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A fortification of massive scale, generally of monumental character; sometimes including an urban core as a protected place of refuge.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a strategically important point (or city) with a permanent garrison, armament, supplies, and independent headquarters, which is prepared for perimeter defense by means of permanent fortification and the provision of everything necessary for prolonged battle under siege conditions. Until World War I (1914-18) fortresses were strongpoints or bases for field armies in the military theaters, storage areas for weapons and equipment or stage points on routes of troop movement, and means of covering the concentration and deployment of troops and consolidating and ensuring domination of captured territory. Fortresses were divided into land fortresses and sea or coastal fortresses.

The forerunners of fortresses were the fortified settlements of the primitive age. They had solid defensive barriers made of earthen walls, long palisades, or walls made of wood, stone, and other materials. Later, deep moats, usually filled with water, were dug around the walls. The settlements were defended by the inhabitants themselves. With the appearance of the armies of the early slaveholding states and cities it became necessary to improve the means of defense. The development of the art of construction and the availability of cheap labor (slaves) made it possible to erect around the ancient cities solid barriers composed of towered walls with round or rectangular outlines. The height of the walls reached an average of 9-10 m and in some cases, up to 30 m; their thickness was at least one-third of the height. On top of the walls on the outside, parapets with embrasures were built, and notched walls appeared. The towers were multilevel structures adapted for self-sufficient defense; they covered the immediate approaches to the walls and were the strong-points of the fortress wall. Many cities in the slaveholding states were at the same time fortresses (Carthage, Plataea, Rome, and Byzantium). Sometimes several solid barriers were built around cities (for example, the Persian capital Susa had three rows of walls with towers).

Inside the fortress a citadel was built (among the Greeks it was called the acropolis and among the Romans it was the capitol); it served as the last strongpoint of the fortress, if the outside walls fell. Fortresses guarding borders usually had no inhabitants but the garrison. Fortresses were used to guard borders in ancient Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, ancient Rome, and elsewhere. The first works on building, besieging, and defending fortresses appeared in ancient times (writings by Philo of Byzantium, third century B.C.; Vitruvius, first century B.C.; Apollodorus, second century A.D.; Vegetius, late fourth century and early fifth).

In the Middle Ages in Western Europe fortresses were erected in the form of the fortified castles of feudal lords, fortified cities, and monasteries. The fortress castle was the residence of the feudal lord and the place where he stationed his armed detachment, whose function was to hold the population of the subordinate areas and cities in submission and wage combat against neighbors. In the 13th and 14th centuries in France alone there were about 50, 000 fortress castles, fortified cities, and monasteries.

In ancient Rus’ fortresses were first built in the tenth and 11th centuries, primarily for the purpose of defending the population of the cities and the inhabitants of neighboring regions against raids by nomads. More than 86 cities were fortified in Kievan Rus’ in the 11th century. Wood and earth fortifications were replaced by stone fortresses in Kiev (1037), lur’ev (Tartu, 1030-37), Pereiaslavl’ (1090), Novgorod (c. 1044), and Pskov (in the 13th century). Later, stone fortresses were built in Izborsk (1330), Moscow (1367; brick fortress in 1485-95), Smolensk (1596), and other cities. The prince’s courtyards were ordinarily located inside the city or next to it, and fortified monasteries usually played the part of city outposts or border fortresses; for example, Moscow was surrounded by the Danilov (about 1282), Andronikov (about 1360), Simonov (1379), Novodevichii (1524), and other monasteries. The citadel of the Russian city or monastery fortification was the courtyard of the prince or the cathedral; it was surrounded by a towered wall and was called the krom or detinets. In the early 14th century it came to be known as the kreml’ (kremlin).

The appearance of artillery (14th century) and particularly the invention of the cast-iron cannonball (15th century) required changes in the profile of the fortress wall. The walls were made lower and thicker; the towers were made the same height as the walls, but they were larger in area and protruded greatly forward. A moat with a scarp and counterscarp was built in front of the walls and towers. The earth removed in digging the moat was used to make an embankment behind the wall on the inside (the valgang) and a gently sloping embankment in front of the moat (the glasis). The fortress artillery was installed on the valgang, and the glasis helped improve observation and facilitated firing from the fortress; it also partially protected the wall against destruction by artillery fire. Open gun and artillery positions in the walls provided frontal defense for the fortress wall, while artillery guns installed in the towers covered the approaches to the wall and flanked the moat.

The towers, which actually became semicircular projections of the wall open on the city side, came to be called bastions or rondels (in Russia they were called persi). Along with the open positions, in Russian fortresses special rooms were set in the walls with embrasures called boi. The lower (bottom) and middle boi had one artillery gun apiece and were called pechury; the upper boi were designed for handguns. In the 16th and 17th centuries the rondels were supplanted by pentagonal structures called bastions (in Russian called raskaty). At this time fortress walls with bastion-type outlines became universal. For aggressive action by the fortress garrison and forays out of the fortress a covered path and a bridgehead were established between the glasis and the moat. In the 18th century, fortress walls with crémaillère, tenaille, and caponier (polygonal) outlines were developed and employed. Great credit for the development of these systems belongs to such Russian military engineers as M. A. Dedenev and P. A. Sukhtelen.

With the elimination of the feudal divisions in Europe (15th to mid-17th century) the building of new castles and the restoration of old castles were prohibited, and the walls of the fortress-cities were torn down. Fortifications were preserved only along the borders; the basis of these fortifications were fortresses. In France two lines of fortresses were built on the border with the Netherlands according to a plan of the military engineer Vauban (late 17th century). They closed off all principal routes to the interior of the country. Vauban’s followers (Cormontaingne, d’Arçon) built up the system of fortresses to five lines on the eastern borders of France.

In Russia a plan by Peter I (1724) proposed the construction of new fortresses and the use of previously built ones on the northwestern and western borders of the state, a total of 34 fortresses. Twelve of these fortresses’st. Petersburg, Kronstadt, ShlissePburg, Vyborg, Keksgol’m (Korela), Narva, Ivangorod, Revel (Tallinn), Rogervik, Pernov (Piarnu), Dinamiunde (Ust’-Dvinsk), and Riga’provided defense for the northwestern borders. The plan was only partially carried out. Later, when the western borders of Russia expanded, fortresses were built at Grodno, Novogeorgievsk (Modlin), Ivangorod (Deblin), Brest, and other cities in the first half of the 19th century to consolidate these new borders.

With the appearance of mass armies (late 18th and early 19th centuries) fortresses proved out of line with the new principles of the art of war. The main forces of advancing armies bypassed the fortresses and moved on to vitally important centers of the country, leaving just small detachments with powerful artillery to besiege and blockade the fortresses. To counteract the bypassing of fortresses, to make it difficult to blockade and bombard them, and to hold important points located near the fortresses, separate fortifications called forts were built in front of the fortress wall. A new type of fortress, the fortress with outlying forts, appeared. The idea of building such a fortress belongs to Peter I, who followed it in building the Kronstadt fortress (1703). In the West the first plan for a fortress with outlying forts (Cherbourg) was proposed in 1778 by the French military engineer M. Montalambert.

The theoretical principles of the fortress with outlying forts were developed most fully by the Russian military engineer A. Z. Teliakovskii (1846). At first the fortress with outlying forts had one belt of forts 2-3 km in front of the center of the fortress with intervals of 1.5-2 km between forts. With the appearance of rifled artillery and the increased destructive power of artillery shells (second half of the 19th century) the diameter of the fortress had to be enlarged. A second belt of forts appeared, the distances between forts were increased, and it became necessary to fortify the intervals between them.

On the eve of World War I (1914-18) fortresses were divided into large, or maneuvering, fortresses, which supported the maneuvers of a field army, and small, or outpost, fortresses, whose function was to defend a particular point. In the large fortresses the first line of forts was 6-8 km from the central wall, and the second line was 3-4 km. Artillery positions were placed in the intervals between the forts. With the appearance of highly explosive substances and shells of great destructive force in the late 19th century concrete and armor-clad elements were used in fortress construction. In Belgium, France, Holland, and other Western European countries military engineers tried to strengthen the defense of the fortress by placing all the artillery guns in the forts in armored towers. The infantry’s only mission was to cover the artillery. The so-called armored forts appeared. Russian military engineer K. I. Velichko and others believed that the army, not the strength of the fortifications, decides the outcome of the battle. They considered it essential for the fortress to have strong combined arms and artillery reserves and positions and routes of maneuver prepared in advance.

In 1888, Velichko developed a new type of fort, which was an infantry strongpoint reinforced with artillery antiassault guns. Heavy artillery was moved out of the forts into the intervals between them. A fundamental part of the plan was a new structure, an intermediate caponier for ten 155-mm cannons, which would make it possible to flank with artillery fire the intervals between the forts and the approaches to neighboring forts. Velichko’s fort was adopted in the French Army and the intermediate caponier spread through all the countries of Europe. Thanks to the fortified intervals between forts, the fortress of Port Arthur (which was built according to Velichko’s plan, although construction was not completed) forced the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904—05 to reject a high-speed attack and begin a prolonged siege. By World War I (1914-18) the garrison of a large fortress included about 40, 000-50, 000 infantrymen and during the war, up to 100, 000 (Novogeorgievsk [Modlin], Peremyshl’, and Antwerp). Fortresses were armed with up to 800 guns of different calibers and up to 1, 000 rounds of ammunition for each gun.

World War I showed that fortresses alone could not stop an invasion by mass armies or withstand a prolonged siege. For example, the fortresses of Liege, Namur, Antwerp, and Maubeuge held out for 12, six, 12, and ten days, respectively. In those cases where fortresses were a part of a common front of defense with the field armies and where the garrisons of the fortresses cooperated closely with the armies, the fortresses became more stable parts of the defense (Osovets, Ivangorod, Werden, and others). It became clear that clustering artillery and infantry in forts made it relatively easy for the enemy to pin them down with artillery fire. It was necessary to spread out the pattern of fortifications on the terrain.

In the period between the world wars all nations gradually switched to new forms of fortifying land borders; these were fortified regions and fortified zones, and the fortress structures that had been preserved were used in them during World War II (1939-45). At the start of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) the defending troops of the Brest fortress stubbornly resisted fascist German forces. After World War II a few fortress structures were preserved as museums and architectural monuments.


Engels, F. “Fortifikatsiia.” K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 14.
Laskovskii, F. F. Materialy dlia istorii inzhenernogo iskusstva v Rossii, part 1. St. Petersburg, 1858.
Kiui, Ts. A. Kratkii istoricheskii ocherk dolgovremennoifortifikatsii, 3rd ed. St. Petersburg, 1897.
Velichko, K. I. Kreposti do i posle mirovoi voiny 1914-1918. Moscow, 1922.
Iakovlev, V. V. Evoliutsiia dolgovremennoi fortifikatsii. Moscow, 1931.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. A fortification of massive scale, generally of monumental character and sometimes including an urban core; also called stronghold.
2. A protected place of refuge.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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