Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Star fort cities

Star forts have been built all across Europe but seem the most popular and common in the Netherlands. I base my statement on the wikipedia page, List of Star Forts. If you know I'm wrong, please do something about wikipedia. :)

They are so common that I randomly find them on maps everytime I plan a trip.

Hell, I live in one.

Old timey Leiden.

Star forts were developed as defensive cities to guard against attack from the water and land. Often they served as simple deterrents, hence the excellent state of preservation in many of them. Cannons could be mounted on or in the fortress walls.  There are elaborate schemes and mappings showing the "dead" zones where hypothetical cannon fire would decimate troops storming the walls.

All this seems rather silly now with aerial warfare, but at the time it must have made a lot of sense.

The first time I visited one intentionally was early August. My friends and I went to Naarden, a lovely and well preserved star fortress just west of Amsterdam.

Here's a view of it's perfection from google maps.

We went on a first Sunday of the month in order to take the VestingMuseum tour and see live cannon fire. This activity takes place year round and is a lot of fun if you aren't afraid of tunnels and spiders or don't look too closely at the walls.

Tip: Don't look too closely at the walls.

The fortress walls are extremely well preserved and very picturesque.

Other cities worth a visit include Brielle, here's a post by a fellow star enthusiast with some great photos!

And then there's Bourtange. It's not quite as old and a bit kitschy now, but look at that.


I finally visited it this past weekend with friends on a cycling trip! There are some beautiful trip photos here by the Travelling Two. The gorgeous weather and perfect cycling conditions slightly eclipsed the city, but it was still worth a visit.

And here's the latest star fort that I found while trying to get a bromptonable route to Bruges.

Sluis! Star fort.

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  1. Leiden is not really a star fort, for the simple reason that it never was a military fortress. Those always are situated on the border (Naarden being the exception as it was meant to protect Amsterdam). Mediaeval cities like Leiden had a wall with watchtowers which covered the best line of sight. Most city walls have been torn down and used for building elsewhere, but their locations can often be found by looking at ring roads around the centre.
    The most prolific star forts builder was Vauban (France, 17th century). In Holland, Menno van Coehoorn was Vauban's opponent.

  2. Frits! Wikipedia needs you! They list Leiden as a star fort...

  3. Frits,

    I love you as a frequent commenter to the bike blogs. Forget Wikipedia; you need to be writing a blog...any subject will do.

  4. The "dead zone" is not the "killing zone" covered by cannon fire; rather, it is the exact opposite, the area cannon can not reach.

  5. That makes much more sense!! Thanks, Curmudgeon. :)

  6. Here in Hawkeye's country you can hardly turn around without bumping into a star fort. The Caribbean had one on damned near every rock that managed to kinda stick up out of the water. World wars keep the architects and engineers busy.

    My town wasn't particularly strategic, so the walls were a boring old square. The American concept for a grid system of roads goes back to those times. New towns were laid out as a cross.

  7. @Alicia & Maggie: I try not to be pedantic but don't always succeed. In the case at hand I merely tried to point out that there is a difference between a gated community and a military camp.

    Naarden and Bourtange date back to about the same time, but Bourtange originally was left to decay until some smart people recognized its potential as a tourist attraction, with the present museum as a result. Naarden has kept its suggestion of being useful for the defense of Amsterdam for much longer (the optimists) so when the idea arose of preserving it as a memento of things past there was less restoration work to do. As a marketing ploy it's brilliant; just look at the prices of houses within the "vesting".

  8. @Fritz B

    I never think of you as pedantic. I look forward to your comments just as much as I do the blog entries. In fact, there seemed to be a brief period when I didn't see any 'Frits B' comments and I got worried!

    Your No. 1 Fan ;)