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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Fortress Visit Report No. 1, Konigstein

Fortress Visit Report No.1

KONIGSTEIN, Saxony, Germany.

4th July 2012.

The visit to this fortress was included as part of a Holt's Tours battlefield tour, "Great Captains & the Art of War". I am including it on this blog as a visit of interest and not directly linked to the main subject of the blog.

I did not know of the fortress until the tour. On returning home, I checked my books and I cannot find any reference to it, the guide book says that during the 300 years of military use, the fortress was never put under siege.

The fortress was built on a table mountain in the Elbsandsteingebirge. It commands a bend in the River Elbe, being 247metres above the river and 361 metres above sea level. It is situated about 20miles/30kilometres upriver from Dresden. On clear days, there are great views of Saxony, Bohemia and Switzerland. The coach park is located at the base.

These are two postcards purchased in the souvenir shop. The first is of Konigstein from the west, showing the gatehouse and the main admin and barracks areas. The second is from the east and shows what became the main artillery sites now overgrown with trees. The fortress parapet runs along the top of the edge.

I took these two photos to try to give some perspective on the height of the fortress. The first is of our group walking east to use the panoramic lift, the second is from the parapet looking east.

For the modern day tourist, there are two lifts to get from the coach park to the ramparts, the panoramic glass sided lift and a much larger goods lift. Originally, there was a crane lift for goods, built in 1590, using a treadmill. The main entrance was through the gatehouse at the western end of the fortress.

The guide book gives a few details of the castle on the site, first written mention was in 1233. However, in the late 16th century the decision was made to turn the site into an artillery fortress. Work began in 1589 to build the gatehouse below.

The gatehouse has drawbridge and portcullis, gates, murder holes. Up a 50 degree incline past more defences including a caponier, turn right and up a second incline into the light and onto the plateau. The fourth photo shows the exit and the rear of the gatehouse and the New Armoury.

Georg Bastion was added to the north side of the gatehouse in 1669 - 79.

A tenaille and casemated guardhouse were added in 1729 - 36.
A ravelin and another casemated guarhouse were added at the same time as the tenaille.

Outworks were built in the second half of the 18th century, including this fleche with its own magazine.

The plateau has a number of buildings, barracks, armouries, a church, stables and a parade ground. Around the whole site on the edge is a parapet, a fairly simple construction of wall and walkway, using the plateau edge to great advantage; this was built during the 17th century.

One builder left his mark.

Following German Unification in the mid-19th century, the fortress was integrated into the national defence plan as a barricade fort to protect the river Elbe and the newly built railway line running alongside. Modernisation was begun in 1870, with the construction of eight new batteries and supporting casemates, armouries, barracks and a hospital. Much of this development was on the eastern end of the fortress and has become overgrown or is inaccessible.

Konigstein was used to house French officer POWs in 1870, 1914-18 and 1940-45; Gen. Giraud escaped from here in 1942.

To conclude, a very interesting example of how to fortify a natural site, nothing fancy or innovative, but a solid fort. Most of the work was put into the gatehouse as the weakest point of the site. We had about 2.5 hours on site which was insufficient for me, but my battlefield colleagues were getting restless so we had to go. A worthwhile visit and you should go if you are in the area.

Facts and dates from the Top Spot Guidebook to Konigstein, written by Angelika Taube, purchased in the fortress gift shop.

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