The fortifications of Gothenburg: A story about war and public opinion

 

Abstract:

This article aims to tell the story about the bastions of Gothenburg, Sweden. It will explain the reasons behind them being built in the years 1621 though out to 1720 and their demolition during the early 1800’s, but the main purpose of this article is to highlight and discuss the debate and controversies that arise when the fortifications reemerged into public awareness while excavated for commercial exploitation in the 1980’s.
This discussion will be held with the debate active today about building within and on historical remains of cities and the debate about if and what to preserve during expansions of modern cities.

Keywords; Preservation, Cultural Heritage, Archaeology, Public awareness, City Archaeology, History, Sweden, Gothenburg,

Liv Westring     http://livwestring.com     l.westring@gmail.com

Gothenburg City Museum     http://stadsmuseum.goteborg.se      liv.westring@kultur.goteborg.se

 

The history of Gothenburg’s founding:

War is quite a distant thing to most Swedes, but that does in no way mean that the country has seen small amounts of it during its history. From 1521 up to the 1814 Sweden was in some way or another either recovering from war or in one, and the years before that was not so much calmer with the Kalmar Union and the consolidation period of Sweden as a united nation that almost took 500 years. I could (I’m sure a lot of Swedish historians and archaeologist would want me too) go in to greater length about when Sweden becomes Sweden but that is a subject one could (and a few has) make ones PhD thesis about.

The important thing to remember when talking about the founding of Gothenburg (Göteborg), and its fortifications, is that it was a very uncertain time at the west coast of what is now Sweden. Until the peace in Brömsebro in 1658 the area was Danish/Norwegian, Sweden pawned Halland for 30 years from the peace in 1645. Fighting over this part of the land was frequent, as will be obvious further in to this article.

Gothenburg ca year 1700 From Dahlberghs Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna
Picture 1 Gothenburg ca year 1700
From Dahlberghs Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna

 

The Swedes had been doing their trade out west mostly from Lödöse, a town at the outflow of the river Ljudaån in to Göta Älv. Lödöse was a fair distance from the sea, and even though it gave good connections of trade inland the Norwegian fortress of Bohus often was an open threat to the town. This made the Swedish government to build a new harbor and town at the outflow of Säveån further downstream and much closer to the sea in the 1470’s. This settlement was became Nya Lödöse (New Lödöse), and pretty much replaced Lödöse as the Swedish trading post on the west coast. . It has been appreciated that in the mid 1500ths Nya Lödöse was second to Stockholm Sweden’s most important harbor.  The town’s importance can be hinted at when they got the privilege to become a center for the internal trading within the crown as with taxes and toll etc. There have been several towns and moves around the inlet of the river during the years, due to war and economical reasons.
The name Gothenburg is first mentioned in a document from Charles IX planning a complement to Nya Lödöse.  The first Gothenburg, founded by Charles IX, only existed during 1603-1611 when it was burned to the ground by the Danish.
The new settlement was founded 10 years later and King Gustav II Adolf placed it further into the inlet of Göta älv and is the placement of the now existing Gothenburg, strategically placed in a narrow place in the inlet to easier avoid such a disaster as the previous settlement had endured.

Gothenburg, second edition, was built by the Dutch in close collaboration with the Swedish crown. It was built to defend the west coast of Sweden, and to be a trading town. Gothenburg can be very much described as the very physical manifestation of the Swedish Greatness, a period in time when the rulers of the nation had grandiose plans and played in the bigger league in the politics of Europe. The city was built with Dutch design, crossing channels and a checkered system of streets resembling those of Jakarta or Manhattan (New Amsterdam) that was built in the same era. Viewing Gothenburg and for an example Naarden in Neatherlands from above even today one can see the similarities.

Picture 2 shows the modern Gothenburg showing the remains of the old water line defenses.  Picture taken from Google Maps
Picture 2 shows the modern Gothenburg showing the remains of the old water line defenses.
Picture taken from Google Maps

 

Naarden
Picture 3 Naarden in the Neatherlands with a fantastically preserved Dutch water line
Picture taken from Google Maps

 

The city was built with a Dutch waterline meaning the city was surrounded by a moat and embankments that in later stages of the city was transformed into fortified walls after the latest inventions of the time in defense complete with bastions and ravelins. It was built to be able to defend not only the inhabitants of the city but to secure Sweden’s easy access to the Kattegatt and Western Europe.

 

The city’s fortifications:

The fortifications built around the city was built and rebuilt all through up to the 18th century and are usually put in to three phases; 1621-1643, 1644-1683 and 1683-1719. From 1720 up to 1807 the fortifications was poorly looked after and even though Älvsborg was under siege both under 1719 and then threatened again 1788 by the Danish little was done against the deterioration of the cities primary defenses.

The first phase started in 1621 on a decree from the king to provide the city with moats, fortifications and ammunition for the safety of its inhabitants. The fortifications consisted of dirt embankments of 2-3 meters in height being built with pentagon shaped bastions made out of dirt and clay, fortified with stone and wood against the riverside. This early fortifications had perpendicular curtains and flanks and the mount was surrounded by a 1,5 meter deep moat.

Picture 4  Map over Gothenburg from 1644, showing the perpendicular curtains and the moat. Map made by Kiättel Klason, archived by and copyright Gothenburg City Museum
Picture 4 Map over Gothenburg from 1644, showing the perpendicular curtains and the moat.
Map made by Kiättel Klason, archived by and copyright Gothenburg City Museum

 

In 1624 the plan for the fortifications of Gothenburg came in to play and the fortifications already built was fortified and rebuilt with four or five new bastions on the south side of town and palisades was raised in the east against the marshlands.  Smaller fortifications were also built were later the redoubt Kronan were to be built, the 1624 fortification were called Juteskrämman (Frightening the Danish roughly translated). The renovation and building of the fortifications continued up to 1641, and then everything but the bastions under Otterhällan was built.

The defenses against the riverside were still weak though, and temporary solutions were used in case of an attack from the Danish. The attack came as an answer to the Swedish attack on Jylland in 1643, and made the issue of getting the fortifications finished according to the plan from 1624 rise in importance.  The fortress of Gothenburg was defended by temporary defenses and the Danish attack failed but the town’s weakness was obvious and quartermaster general Örnehufvud made a new design plan for the fortifications and initiated the work in 1638. Among other things he planned for a caponier in the 1639 edition of the plans but a caponier wasn’t built until under the third phase. Örnehufvud’s plan was the beginning to the new plan and designs that would lay the foundation to the next phase in 1644, and had Örnehufvud laid his final draft for those in 1643. In 1644 he passed away under the blockade of Malmö and Wärnschiold took over the position of quartermaster general and the work with the fortifications left by his predecessor.

The second phase was greatly influenced by the turbulent times 1648-1658 was for Sweden. The peace treaty in Brömsebro 1645, Sweden pawned Halland for 30 years and the climate for foreign politics stabilized for three years. The treaty in Osnabrück in 1648 secured Sweden’s position as a big player in European politics. It also made the Dutch hostile and then allied with Denmark. War broke out in 1657 and ended in the peace in Roskilde 1658 which is one of the more important treaties in Swedish history since it gave us among other things Skåne, Halland and Blekinge.

The pressure was intense on the Swedish boarder defenses and Gothenburg was no exception. The fortifications needed to be modernized and this time a lot of French influences were used in the constructions and designs. The walls was risen to a height of 7 meters over the moats general level, they were also made thicker and the moat went from 1,5 meters deep to 2,2 meters. Also the crest of the main embankment, the tenailles was raised and the embankment’s inner steep was equipped with 7000 poles. They also started to build the ravelins.

Picture 5 The new curved flanks and enlarged bastions Copyright Gothenburg City Museum
Picture 5 The new curved flanks and enlarged bastions
Copyright Gothenburg City Museum

 
The construction of a new fortress started in 1653, Nya Älvsborgs fästning (New Älvsborgs fortress) and they tore Gamla Älvsborgs fästning (Old Älvsborgs fortress) to use the stone both to the new fortress and the city walls.  New bastions were according to Dahlbergs map from 1675 added among the country front, still using the design of pentagons and perpendicular curtains. The gates Gamle Port (Old Gate) and Österport (Eastern Gate) was rebuilt in brick rather than the old wooden gates in 1652 and 1669.

Picture 6 Map showing the plans for Gothenburg, made by Erik Dahlberg in 1675. Copyright the Military Archives of Sweden
Picture 6 Map showing the plans for Gothenburg, made by Erik Dahlberg in 1675. Copyright the Military Archives of Sweden

 

This third phase starts up when Dahlberg, became quartermaster general in 1676. He was also the main person responsible for the fortifications final design and the complete rebuilding of them that was put in motion by new design plan in 1683. The permission from the king came the year after and was included in the general reinforcement of the nations defenses.
Given Dahlberg’s nickname as the Swedish Vauban one can get a rather big hint on his French influences and what military engineer he drew his ideas from. His style developed very much to his own during the years, adapted to Swedish terrain and conditions.
Before Dahlberg the Swedish fortifications very much resembled the ones used in rest of Europe but now new characteristics comes forth.

The third phase included that the embankments in Gothenburg were replaced with stonewalls, the bastions were enlarged and the flanks went from straight to inwardly curved and the bastions got casemates. Defenses against mines and grenades were added.
The walls was to still be 7 meters high and the moat was again dug deeper now to 2,5 meters.  It is under the regime of Dahlberg Otterhälla finally gets its bastions. Two redoubts were built, one already mentioned was Kronan and then we have the redoubt Lejonet. Kronan was built as octagon towers with casemates, and it was between Kronan and Otterhälla a fortified trench with a caponier was built. Lejonet was round with four cornered bastions surrounding it.
It is unclear how much of the planned fortifications that got built but archaeological excavations has largely confirmed that at least the bastions seem to be as on the maps Dahlberg left behind. The trench and caponier are also confirmed.  The picture of Gothenburg from Dahlberg’s Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna could very much be his ideal Gothenburg but the archaeology that has been done about the fortifications and old Gothenburg seem to support that his vision largely was fulfilled.

During the 1700s the fortifications suffered from poor maintenance and Nya Älvsborgs fasting was even under siege under 1719 but even though Gothenburg’s defenses were recognized to be important for Sweden’s defense the bad economy couldn’t allow repairs and the fort fell into decay.  Under the Danish threat of 1788 it was rather Dutch and British diplomacy that ended the hostilities and saved Gothenburg then the cities defenses.
The defenses had played out their roll and the city was growing rapidly in the end of the 1700ths and the beginning of the 1800ths. In 1807 a demolition contract was signed and the walls were torn down to the level of the streets. The foundations were left to become docks towards the moat which was to be left where it was. Stone and earth from the walls were used as landfill between the bastion flanks and curtains. Everything over street level was to be demolished, the moat was dredged and an alley planted outside of the moat. Kungsport (King’s gate) was considered to be built with taste so it was kept but all the other gates were torn down. The redoubts too were saved, but not little else remained to remind of the defenses the city once had.  Kungsport had to be demolished too after a while, due to frost damaged that occurred during the winters due to rainwater penetrating the building were the walls had been removed.

Picture 7 Kungsport with the gate and walls Copyright Gothenburg’s City Museum.
Picture 7 Kungsport with the gate and walls
Copyright Gothenburg’s City Museum.
Picture 8 Kungsport in year 1850 without the walls and gate Picture made by unknown painter, archived by and copyright Gothenburg City Museum
Picture 8 Kungsport in year 1850 without the walls and gate
Picture made by unknown painter, archived by and copyright Gothenburg City Museum

 

As the visible remains were mostly gone the former walls and other fortifications fell into memory, and largely out of that too as time went by. It was first in 1983, with the building of a new hotel upon the bastion Carlous Rex, that they once again came in to the consciousness of the inhabitants of Gothenburg.

Reading list:

Andersson, Stina, Eva, Jönnson Kihlberg and Björn Broo (red), 1986, Livet i det gamla Göteborg, part 2of the series Arkeologi i Västsvergie, published by Gothenburgs archaeological museum (now Gothenburg City Museum) and printed by Goterna

 

Jeffery, Sonia, 1985, Rapport 26 kv Saluhallen 4, 6, 7, provundersökning 1985, excavation report from the first dig at Johannes Dux, published by Gothenburgs archaeological museum.

Jönsson Kihlberg, Eva, 1986, Rapport 26 kv Saluhallen 4, 6, 7, slutundersökning 1986, excavation report from the final dig at Johannes Dux, published by Gothenburgs archaeological museum.

Sjölin, Mats (red), 1989, Lejonet & Kronan, published by Gothenburgs museums (now Gothenburg City Museum) and printed by Gothenburgs History Museum (now Gothenburg City Museum)

Liv Westring     http://livwestring.com     l.westring@gmail.com

Gothenburg City Museum     http://stadsmuseum.goteborg.se      liv.westring@kultur.goteborg.se

 

 

 

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