Since its founding Mainz experienced a fortress history like almost no other location in Europe. If you walk through today‘s Mainz, you will see its military history in many places. Here a bastion, there a wall or a vault and of course the splendid citadel. Many of those fortification parts not only have an interesting history, but they also offer a great world of experience for tourists. Whether concerts and theatre, romantic dinner, interesting undergrounds and museums or even a gym and a spa. There is something for everyone.
Discover the Major Fortress Mainz with FORTE CULTURA and experience more than 2000 years of city and fortress history, directly connected to big personalities of their times like elector Johann Philipp von Schönborn, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Napoleon Bonaparte or emperor Wilhelm II.
Monument and History
The history of La Línea de la Concepcíon begins long before the actual city founding in 1870.
It started with the occupation of Gibralter by England during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704. England and the Netherlands allied last-minute and conquered the fortified but under staffed peninsula in a surprise attack under prince of Hesse Darmstadt.
To prevent a reconquest the fortress Gibraltar was quickly further extended and sufficiently staffed. Afterwards, the Franco-Spanish alliance tried to occupy and reconquer the peninsula from land and from sea with up to 14.000 men and several fleets. After unsuccessful attacks and high losses, the occupation was turned into a passive blocking in January 1705 – the forerunners of the later Línea de Contravalación de Gibraltar.
In 1713 Gibraltar was officially attributed to Great Britain as part of the “Treaty of Utrecht”. But Spain tried again to reconquer it in the English-Spanish War in 1727 anyway, again unsuccessful.
Spain had the Línea de Contravalación de Gibraltar built from 1730 to ultimately shield Gibraltar from the mainland and to install a basis for future reconquering attempts.
The large occupation of Gibraltar 1779-1783 was the last attempt of the Franco-Spanish alliance to forcefully reconquer the peninsula. Gibraltar was again blocked from land and sea side and permanently bombarded. The tactic was to try to let the people and staff hunger and wear them out by permanent attacks. But again, this attempt failed especially because the English fleet was again able to break the see blocking, capture Spanish ships and procure supplies. With the “Treaty of Paris” Spain regained Menorca and Florida in 1783, but Gibraltar was unreachable.
During the Peninsula War 1807-1814 Spain revolted against Napoleons occupation force and allied now with Great Britain. When the French troops moved forward to South Spain in 1810, the Brits took their chance to destroy the defence line against Gibraltar with the agreement of Spain. They feared that the French could occupy the fortifications and use them against Gibraltar. On 14th February 1810 thousands of bystanders gathered on the Rock of Gibraltar to see the demolition of the whole Línea de Contravalación. Napoleon later said, that he never intended to occupy Gibraltar.
In 1870 the settlement La Línea de Gibraltar was founded with around 300 residents. In 1883 they changed their name to La Línea de la Concepción and received town privilege in 1913.
Sistema de Defensa del Campo de Gibraltar
Under the Franco regime a new defence line developed from 1939 to protect the Spanish coast and secure the borders to the British Gibraltar. Strongly shaped by the German West wall, the defence system consisted of 478 fortifications, among them artillery posts, machine gun nests, watchtowers, switching enter and command posts. It reached from Conil de le Frontera at the Atlantic to the mouth of the river Guardiaro into the Mediterranean Sea.
The wall against the peninsula Gibraltar was part of the system and consists of 27 works, grouped in several bunkers and all located in the area of La Línea de la Concepción. The goal was the same as around 100 years before; to detain the British in Gibraltar and to prevent a possible invasion of the Spanish mainland. Therefore, many of the new posts were built on the remaining walls of the old Línea de Contravalación de Gibraltar.
The isthmus wall never had to proof its defence power and ultimately lost its importance at the end of World War II. Today these fortifications are a unique heritage. Many bunkers have now been restored thanks to the help of the “Junta de Andalucía” (autonomous government of Andalusia). Some were mostly originally furnished, and some used for temporary exhibitions of different kinds. From the originally 27 works in the urban area of La Línea de la Concepcíon 12 are preserved until today.
Many architectural highlights from the long history of fortification architecture are located in Mainz. Famous architects, as Johann Maximilian von Welsch, were part of this development. The citadel is well-worth seeing with its classic ground plan, four bastions and the gate house. Also the Rhine gates, caponiers and Gau gate are impressive.
The commander building on the citadel
Towards the city the commander building built over the west entrance rises up. It was built in 1696 under the Mainz elector Lothar Franz von Schönborn and served the current fortress commander as business location. The building consists of three wings and as many storeys. A large terrace is located between the wings. The red and white building is crowned with a “Mansard roof” – the first ever in Mainz. In 1833 a additional storey was built and the Mansard roof destroyed, but the French occupation had it rebuilt to its original scope after World War II.
Under the commander building is the gate facility built around 1660. Today most visitors reach the citadel through there. It used to be directly under the wall and was integrated in to the commander building during its construction. The Baroque gate looks toward the city and was built by Italian architect Antonio Petrini. His style were sticking out sandstones which were to support the character of the fortification and a scary “stone grimace”. Above in the tympanum two lions hold the coat of arms for elector Johann Philipp von Schönborn, the architect of this citadel. It shows the double Mainz wheel, the rake of dukedom Franconia and the flag of diocese Würzburg in four fields. Johann Philipp von Schönborn reigned those areas around 1660. The middle shows the family coat of arms of Johann Philipp von Schönborn as the heart shield: A lion walking over the Franconian rake. On a closer look the Schönborn lion has two tails. Until today it is not clear why.
Guide rollers on the right and the left of the archway remember of the former existing drawbridge. If a visitor enters the gate way a weird kink is catching the eye: it made it possible to fire frontally on a entering enemy and not only from the side as it would be the case on a straight way. A portcullis and a hole, from which garbage could be poured over the intruder, served as additional protection. But they lost their function when the commander building was built above the gate facility.
In the gate way are two stones with inscriptions. Both seem to be put in this place subsequently. The smaller stone names the constructor and the first constable of the citadel: Adolph von Waldenburg. The biggest stone shows the coat of arms of elector Georg Friedrich v. Greiffenklau zu Vollrads (right) – under whom the Schweickhardtsburg was finished in 1629 – and the coat of arms of the Mainz cathedral chapter (left).
The Gau gateway was besides the Münster gate the most important connection to the outside from medieval Mainz. The word “Gau“ originates from Middle High German and means „country” or “region”. The medieval Gau gateway actually consisted of three gates: the inner gate, the middle gate and the outer Gau gate. While the bridge tower stood above the middle gateway, the outer Gau gateway was secured by the Martin tower. Between the inner and the outer gateway is a distance of around 150m.
Already in 1462 during the Stift feud the Gau gate became sadly famous: on this seemingly most secured spot of the medieval city fortifcations the troops of Adolf II von Nassau achieved the breakthrough. This not only ended the feud between him and Dieter von Isenburg, but also the 200 years history of a “free” Mainz.
During the Swedish times (1631-36) the Gau gate was surrounded by earth work. When building the bastion fortification ring around Mainz in the 1650s under elector Johann Philipp von Schönborn, a stonewalled cross wall was built with a passage instead of the Gau gates. This passage had a facade to the city and the country. The preserved outer Gau facase shows Roman Baroque characteristics. The gable of the gate shows the holy Martin with two beggars (a copy since 2002). In front of the gate was a stone bridge which reached over the fortress trench.
The inner and middle Gau gateway had to give way to the new Gau gate. The outer Gau gate with Martin tower remained within the bastion Martin, which is connected to the Gau gate in the north – until a neighbours powder magazine exploded in the afternoon of the 18th November 1857.
In 1896 the Gau gate and the fortress wall were grounded and the trench in front filled up. Only strong protests by Mainz citizens saved the Gaugate from destruction. But it took almost hundred years until it came back to its original location. Only in 1998 the façade of the Gau gate was placed near its original location – the entrance of Gau alley.
The green elements of the citadel Mainz is the richest in species in the developed are in Mainz. It is especially important regarding ecology: The area of the citadel has around 450 animals and plants, of which 66 kinds are on the red list of the Federal Republic of Germany and the state Rhineland-Palatinate. As the green lung the protected landscape part provides fresh air for the inner city.
The flora and fauna which developed over centuries in parts of the citadel is of a priceless value today: 447 animal and plant species, among them birds, bats and wild bees. 66 species are even on the red list, for example long-eared bat, long horn bee, pygmy stag beetle, yews and flaked mullein. Especially bird life shows a remarkable number of species and high brood density, which traces back to the natural wood and the alleged undergrowth. 44 bird species were watched, for example the blackcap, lesser whitethroat, song thrush, pied flycatcher, goldfinch, linnet, robin redbreast, spotted woodpecker and green woodpecker. Birds especially like to nestle in the brambles, which offers protection of enemies and are densely branched. The hollow stems alos serve as an all-year habitat for wild bees.
The walls of the citadel are even of federal meaning. 170 species of aculeatas were found like digger wasps and wild bees. Those depend on the little hollow parts of the walls and nestle places (ovipositor). Insects living in the wall and plants in the walls serve as nutrition. Those herbaceous plants as the bell flower don’t damage the walls. Very special is also the age of the citadel walls, that means there are habitats undisturbed for centuries, which contain besided the species diversity also ancient populations and genetic reservoirs of the species.
The walls of the citadel belong to the country-wide most important moss biotopes. Ivy protects the walls in many places from weathering. It is evergreen and protects the animals all-year. Other than other plants it blooms late (from September) and fruits earlier and is important during this otherwise poor in nutrition times. The ivy colletes is specialised on ivy pollen to raise its brood.
In the underground ways and casemates, bates as the long-eared bat and the Daubenton’s bat can be found. Other species come together in the evening to hunt. They fly to the plants on the walls and hunt insects that are attracted by the flowers.
For its inhabitants the green and the walls of the citadel are unreplaceable habitats that are not available anymore anywhere close by. When damaged, whole biotic communities can break down. More over the green elements of the citadel serve as the green lung of the city. Structurally this is closed off from fresh air lanes of the surroundings. The citadel green filters the air, cools down and humifies the dry and hot city climate up to the housing estates. In summer the fresh air can be felt in the citadel trench. The high value of the citadel green led to designation of the trench and parts of the walls as protected landscape part (GLB) according to §29 of the federal nature protection law.
Pilot project "ecologial wall restauration citadel Mainz" and overall concept citadel
Principally a connection of nature protection and monument protection is possible. The citadel area offers enough space for it with an area of around 10 hectare and a wall length of around 2 km. There can be areas which concentrate on nature protection (for example the citadel trench), monument protection (for example commander building and run-up) and combining nature and monument protection (for example bellflowers on the wall, green are with view of the dome).
Where the walls need to be restored, the nature can be renewed carefully. As part of the project “ecological wall restauration citadel Mainz” (2006-2009), which is financed by the German federal foundation for the environment, a guideline was developed in cooperation of official and voluntary representatives of nature and monument protection, which regards aspects of monument care and ecology as the breeding period of birds and the preservation of harmless vegetation.