This gorgeous Renaissance fortress was constructed in the 16th century but incorporates the much older Juliusturm, from an earlier medieval castle on the same site, into its design. The Italian architect Francesco Chiaramella de Gandino began planning the fortress but was replaced by another Italian architect Rochus Graf zu Lynar. The fortress is a perfect example of Renaissance fortresses. The formation of the
bastions ensures that there are no blind spots that the enemy could exploit. However, the site has been in history for much longer.
In the 8th century, there used to be a slavic settlement on the silt island that was formed where the Spree meets the Havel.
A medieval castle was constructed on the site of the slavic settlement by the 13th century by the Electors of Brandenburg. The Juliusturm was constructed as part of this medieval castle. It is today Berlin’s oldest surviving building.
When the current fortress was built, it was deliberately decided not to construct a new castle because by this time, gunpowder was widely used in Europe and therfore, castles had lost their defence advantage.
The first troops arrived at the fortress within a year of the start of its construction. The construction took more than 30 years.
The real test of the defense capability of the fortress was in 1675 when it was beseiged by Swedish troops. After a seige of a few weeks, the Swedish tried to storm the fort in order to take over but failed.
However, in 1806, when Napoleon laid seige, the fortress had to surrendered without the firing of a single shot due to the larger political situation. The Prussians did retake the fort in 1813 but it was badly damaged in the war and required extensive renovation.
For several years, the Prussians used the fortress to house their prisoners and to store the treasure that they brought back from wars. The Julius turm with its 3.6 metre walls began to be used as safe. The door to the tower is still called the “safe door”.
Under Nazi Germany, in 1935, the Army set up their Gas Protection Laboratory in the fort.
300 scientists were employed for research on chemical weapons as well as on nerve gas.
The fortress was beseiged by the Soviet army in 1945 as they occupied East Germany. They negotiated a surrender and avoided having to storm the fortress.
The Soviets handed over the fortress to the British when that sector of Berlin went to the British occupying forces. The site was then used to house a construction school for almost 30 years.
Today, the fortress is an important centre for arts and culture in Berlin. It houses around 40 studios of artists of all kinds as well as a museum with several different exhibitions. It is also a venue for outdoor music concerts.
Perhaps most importantly, the fortress is the site to which thousands of bats migrate in order to hibernate through the winter months. This is one of the most important sites of its kind in Europe. There is an exhibition on bats at the fortress. The building has been declared a species protection monument.