Terezin is a unique type of fortress town, whose layout, accommodation, administrative buildings and production units supported the fortress proper from its very foundation, with which they are contemporary. In its structure and form, meanwhile, it represents the zenith of three centuries of bastion fortification building in Europe, not only temporally but also qualitatively. This uniqueness is set out in the comparative sections of this text. The Fortress of Terezin was built between 1780-90 to defend the route from Dresden to Prague, on the basis of expérience gained during the period of Austro-Prussian wars in the reign of the Empress Maria Theresa. As was the case with a second new, bastion fortress in Bohemia, Josefov in the north-east, it was built at the command of Emperor Joseph Il. The plans by Generai Karl Clemens, Count Pellegrini, were realised as an ideal mode of the bastion type fortress. This occurred at almost the very end of three centuries during which bastion fortifications were used, a period begun in 1523 when the ltalian architect San Michele chose this system for the fortification of Verona. During the 16th to 18th centuries the bastion system was perfected by a series of engineering schools (the Old and New Italian, the Spanish, the Old and New Dutch), went through an important period with the French engineering school of Marshal Vauban, and both culminated and ended with Terezin, the building of which employed the methods of the French school at Meziéres. Terezin Fortress comprises three main sections: The Main Fortress is sited on the left bank of the Novà Ohfe river, and the Small Fortress on the right bank of the Starà Ohfe. Both bastion wholes are joined by the fortified intervening areas of the Upper and Lower Entrenchments. The area of land bought by the state in 1793 came to 398 hectares. The Main Fortress is in plan a regular, slightly elongated octagon. Eight pentagonal bastions, nos. 1-VIII, grow out of the corners, joined by a curtain wall in a complex system of construction covering some 36 hectares. The individuel bastion fronts are 380m long, so the entire perimeter of the inner defences is 3040m in length. This inner défensive system was complemented at the bastions by cavaliers (11, IV, VI & VIII) and broad entrenchments (111 & V); only two bastions (1 & VII), on the best defended eastern side of the Main Fortress, next to the course of the Novà Ohfe, remained hollow, and within them wartime gunpowder stores were built. The inner ramparts were encircled by a moat with outer fortification elements: six hornworks, numbers IX-XIV, lie before the curtain wall between bastions 1 and VII, and in front of these are six triangular ravelins, 155m across the base and 174m long. Four of these have internal redoubts (XVI, XVII, XVIII & XIX), while the other two have entrenchments (XV & XX.). The western side of the fortress was further strengthened by two contregardes with 150m-long arms, located in front of bastions 111 & V; an identical function was served by the smaller lunettes, XXIII & XXIV, in front of bastions 1 & VII, which further protected the floodgates for inundating the area around the Main Fortress. Access to both of these lunettes from the side of the enemy was further hindered by two half wedges. The outside of the fortress as a whole was surrounded by an earth rampart (glacis), which shielded a "hidden" road running the entire perimeter on the counterscarp side of the ditch, defended against ricochet fire by earthen traverses. At the inward-pointing angles of this road were twelve muster points, with lunettes at their necks. The outward-pointing angles before the points of ravelins XV, XVI, XIX & XX were protected by capworks. The last basic element of the Main Fortress, lunette XXXVII, stood on the right bank of the Novà Ohfe and protected the bridge across it, with the main floodgates and various military/economic buildings (mills, bakeries, warehouses). The Srnall Fortress is an irregular quadrangle in plan, with two bastions (Il & 111) ' and two half-bastions (1 & IV) at the corners, joined by a curtain wall in a compact whole encompassing an area of some 2.5 hectares. In the better defended half-bastions were gunpowder stores, and the curtain wall between them included casemates that served for the accommodation of the garrison and as a prison. The whole complex was surrounded by a moat, and complemented on the northern and eastern sides by two ravelins. The défensive zone on the inner side of the moat had a hidden road with earthen traverses defending against ricochet fire. Where this turned on the northern eastern sides it had four muster points, IX-XII with casemate lunettes. The outward-pointing angles of the hidden road in front of ravelin VII and bastion 111 were again protected by capworks. The Upper and Lower Entrenchments comprise two triple bastion earthwork fronts with an advance moat, which had brick armour only on their lower parts. On the outer side of the moat was, once again, a hidden road with muster points. The space in front of the Lower Retrenchment and the Small Fortress which was not protected by inondation was further strengthened in the field by advance wedges (lunettes). The defence of Terezin employed water from the Novà Ohfe and Starà Ohfe to a great extent, and for this purpose the bridges across the two rivers were equipped with floodgates enabling the water level to be raised to flood not only the fortress moats but also an inondation basin around, the total area of which was some 180ha. The outer, western side of the Main Fortress, and the inner eastern side of the Small Fortress, which could not be defended with water, were outfitted with a dense network of sapping and eavesdropping galleries, the total length of which at Terezin comes to some 28,776m. The load bearing skeleton of all of the fortress elements consists of earthen rampants with a brickwork pillar structure. The 1.54m thick brick armour of the outer walls forms the scarp of the moat; the overall breadth of these ramparts at Terezin reaches 30m, while the height of the curtain wails from the base of the moat is over 13m. The foundations of all of the fortress structures were sunk down to the level of the groundwater, which would have greatly hampered any attempts by and enemy to undermine them. The highest elevations among the various components were arranged from the outside of the fortress inwards in such a way that every brick wall was covered on its outer face by an earthen mask lying before it. From the point of view of the enemy, no brickwork was visible, only slightly undulating earth ramparts and a single landmark - the tower of the Empire-style garrison church, built in 1805. The Terezin Fortress complex communicated with the outside world through six gates. From the Main Fortress, the Prague (or Bohu§ovice) Gate led south through the curtain wall between bastions 1 & 111, while the Litomêfice (or Saxon) Gate led north through the curtain wall between bastions V & VI. The route over the bridge to the Upper and Lower Entrenchments led through the Upper & Lower Water Gates, in the curtain wall between bastions VII & Vill and VIII & 1 respectively; this road passed into the Small Fortress through a gate in the curtain wali between the two half-bastions, 1 & IV. Egress from the Small Fortress was through the Main Gate, between bastions 1 & Il in the curtain wall. The other bastion faces were pierced by posterns leading to double caponieres, thus facilitating communication between the inner fortress and the outer défensive elements. By an Imperial Decree of 1782, a free Royal town was founded within the Main Fortress. It was built to a predetermined plan that set out the checkerboard disposition of the streets with a central square. Its conception as a regular seulement grid with a gradation of buildings towards the centre, where the dominant landmark - the church - was located, sprang directly from the tradition of Renaissance ideal fortified towns, clear for example in the works of Buonaiuto Lorini or Vincenzo Scamozzi. The greater part of the town was taken up by houses for the use of the garrison. The central square was lined by the formai buildings of the military, spirituel and civil administrations; the built up area is accented by the former headquarters building, the officers' pavilion and the town hall, while the square is dominated by the Empire-style Church of the Resurrection of the Lord. Part of the area was set aside for ornemental purposes, and a military training ground or stables. The barracks, shops and armouries were dispersed around the periphery of the town, close to the ramparts. Houses were built to precise typological rules, and all houses follow unified architectural and construction regulations resulting from the défensive character of the town. For reasons of safety neither civil nor military buildings could be too high, and thus those built had only one or two upper floors, with exceptionally stable structures; an emphasis was placed on vaulted structures, ensuring the résistance of the buildings to shocks or bombardment. These principles, faithfully followed in the majority of the buildings, are not only unique, but created at Terezin a unique, unified whole. Despite the seulement of civilians, however, Terezin remained primarily a garrison town, and the military administration encouraged the influx in particular of craftsmen capable of maintaining the fortress and the garrison life. The army remained in the town for almost two centuries, and this has helped to preserve its garrison character down to the present. Modern history has seen Terezin linked to the suffering of tens of thousands of people. From June 10th, 1940, the Small Fortress became a Gestapo prison, a Jewish ghetto was established within the Main Fortress. Terezin Fortress is, beyond its value as a unique technical and urbanistic monument, a globally recognised symbol of the persécution of the Jewish nation during the Second World War, as the Main Fortress - the inner town - was from 1941-1945 a centre for the assembly of Jews prior to their deportation to the Third Reich's concentration and extermination camps across Europe. Some 190,000 people passed through Terezin in this period, of whom some 35,000 died in the town The Small Fortress, a prison for participants in the Resistance, is thus a pilgrimage memorial, recalling the more recent history of the town. The preserved structural elements of the fortress and the symbolic presence of immeasurable suffering are a permanent part of the memory and global importance of the site. In addition to its fortress architecture, Terezin thus also symbolises the tragedy of the prisoners of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.