Festung Krakau

When three European powers – Russia, Prussia, and Austria – concluded the first partition of Poland in 1772, they seemed to be acting in unison. Nevertheless, it is no secret that what works best in politics is the principle of limited trust.

Following on from the partition, the Austrians – faced with the proximity of the Prussian and Russian borders – began the construction of defensive structures around Kraków, immediately after they captured the city in 1796. The large-scale works commenced in 1850, when the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I decided to turn the city into a fortress. This is how the Festung Krakau (German for “the fortress of Kraków”) – the largest stronghold in this part of Europe – began. It was developed as a system of 176 sites: forts, shelters, gates, entrenchments, batteries, barracks, and military hospitals arranged into three rings in an area that exceeded 500 square kilometres (200 sq m) in Kraków and around the city. They were connected by a network of lateral roads, which guaranteed efficient communication, and in the years to come would become the main streets of Kraków, as for example, the arteries of Lubicz and Mogilska, and Starowiślna and Wielicka.

Some parts of the once mighty Fortress of Kraków have not survived, yet the Austrian fortifications can still be seen encircling Wawel Hill, lying in wait around the foot of Kościuszko Mound, on Lasoty Hill (St Benedict Fort in Podgórze), in Kleparz (where the fort houses a popular music club), and on Sowiniec Hill where Fort Skała (The Rock) is today home to the Astronomical Observatory of the Jagiellonian University). All the elements and sections of the fortification (around 100 various military installations altogether) are today connected by the foot and cycle path known as the Kraków Fortress Route.

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