City Wall & Casemates
The city fortifications
Nuremberg is the only large city in Germany which is surrounded by an original city wall. This fortification is one of the three most massive medieval city walls in Europe.
The City Wall
About 3.5 kilometers long, in part up to five meters thick, on average seven to eight meters high with seven gates and 71 towers – that’s the Nuremberg city wall, one of the most important historical structures in the town.
The Nuremberg city wall is a perfect example of a world-class fortification. Completed in 1450 and almost untouched during World War II, it is an important part of the cityscape. It almost completely encircles the Old Town. The complex surrounding Nuremberg’s landmark, the Imperial Castle, is fully integrated into the fortification. Today, 3.5 kilometers of the original five-kilometer-long city wall remain. The largest gap is located at the Laufer Gate and is ca. 310 meters long. The combination of its length and width (at some places – for example at the “Fat Towers” - 5 meters!) is one-of-a-kind and one of the reasons that the Nuremberg city wall set an example for construction of fortifications within Europe.
Towers: There were once 183 towers in the city wall; today 71 remain. Four of them are the massive towers at the gates – Laufer Tor Tower, Frauentor Tower, Spittlertor Tower and Neutor Tower. At these four locations, the city wall reaches its maximum width of five meters.
Their unique round coat first came during improvement works in the middle of the 16th century, before that the towers were square. The round shape made them less susceptible to cannon, because the rounded surface offered a smaller impact area for cannon balls.
All towers in the city wall were divided into defense sectors in the middle of the 16th century and marked with a combination of colors and letters for orientation for the military. The Spittlertor Tower, for example, was marked with a Red Q. Even today you can see the colored letters on the towers.
Many of the towers in the wall are used today. They are rented to organizations, youth groups, artists and private individuals. There are even apartments in a few of the towers.
Antonio Fazuni and the remake of the Nuremberg city wall: The Nuremberg city wall was only conquered one time and the city taken – by the US Army on April 20, 1945, during the battle of Nuremberg. Until that point, there were no successful attacks, not even during the Thirty Years’ War.
One of the reasons: Antonio Fazuni. An Italian star architect, who, in 1538, was given the task to remake the Nuremberg city wall, to better protect the town against attackers. And Fazuni was successful: His work was so well thought out and of such architectonic finesse, that simply its presence was a deterrent to attack. The Nuremberg city wall was considered unassailable.
Special features of the Nuremberg city wall
Castle bastions: Today, the castle garden blooms above them, originally the projections on the walls helped strengthen them. By creating a zig-zag pattern in the many-cornered bastions, it was almost impossible for an attacker to reach the wall without being under fire from another direction.
- Curved bridges: They prevented the city gates and walls from being attacked with a battering ram.
- Casemates: The attack-proof underground defensive corridors with their many embrasures served not only as a place to fire at enemies in safety, but were also connected in many spots so that one could move from place to place several meters underneath the surface.
When walking in the castle moat, have you ever asked what these small “window wells” at the base of the castle wall are and where they lead? These are embrasures, which lead out of the casemates , a labyrinth of underground defensive corridors – up to 12 meters underground.
The casemates are an important part of the fortifications of Nuremberg’s castle and exist in an almost original condition today. They allowed safe attack of enemies, passage underground and even contained a water supply system. At many locations, steep stirs lead down to the narrow sandstone passageways, which were specially created for defense with firearms. One finds secret posterns, cannon niches and openings for weapons – called embrasures – in the wall. Through these openings, enemy attackers could be shot while the defenders kept out of the line of fire. Integrated ventilation flues guaranteed that the air remained breathable. In the 1970s, most of these openings were bricked up or covered with plates, because they allowed exhaust gases to enter the casemates and eat at the sandstone.
Secret Water System
Because in the past enemies tried to poison the wells of cities, a secret underground fresh water supply system was integrated into the casemates. The ca. 2-kilometer-long line led from the Imperial Castle to the city hall.
Rainwater which soaked the hill could be naturally filtered by the sandstone in the casemates, then caught by clay layers below and fed to underground collection basins. This clever system supplied the city hall with drinking water without making it dependent on one of the wells of the city. This system still functions today and could, theoretically, be used. Because there were fewer buildings in the past, more rainwater could flow into the system. Today, there is not enough water for an adequate supply.
If you want to know more about the city wall and the underground defensive & and secret passageways and see them for yourself, sign up for one of the many tours from the Förderverein Nuremberger Felsengänge e.V. From April to September there are several tours daily where you can experience Nuremberg from a completely new point of view. Get your tickets here!