A Need for New Forts
Having seen both the limits and problems that a closely-packed ring of forts surrounding a city could bring - see the Crimean War’s Siege of Sevastopol as a perfect example - in around 1860 Poznań authorities thought it was indeed time to both review and update its security system. In the end it was agreed that an additional ring of forts would be built, this time approximately 3-4 km from those already in place, in hope that this would provide increased security.
After a lot of umming and ahhing about how many were needed and where each one would be located (at one stage 11 main forts were being considered) it was decided that nine main forts would be built with an equal number of smaller forts dotted between them for good measure. Each fort would be constructed about 3-4 km from the one previous and in total the wall of defence would run approximately 30 km right around the entire city.
The brains behind the design belonged to Hans Alexis von Biehler. Born in 1818, von Biehler was a Prussian General who specialised in fortifications and had a pretty impressive CV. Before his death he ended up designing forts in a number of cities in what are now France (Strasbourg and Metz), Germany (Cologne and Mainz) and of course Poland (Toruń and Kostrzyn).
Von Biehler signed up for the army in 1836 and earned his stripes in a number of wars including the Battle of Koniginhof and Battle of Hradec Kralove. He received many accolades and awards during his lifetime, but that’s not to say that everyone approved of his work. Journalist and Engineering Officer for the Prussian Army Hermann Frobenius (1841-1916) was highly critical of both his ability and his organisational skills and considering that a lot of those working with him ended up leaving their positions, Frobenius may well have been right about his judgement.
Regardless, the fortification system was completed by 1886, with each individual fortress taking roughly four years to finish. There is little information about just how many people were employed during this time to build the forts and the walls that ran between them, although documents show that a number of POWs from France were drafted in to help keep the employment costs down as much as possible.
What to See
Of Poznań’s nine main forts, at the present time there are only a few which are open to the general public, and the list of those that are essential visiting can basically be narrowed down to Fort 7 and Fort 3. Fort 7 has a dark history, achieving infamy during WWII as a Nazi prison camp. Today it houses the Wielkopolska Martyrs Museum, making it a well-known tourist destination in addition to being an important (and tragic) historical site. By contrast Fort 3 is often overlooked by those visiting the city (and even many of those living here), when in fact it’s another great piece of living history and every bit as interesting as the New Zoo in which it’s located. While the city’s seven other forts may not be traditional tourist attractions, intrepid urban explorers may still appreciate their architectural and historic value, in addition to the opportunity for taking some unique and fantastic photographs. Completionists that we are, below we give a brief rundown of each of Poznań’s nine main forts, and the two most interesting of the intermediate forts - Fort 3A and 9A. Enjoy adventuring (but please adventure responsibly).